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Florida Influencers recommend meaningful change amid COVID-19, calls for police reform

Healthcare workers talk at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing center at Miami-Dade County Auditorium in Miami on July 23, 2020. DAVID SANTIAGO dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Healthcare, education, infrastructure/transportation, housing, and the environment: these are Florida’s most pressing issues. Florida Influencers gathered to produce recommendations for possible legislation and solutions to these problems.

Some of Florida’s top leaders and decision-makers gathered Wednesday to discuss and develop solutions to critical issues facing the state, including healthcare, future of Florida’s economy, education and issues surrounding social justice.
The Florida Influencers — a diverse group of state leaders in business, healthcare, law, education and the arts — came together for a virtual summit, where they produced concrete recommendations for Florida’s governor and Legislature. The year 2020 is unlike any other, and the discussions focused on some of the most relevant topics, like the response to the pandemic, COVID-19’s effect on tourism, the future of virtual learning and a change in policing in the wake of mass calls to action following the officer-involved killing of George Floyd.
Influencers who sometimes debated competing priorities, shared personal experiences and eventually came together to suggest answers to some of the most pressing questions of the day. In many cases the answers overlapped, showing that some out-of-the-box solutions to big issues Florida is facing are not unrelated but alternatively, quite interconnected.
The responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

The first question: With lessons learned from the response to COVID-19, what steps should Florida’s hospitals and health care insurers take to better prepare to deal with future public health threats?
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Influencers: Steven Sonenreich (chair), CEO of Mount Sinai Hospital; Sadaf Knight, CEO of Florida Policy Institute.
Working group’s summary: Even before the COVID-19 crisis, Florida ranked poorly across many indicators of health. This pandemic has shed light on the disparities in our public health and economic infrastructure, and mitigating these impacts requires a concerted effort and investment from our state’s leadership. The best public policy decisions to address a pandemic, or any other health needs of Floridians, draw upon good data management, learning from best practices and utilizing existing infrastructure and expertise in our state.
Collaboration between agencies is critical to develop and equitable and sustainable economic and public health response: Department of Emergency Management, Agency for Health Care Administration, state and local health departments, Department of Children and Families, Department of Economic Opportunity, community advocates, hospital leadership and other healthcare providers.

Potential solutions:

  • Restore funding for public health at the state and local levels
  • Create a structure for involving infectious disease and epidemiology experts to influence local and state response
  • Draw on Florida’s higher education infrastructure and expertise
  • Expand Medicaid
  • Manage data to make it more accessible, transparent, and understandable. Use data to guide public health and economic policy decisions
  • Set up a pandemic response system to address both health and economic needs, under the Department of Emergency Management (similar to hurricane and natural disaster response systems).

What questions will the governor and Legislature need to answer to make progress on this issue?
How can the administration or Legislature better manage COVID-19 and public health data? How can they disseminate it in a way that communities can act on?
How can our health and safety net programs help to mitigate racial and ethnic health disparities?
Other than imposing cuts, how will you address the state’s revenue gap? Will you support any revenue-raising proposals?
How will you invest in our public health resources and infrastructure to recover from COVID-19 and also establish a stronger system to meet future health needs?

The second question: COVID-19 has disproportionately affected minority communities. What steps need to be taken so those communities are better served when it comes to healthcare in general and in response to a public health emergency?
Influencers: Christine Barney (chair), president of RBB Communications; Joe Natoli, chief administrative officer of Baptist Health South Florida; Dr. Hansel Tookes of UM Health System; Kerry-Ann Royes, president and CEO of YWCA South Florida.
Working group’s summary: The pandemic has put an exclamation point on the disparity in health equity. The racial justice movement accelerated the need for change. We must not let the outrage on this situation fade.
Health disparity is not fixed in a vacuum. It is impacted by education disparity, income disparity and a general lack of trust. We have a shared responsibility to find solutions together. We must find the intersections where we can make change in people’s well being for the long term. We know who and where these communities are. The objectives are clear: We must immediately encourage or enforce compliance to flatten the COVID-19 curve. We must create equitable access to technology which is critical in improving quality of life. Technology gives access to all the things that matter: healthcare, educational tools, jobs, housing and wellness. We must not leave federal money that aids in access to healthcare on the table. We have hope.

