Rights Restoration Campaign Needs Ballot Signatures for 2016 Florida Constitutional Amendment

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A coalition called Floridians for a Fair Democracy is on a petition drive to restore the rights of Floridians through a constitutional amendment ballot initiative. The long history of Florida restrictions on voting to those who committed felonies has disenfranchised approximately two million Floridians, which amount to about 9 percent of the population, from having a voice in who governs them. This is a stain in Florida’s history that goes back to the bad old days of the Jim Crow laws.  This coalition of Floridians is taking the matter in their own hands by marshalling eligible voters to abolish disfranchisement in our great state.

The process of getting an amendment added to the 2016 ballot is a laborious process.  Floridians for a Fair Democracy have self imposed a deadline of mid April 2015 to obtain the ten percent of the eight percent of the required signatures for ballot position. Once that goal is reached, they can forward the petitions to the Division of Elections (DE). Once received by the DE, the Attorney General will forward the petition to the Florida Supreme Court for review within 30 days of receiving it from the DE. For the 2016 election that number is 68,314 and must come from at least seven congressional districts.

Once, the Florida Supreme Court has approved the language, they have to get signatures from eight percent of the number of voters voting in the last presidential election to place a citizen initiative on the general election ballot. Eight percent of the number of voters voting in the 2012 presidential election is 683,149. That number must come from at least 14 of the 27 congressional districts. For the 2016 general election, all signature verifications must be recorded no later than February 1, 2016. To make more difficult, the Division of Elections charges 10 cent per name for checking petitions, or the actual cost of checking a signature, whichever is less http://goo.gl/KvrFHk .

The process to restore someone’s rights in Florida is so onerous that applicants that have waited the ridiculous five to seven years to apply are denied for simply having traffic tickets; additionally, the office of clemency has a two part investigative process that determines if an applicant is eligible. But ultimately, under the Florida Constitution the Florida cabinet/clemency board, which is made up of The Governor, The Attorney General, The Commissioner of Agriculture and the Chief Financial Officer, are entitled to make the final decision. https://www.fcor.state.fl.us/restoration.shtml

Under the Scott clemency board, two steps have been added to the already incomprehensible process. To showcase this disaster, since 2011, under the clemency board of Governor Scott, 1,534 Floridians have had their voting rights restored. In comparison to the previous four years under Former Governor Charlie Crist clemency board, 155,315 had their rights restored according to The Florida Commission on Offender Review.

Having the ability chose our leaders should not be up the whims of four politicians in Tallahassee. We must change our constitution to reflect a society that allows all citizens to participate after their debt to society is fully paid.

Posted in Announcements

Is A Fare Fair?

Not many cities in the world provide free transportation systems, but many of those that do have that ‘world-class’ quality that we strive for. Sydney, Chengdu, Athens, Bangkok and Seattle all have area wide free public transit. The Metromover is one of the signature elements of Downtown Miami and as we’ve recently seen, the development boom is sure to draw a lot of focus and a lot of people to the already dense area. Having an efficient and economical way to move all those people around is crucial to the sustainability of the neighborhood and health of the community. The Metromover also connects the Omni district to Downtown and Brickell allowing people from those areas to freely mingle. There’s additionally been talk at times of extending its reach to Midtown, Little Havana and South Beach which would further integrate the service into our societal fabric.

I love the Metromover. In a world where there’s no such thing as a “free ride,” it’s FREE! Well, not exactly. In 2002, the people (meaning us citizens of Miami) voted for the creation of the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust (CITT) and a new, half-penny sales surtax that still funds both the CITT and provides for the ‘free’ Metromover. The motion was later ratified by the County Commission. It’s a lengthy read, but ultimately, it was seen as a great moment where both the County government and community members understood the need to have an independent body responsible for directing the county’s transportation plan and investments.

The CITT’s purpose is to execute what is called the “People’s Transportation Plan.” The PTP, as it’s referred to throughout CITT’s website is a combination of auditing and planning of transit improvements funded through the surtax. Curious about what it’s brought us? There’s a helpful list of currently funded programs and future projects. Now, one could fault the CITT for it’s lack of vision in implementing a more comprehensive transit system (the PTP runs on a 5-year plan cycle – not really a lot of time to address the gaping holes in Miami’s infrastructure) or lack of strategic vision, but when it comes to the Metromover, they have defended the fare-free status of the Metromover since the original legislation passed.

