Here in Florida, as we count down to the New Year, we're also counting down to the 2018 legislative session. The Florida Legislature is expected to convene on January 9th and, if all goes as planned, adjourn on March 9th.
The annual sixty-day period is marked by much negotiating over issues to ensure the best public policy passes on behalf of Florida’s citizens. This time around, it will be complicated by the once-every-20-year deliberations of the Constitution Revision Commission, the fact 2018 is an election year, and wrapped up in an atmosphere charged by sexual harassment allegations against a prominent legislator.
Against all these influencing factors, any of which may impede a group’s legislative agenda, the American Heart Association will urge legislators to:
- Raise the minimum legal age for sale of tobacco and “vaping” products to 21 years. Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of heart disease. The tobacco companies spend $1 million every hour to market their products, much of it aimed at young people. Combine that with the fact that 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before age 21, we must do more to prevent youth smoking. Raising the tobacco sales age to 21 will help counter the industry’s efforts to target young people at a critical time when many move from experimenting with tobacco to regular smoking. It also will help keep tobacco out of high schools, where younger teens often obtain tobacco products from older students. Our sponsors are: Representative Don Hahnfeldt (The Villages) a retired Naval Commodore and Senator David Simmons (Longwood) an attorney. These Republican sponsors know the importance of increasing the age to purchase of tobacco products and the health benefits for generations to come. Please encourage your local Senator and Representative to Co-sponsor Senate Bill 1288 and House Bill 1029.
- Create a clinical registry - or database of health information - for STEMI heart attacks. This would allow health professionals to analyze data on care processes and patient outcomes, which would enable them to continually improve care for STEMI patients. STEMI is an acronym for ST-Elevated Myocardial Infraction, known as the “widow maker” heart attack. We want to follow up on the momentum from last year’s Stroke Registry bill, which passed unanimously, and create the STEMI Registry. We have a bill sponsor for Senate Bill 1032, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who is a funeral director by profession. We also had a House sponsor, Rep. Neil Combee, but he was appointed to a federal job by President Trump and had to resign his seat to accept. We are working diligently to secure another House sponsor.
- Dedicate funding to help make communities more bikeable and walkable. Two federal programs, “Complete Streets” and “Safe Routes to Schools” provide funding that flows through the Florida Department of Transportation to local cities and counties. Each legislator is eligible to request those funds be spent in his/her district. For House members to request the funds, they need to file a bill requesting those funds. Depending on the content of the bill, AHA will support the legislation if it increases opportunities for physical activity.
- Improve access to healthy foods. We hope to convince the Division of Blind Services to require operators stocking the vending machines to have a minimum of 75 percent healthy snacks and 50 percent healthy beverages.
- Ensure 911 dispatchers can provide CPR instructions to callers. If someone near you collapsed from a cardiac arrest, it's important you quickly perform CPR and call 911. But, what if you don't know how to perform CPR? Will the 911 dispatcher tell you how? It depends on the community you're calling from. As such, we want to ensure dispatchers across the state are prepared to help callers identify the need for CPR, and provide instructions if needed. We have been discussing the administrative issues with legislators because if we are unsuccessful in convincing the agency staffers to make the requested changes, a legislative “fix” will be needed that forces the agency staff to make the changes.
We'll update you about these policy efforts throughout session. Stay tuned for future You're the Cure email alerts! Often in these emails, we'll ask you to call, email, Facebook, or tweet your members. With just a few minutes of your time, your voice can make a difference in our state. If you have any questions, comment below or email us at [email protected].