Potential solutions:

  • Leave no stone unturned in finding federal, state and local dollars to increase access to healthcare and the issues that impact healthcare.
  • Need umbrella collaboration to promote best practices to flatten the curve – many efforts in a silo. Consider organizations like Health Foundation of South Florida, Miami Foundation and Knight Foundation as collaborative leaders.
  • Communications will be key – we must make concerted efforts to reach minority communities – use influencers (celebrities, athletes, religious and community leaders) to incentive compliance.
  • Encourage the South Florida hospitals who came together to promote good COVID-19 prevention behavior through their media campaign to continue to collaborate (even beyond COVID) and address the zip codes in most need.
  • Explore options to provide free or low-cost broadband internet so people can use telehealth and get information on COVID-19 as well as social services like mental health care, employment tools and education.

What questions will the governor and Legislature need to answer to make progress on this issue?
Medicaid expansion and building a safety net are the right things to do. But if Medicaid expansion is not in the cards, what plans are there to draw down more federal money to enhance our safety net?
How do we get equity in technology access? Regulation? Incentives?

The first question: The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been far-reaching on Florida’s economy, particularly the tourism and hospitality sector. What role can local and state government play in assisting a rebound moving forward?
Influencers: Joanne Li (chair), dean of the FIU College of Business; Karen Arnold, COO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce; David Martin, president of Terra Group; Noah Breakstone, CEO of BTI Partners; Blain Heckaman, CEO of Kaufman Rossin.
Working group’s summary: We recommend that the state develop an integrated recovery plan to help Miami navigate the COVID-19 crisis and emerge from it as an even stronger, more diversified and more resilient economy through a thoughtful process focused on four phases.

Perejona Lavenal is socially distanced as he awaits his turn for assistance with unemployment at Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in North Miami, Florida, on Aug. 11, 2020. Daniel A. Varela

The first phase is to provide immediate relief to people and businesses. The second phase is to craft an approach to reopen the economy. The third phase would involve presenting plans to stimulate demand back to pre-crisis levels and prevent future outbreaks. The fourth and final phase would be to develop strategy for a post-pandemic economy.
Local and state governments must work collaboratively and take a leadership role to educate the public through campaigns to change behavior and teach people to take personal responsibility. While communicating consequences of non-compliance is important, we believe providing incentives will help steer the economy in the right direction in the most efficient and effective way. We propose a private-public partnership to support continued dialogue, ensure fluent information sharing, simplify the laws and promote effective understanding from all constituents.
Strategic investment in tourism and hospitality is critical in the initial phase, as it will ensure a speedier recovery and generate revenue for the state. A thoughtful plan to educate the public, communicate to the masses, change behavior and a plan for the future emergency is much needed.

Potential solutions:

  • Provide rapid testing.
  • Protect people at work, in store and at school.
  • Protect HIPPA-sensitive data.
  • Instead of penalizing people for non-compliance, incentivize people.
  • Government should show leadership in accelerating the recovery.
  • The state should launch a public campaign.
  • Promote cities such as Miami as the global hub for remote work.
  • Communicate proper protocol at the local, state, and national level on how to move forward. Use a dashboard to promote information sharing, daily risk and a daily government report.
  • Utilize outdoor environment for education.
  • Set up statewide WiFi infrastructure and expand internet access to all.
  • Install streetlights, cameras, hand-sanitizing stations in high traffic cities.
  • Create a task force with focused objectives to set up processes and protocol for future emergencies and dedicated to the issue.
  • Task police with handing out face coverings on beaches.

What questions will the governor and Legislature need to answer to make progress on this issue?
What are the plans in place to retrain our employees during and post pandemic? Can we retool our labor force as automation and technology are replacing humans? How to provide clarity on operation?
What incentives — tax relief, simplified processes and application to start businesses — can governments put in place to stimulate the economic recovery? How can we strategically use resources in place to get the economy back to working?
Can governments lead immediate, short-term, long-term discussions with the private sector? What are the plans to instill confidence and assurance that the state is taking all measures to ensure safety and health for our citizens?
What are the trade-offs of a prolonged lock down? What measures can we take to address the health insurance of our constituents?
What plans are in place to protect the vulnerable? Can the government put in place to bring employees back to work instead of handing out checks?

