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FL Leaders Discuss Big Issues Facing State

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

  Expanding health care coverage, solving water problems, improving education and handling issues like legalizing medical marijuana and gambling were among the topics Florida leaders discussed during a summit Friday.

The idea was to bring together a bipartisan mix of political, business and education leaders to look at the major issues facing Florida in the immediate and distant future and to brainstorm on how the state should tackle them.

The event was organized by Justin Sayfie, a lawyer, lobbyist, and GOP fundraiser who runs a website that aggregates news about Florida politics and government.

Despite his Republican allegiance, Sayfie kicked off the summit by telling people to take off their political hats and put on their Florida hats. In that spirit, one session discussed how Florida can provide more health care coverage people for people who can't afford it despite the Republican legislative leadership's opposition to Medicaid expansion under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Former Republican Congressman Tom Feeney, who is now president of Associated Industries of Florida, said after the discussion that Obama's Affordable Care Act is "politically poisonous" in Florida, but providing health care is a priority the state needs to address.

He said the approach needs to be "somewhere in between the Obama administration's take it or leave it, all or nothing, you have to buy into Obamacare — which is not going to happen anytime soon — and a legislative approach that hopefully doesn't say 'No. Never.'"

On water issues, Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell said Florida isn't just dealing with how to provide water for the future, but also trying to fix mistakes of the past by restoring the Everglades and managing the Lake Okeechobee dike.

"By and large all the problems that we end up trying to fix are not things that we've created for ourselves over the last 20 or 30 years. They're things we've inherited," he said.

But the state also needs to plan for problems in the future. University of Florida water resources professor Wendy Graham said that regardless of the cause of climate change or any potential solutions, it will affect Florida.

"Adaptation to rising levels is a no brainer. Florida cannot afford to not be prepared," she said. "That's not attributing a cause and it's not trying to fix a problem, it's saying it's an issue and we have to deal with that."

On medical marijuana, Republican state Rep. Matt Gaetz pointed out that about 500,000 more people supported a failed constitutional amendment to legalize it than supported Gov. Rick Scott's re-election. But he said he wants to see what works and what doesn't with a law passed this year to allow low-THC medical marijuana before expanding it to full-scale medical marijuana legalization.

Democratic State Rep. Katie Edwards, a long-time medical marijuana advocate, agreed the state has to be cautious with how it legalizes it.

"There are people out there that really have no interest in patient safety or in helping sick kids. It's the almighty dollar they're interested in," she said.