The county Transit and Mobility Services Committee recently recommended implementing a 50-cent fare by a 3-2 vote (http://www.miamitodaynews.com/2015/02/18/new-metromover-fare-rolls-ahead/). The Commission was to hear and possibly vote on the proposed changes on March 3rd, but the item was deferred until March 17th as Commissioner Jordan wasn’t there to support her own proposal. What’s that you say? You haven’t heard anything about this and it’s already headed to the Commission for review?! Yes sir/ma’am, this issue literally flew through the legislative process (adopted on its first reading on 9/3/2014) and is now before the County Commission where it will require two-thirds approval to pass. Let’s recall that the CITT and the half-penny tax were approved by popular vote to fund a fare-free Metromover. The CITT Executive Director, Charles Schurr, has publicly voiced opposition to this proposal since it directly goes against the people’s vote in 2002. From the minutes of a February 12 meeting: “Mr. Scurr noted the efforts made to resolve this matter; however, the Trust(CITT) members could not identify a compelling public purpose to change the policy and promise to voters.”  Shouldn’t a reversal of that legislation require a popular repeal?

Sure, there are arguments to make for implementing a fare. Providing better service, expansion of existing service, funding of a comprehensive transit plan would all be fitting causes. Unfortunately, the co-prime sponsors of the motion, Commissioner Barbara Jordan and Commissioner Sally Heyman, haven’t publicly provided any reasoning beyond beefing up transit department coffers and capitalizing on the growth of Brickell and downtown. In a meeting of the County Finance Committee – it should be noted this issue in June of 2013 (a now defunct group and also important to note that the recommendation came out of a budgetary committee and not a group dedicated to transit or services), Commissioner Heyman put forward the original motion according to the meeting minutes:

Commissioner Heyman noted concern that the Metromover was a free service being provided in an area experiencing a tremendous amount of new residential and commercial development. She said that people have found ways to avoid paying parking fees by using this free transportation service. Commissioner Heyman noted that although the transit system was operating in a deficit, she continued to support giving free transportation passes to senior citizens and veterans. She noted that Metromover became a free service before at least 20 new hi-rise residential buildings and resorts were built along its route and now needed to be re-evaluated. “

Commissioner Heyman would rather focus on the lost parking revenue than the service the Metromover provides, the mobility it offers, the integration of communities it facilitates or how it alleviates traffic congestion. What about the huge benefit the Metromover provides (especially on rainy or hot days) to downtown service workers who would be disproportionately burdened by a fee? It truly is all about the Benjamins. Before any fare is implemented, we should demand a comprehensive transit plan from the CITT or if they are incapable of doing so, find or create a body that is capable. Any added revenue from the transit system should be reinvested in that plan. Transparency of all this should be a prerequisite.

A lot of unsubstantiated claims were made by Commissioners in the recent Transit and Mobility Services Committee meeting. In the Miami Today article, reference is made to a ‘county analysis’ espousing the benefits of the fare. Commissioner Jordan’s office declined to respond to requests for the analysis, but Miami Today reporter, Lidia Dinkova, provided a link to the original memo issued to the Commission by Mayor Gimenez’s office. This two page document is worth a read. I’d like to focus on a few sections:

1)  The first paragraph outlines the overall Metrorail and Metrobus (not including the Metromover conspicuously) operating expenses for 2013, which were $480M. It also explains that the revenue generated by these services covers only 23% of those expenses. The remainder is subsidized by “the General Fund, Federal and State grants, miscellaneous sources (advertising) and the Transit Surtax (otherwise known as the half-penny tax).” The operational expense of the Metromover system is a mere $22M. Why are the Metrorail/Metrobus expenses being used as justification for a Metromover fare? If those services are operating at a deficit, then perhaps those systems need revision. The memo implies that the Metromover’s free-fare status is contributing to the transit system deficit without showing any direct correlation or explicit information that the Metromover’s cost is being subsidized outside of the half-penny surtax.

2)  The memo explains that the fare would yield approximately $600K annually (with no explanation as to how that figure was determined). The annual operational cost of the fare collection system is estimated at $475K (a 55% return). The Commission would be overturning a decade-old, publicly chosen system to net $600K to help fund a $480M transit budget. That $600K would have virtually no impact on the deficit. The $475K operation expense for fare collection is also misleading. Ms. Ysela Llort, Director of Miami-Dade transit previously stated annual fare collection costs would “based on the aggressiveness of the system… vary between $200,000 to a million dollars per year for collections, security, and etc.”

3) The implementation cost of the fare collection system is expected to range $2.4M to $9M depending on the level of sophistication and might be recouped in 5-10 years. That range would obviously only cover up a $6M implementation cost because remember, the fare collection would only net $600K a year.