The second question: Florida’s service economy will be slowest to rebound from the pandemic, and workers in this sector are at greatest financial risk during the pandemic. How should/can the business community collaborate with government and nonprofits to ensure progress toward addressing income inequality?
Influencers: Annie Lord (chair), executive director of Miami Homes for All; Caroline Lewis, executive director of The CLEO Institute; Julie Wraithmell, executive director of Florida Audubon; Michael Brown, executive vice president of Skanska USA; Steven Weinstein, managing partner of K&L Gates Miami office.
Working group’s summary: To have a healthy statewide economy, special efforts must be made to ensure our workers’ financial stability and well being. Recovery from the pandemic demands out-of-the-box thinking. It’s time to re-imagine our economy and redirect investments toward a vision that protects and leverages Florida’s unique assets so that every resident can prosper. Our team’s solutions include statewide measures to stop the virus, better short-term supports for workers, fair access to the judicial system, infrastructure projects that protect natural resources and built environment and create quality jobs. We suggest long-term investments in health, education and housing.

Potential solutions:

  • Set statewide COVID-19 protocols and standards for tourism, other industries.
  • Mandate masks statewide.
  • Expand unemployment benefits to pay more than $275 per week.
  • Ease restrictions on accessing unemployment benefits.
  • Make the unemployment benefit application process less difficult.
  • End policy requiring all back-due rent into escrow before mediation can be possible.
  • Diversify economic investment, and make policy changes that incentivize infrastructure that enhances resilience, conservation and water quality.
  • Fully fund Sadowski affordable housing trust funds.
  • Increase investment in early childhood education.
  • Expand Medicaid.

What questions will the governor and Legislature need to answer to make progress on this issue?
What are best practices in standard COVID-19 protocols that have resulted in positive economic impact?

The first question: Before March 2020, Florida Virtual School was a niche portion of the state’s system of public K-12 education. Then COVID-19 turned the entire system into virtual school, with no end in sight in some districts. How should this work across all grades and how will the state and districts meet the funding challenges?
Influencers: Charisse Grant (chair), senior VP of The Miami Foundation; Rosa Castro Feinberg, retired teacher, professor and Miami-Dade School Board member, education advocate; Rudy Fernandez, senior VP University of Miami, Kamela Patton, superintendent of Collier County Public Schools.

Working group’s summary: Education has been changed forever. We will not go “back” to schooling as we knew it. We must move forward based on equity, flexibility and high-quality, accessible opportunities and options for all students and families.

Sheryl Muñoz is a pre-K Broward County Public Schools teacher at Gulfstream Early Learning Center. On Monday morning, March 30, 2020, Muñoz taught her class from the front porch of her Hollywood home as all Broward County Schools have transitioned to online learning during the coronavirus outbreak. Emily Michot

All students, regardless of home circumstances, must have access to high-speed broadband Internet and enough devices appropriate for learning. We need to know with specificity which students lack them, design and invest in multi-sector solutions based on data-detailed need for the long-term.
In the context of a pandemic, every parent and student must have available choices that are best for and accessible to them, versus having to choose one they desire less because of access barriers.
A virtual experience is not a replication of a classroom. The new models need to maximize in-person learning for those who need it most, as virtual education is least conducive to flexible asynchronous learning and live synchronous learning.
All approaches must address the vital social and emotional growth aspects of the education experience and be able to flag and address heightened needs and crises in a virtual context.

Potential solutions:

  • Change the mindset. Focus on moving forward and reopening, versus “going back to school.”
  • Secure hard data details on the digital divide. Support school districts in drilling down to pinpoint which students and households lack high-speed broadband Internet access, which is now a basic need for education. Build initiatives among districts, Internet service providers and nonprofit outreach organizations to find them, get people connected, financially subsidize and support them. Provide enough devices for all children in the household and digital literacy for students and parents.
  • Support educators. Create and scale initiatives that enable and empower teachers — and those studying to be teachers — to adapt and thrive in their new role as virtual educators for now and in the future.
  • Have a clear mantra from 67 districts about requirements for operating, so everyone is functioning on the same set of rules.
  • Leverage Florida Virtual School to scale solutions to language barriers to virtual learning. Given the vast variations in the size of districts, explore and deploy solutions for this platform to do more to support learning for speakers of non-English languages both in terms of developing their abilities in English and mastering subject matter content while they are doing so.
  • Radio and television are still critical mediums for reaching and engaging cultural communities that lack access to the Internet or naturally depend more upon them. Creating and deploying content would provide great value for low-income households who lack consistent access to other forms of technology, and it can be created in multiple languages.

What questions will the governor and Legislature need to answer to make progress on this issue?
How will you ensure school districts have the support and resources they require to address the digital divide, including what may be increasing the involvement of internet providers?
How will we ensure that language is not a barrier for students in the virtual learning context?
What will you do to pursue federal resources that will be needed, along with the prioritization of state resources, to address these issues?
The second question: For many students, school is a sanctuary where they benefit intellectually and socially, get healthy meals and structure in their lives. With that missing right now what can be done outside of school to fill the void?
Influencers: James Haj (chair), president and CEO of The Children’s Trust; Lori-Ann Cox, CEO Breakthrough Miami; Martha Saunders, president of the University of West Florida.
Working group’s summary: An in-person learning setting is the best way to learn, especially for the younger students. In a virtual setting, it is important to assure that students and parents are receiving the holistic services needed to fulfill their needs. It is important to make sure that students and parents are supported. We need to build a broad network of community institutions to support children’s learning and development in and out of school, and blend and braid resources in support of that goal.
Under these unprecedented circumstances, flexibility on behalf of all parties is key, including employers, parents, and children.
We know that one size does not fit all, and different part of the state have different needs and challenges. This is an opportunity to look at the traditional models and to identify what was missing and what we can improve on, such as reevaluating what will be determined as success under these unprecedented times.
Students’ development and learning are constantly shaped by their experiences both in and out of school. Moreover, some students need additional non-school supports — ranging from food assistance to mental health services — to fully access learning. We need to ensure that all students have equitable access to safe and supportive learning environments, which also requires that policymakers at all levels ensure that resources are used equitably and efficiently and can be flexible enough to support the needs of individual children and youth.

Potential solutions:

  • Business flexibility to support students and families.
  • Learning pods to support academic success as well as wrap-around services. Making spaces available with the right technology adaptable for the needs of students and parents.
  • Coaching all stake holders how to navigate successfully in this virtual environment.
  • Enabling after-school programs to expand to offer full-day services and programming for students, either virtual or in-person.
    Providing wrap-around services and experiences, including for children with special needs and their parents.
  • Out-of-school learning time
  • Investment in academic support, mental wellness, parental supports and social services.
  • Ensure families and children’s food, shelter and health needs are met to achieve academic success.
  • Adequately fund early childcare centers to ensure academic success as they enter kindergarten.
  • Opportunities to partner with the school systems:
  • Provide opportunities for students on how to build and be a part of the community outside of the academic setting.
  • Nurture organizational learning and the culture of innovation at school district level

What questions will the governor and Legislature need to answer to make progress on this issue?
Will the Legislature allocate and advocate for resources for early childcare providers to continue to ensure children are prepared and kindergarten ready?
Will the Legislature provide incentives for non-profits to meet the increased gaps in the communities? Therefore, school districts can be encouraged to partner with non-profits that have a footprint in the community and can provide wrap-around services that are not available in schools.
Will the Legislature allocate additional resources to provide and meet the expanding need for mental health support for children, families, and educators; housing security; food security; health services, and coaching and continuous support for children, families, and educators?

Same question for both groups: In light of the issues raised by the social justice movement across the country this year, how should Florida adjust its approach to policing? Does that mean shifting resources, and if so, how?
Group One Influencers: Raul Moas (chair), Knight Foundation; Elaine Black, president of the Liberty City Trust; Irene Oria, Hispanic Bar Associtation president; Bob McClure, president and CEO of the James Madison Institute; Leah Shepherd, COO OnePulse Foundation.
Working group’s summary: Florida must move to implement policies that improve trust between communities and police and bring greater transparency to policing at large. This work must be informed by communities themselves: One size will not fit all. As such, the state of Florida should look to implement policies that empower and incentivize municipalities and counties to develop approaches to policing that meet their true interests and steer clear of anything that is viewed as trespassing on home rule.

Acitvists pose with their fists in the air as an act of solidarity while speakers share their experiences of getting arrested while protesting peacefully, during a Black Lives Matter protest to denounce the recent police brutality the local organizers have faced, at The Torch of Friendship in Miami, Florida on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. Daniel A. Varela

We recognize that hard budget decisions lay ahead for the state and our communities. We also acknowledge that without a hard look at how current policing dollars are spent, we will not be able to re-prioritize budgets to meet the opportunities before us to restore trust and advance transparency.

Potential solutions:

  • Implement policies that incentivize community policing and place experienced officers in the most challenged neighborhoods..
  • Reform qualified immunity so as to put the liability on police departments and unions, incentivizing them to root out bad policing. For example, poor performance would equate to higher insurance premiums
  • Disincentivize the use of civil asset forfeiture. Performing the essential duties of policing should not be aligned with driving revenue to police departments. It is a perverse incentive.
  • Augment training available to police officers on implicit bias, deescalation techniques and mental health crisis intervention.
  • Recognize that police officers cannot be and do not want to be all things to all people. Incorporate into policing the use of mental health counselors and/or social workers so as to remove the burden of carrying out tasks police are not qualified for.
  • Penalize officers and/or departments who do not comply with an “on at all times” body camera policy. There is no excuse for officers to turn off their body cameras while in the line of duty.

What questions will the governor and Legislature need to answer to make progress on this issue?
This is not a zero-sum game. We must walk away from slogans and sound bites.
How might we find win-win scenarios that have buy-in from community, police unions and victims of violent crime?
Group Two Influencers: Saif Ishoof (chair), FIU vice president for engagement; Luz Corcuera, executive director of UNIDOS Now; Gepsie Metellus, executive director of Haitian Neighborhood Center Sant La; Kerry-Ann Royes, president and CEO of YWCA of South Florida; Rabbi Judith Siegal, Temple Judea.
Working group’s summary: “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” are the aspirational rights that define our American experiment. Regrettably, in 2020 our nation has fallen short in making those rights a reality for communities of color as it pertains to systems of policing and justice.
Any meaningful set of reforms on policing and justice must be preceded by a recognition of the generational levels of fear and distrust that exist between law enforcement and Black and Brown communities, embed a spirit of reconciliation between communities of color and law enforcement to tackle systemic racism and recognize that adjacent to the issues of policing in communities of color is a need for a broader based societal reforms around economic inclusion, access and belonging. It must also include a deeper conversation on what the social contract between communities of color and police needs to look like to meet the world of America 2020.

Potential solutions:

  • An objective education of America’s racial history for both K-12 and adults.
    An independent civilian review board with subpoena power to serve as a counterbalance to police unions.
  • More community-based policing practices. Police officers should be required to be engaged in our community whether that be with the Police Athletic League, providing safe spaces for teenagers to safely hang out or other related activities. Partnering with organizations would allow police departments to figure out what engagements work best for which communities.
  • Officers need to be trained for at least one year. Training should include history of police, LGBTQ community, implicit bias training, social work training and a more specific ethical code. Once graduated from the academy, there should be continued education and a yearly review of said reimagined ethics code.
  • Police have to be reflective of the community in which they serve. The diversity should match that of the communities in which they serve.
  • Better accountability. A review of policy manuals and a comprehensive look at practices requiring use of force.
  • A review of whether reallocation of police funds could help the community. To start, state leaders should agree that more money be invested in preventive measures that could increase opportunity, community well-being and reaffirms our humanity.

What questions will the governor and Legislature need to answer to make progress on this issue?
How will Florida seize this moment to create a movement that realigns our system of justice and policing that drives equity, opportunity and fairness for all Floridians?