4) Easy Card riders would have free transfer from Metrorail/Metrobus (YAY! Good news!) which means that only 4.2 Million of the 9 Million annual Metromover riders would likely have to pay. The expectation (again with no supporting information) is that only 1.2M riders would be willing to pay the fare. Furthermore, “It is important to note that according to Miami-Dade economic profile, 32.5% of County residents earn less than $25K per year. If a fare were reinstated, it would be a reasonable assumption that a number of riders would migrate from the Metromover to the fare-free…Trolley because of economic necessity.” Direct admission by the Mayor that it would impact a large number of low-income riders.

The final paragraph outlines other ideas for generating revenue and offloading costs through public private partnerships, but those “techniques would require additional policy formulation…” and “it is not yet clear at this point how much revenue would be generated through this strategy.”

Without having access to the original ‘analysis’ conducted by the county, I elected to do my own real-life survey of Miamians. A brief questionnaire was circulated online over the weekend asking about individual awareness of the fare proposal and if folks would continue to ride if the fare went into effect. You can answer it yourself here: http://goo.gl/forms/gDFxYmMxX2 . The results will be continually updated in these pie charts:

 

Some interesting comments from respondents:

“If there was a discount offered for frequent users or residents, I might consider still using the metro mover. Or if people who use the Metrorail could use the mover for free.”

“Everything is walking distance from the metro anyway and the wait… usually takes the same amount of time one could have strolled to their destination so I usually don’t use it.”

“Its particularly convenient because its free. I might choose a different option for a 50¢ fare.”

“I would ride but much less frequently. It’s also rare that I have change since most my transactions are not cash…so that would be annoying.”

But hey, why only rely on internet-based surveys? Talking to people in-person is more fun, so that’s what I did. The same survey was delivered to a handful of commuters on the morning of March 2nd. Many declined to have their comments shared, but most were entirely unaware of the proposal. Those who agreed to have their statements published are in the following audio clips.

 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3V8N5ayzFCyOHhQRC00WGdJT1k/view?usp=sharing

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3V8N5ayzFCyQVZoVkxpWFJkQUE/view?usp=sharing

 

Ultimately, there’s a lot of dissension between members of the County Commission and the motion is unlikely to pass. This overly long examination is instead meant to show how important it is to keep the public informed and for citizens to be vigilant in regards to local lawmakers. Just because a district is experiencing a period of growth and development does not mean we should overturn a publicly selected, free service to make a little money. Money is temporary, infrastructure is not. The Commission should remain focused on developing and implementing a complete transit system – one that serves and connects all communities. That is our most pressing need as we continue to grow and to combat the early effects of climate change on our fragile coastline. Until that happens, the fare will be unfair.

Posted in Announcements

10 Reasons Why Marriage Equality in Florida is AWESOME!

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10. More weddings = more cake.

9. So far, not a single toaster has applied to marry a llama.  The “slippery slope” argument appears to be without merit.

8. LGBTQ kids will see that it really does get better.

7. We may stop hearing heartbreaking stories about long-term partners being denied the right to visit their dying partners in the hospital.

6. Opponents of same-sex marriage will maintain the right not to marry someone of the same sex.

5. We are likely to see an increase in rainbow clothing, flags and stickers in the coming weeks.

4. Spouses will inherit each other’s property instead of opportunistic distant relatives.

3. Attaining a major goal in a civil rights battle is kind of a big deal.

2. I will personally save thousands of dollars on glitter-bombing-related expenses.

1. Love is the most important thing in the world.

(Psst.. Know any LGBT couples that want to get married? Please share this FAQ from the ACLU with them: English / Spanish)

Posted in Announcements

New Years Resolutions for Miami in 2015

New Years is a time that many of us take to reflect on the year past and set goals for the year ahead of us. At a recent Emerge Miami meeting, we decided it would be fun to dream up New Years Resolutions for our dear city. Miami has come a very long way over the last few years, and we must celebrate those victories. But we also know that Miami is a city with many major challenges. Emerge Miami thinks that our city is up for the challenge. The following is a list of some of our crowdsourced resolutions for Miami. These aspirations come from diverse perspectives among Emerge Miami’s membership, but all have the common thread of wanting Miami to be a better place to live for ALL citizens.

  1. Miami resolves not to give away any public land for private benefit at taxpayer expense in 2015.
  2. Miami will finally start to address residents’ and taxpayers’ concerns about quality of life issues and stop subsidizing billionaire developers.
  3. Miami will take significant steps to end corruption among its leaders.
  4. Miami will become more affordable to the middle class.
  5. Miami will stop seeing Jesus’ words, “The poor will always be with us,” as a commandment to be followed and start treating them like a challenge to overcome.
  6. In 2015, Miami will shift from a culture of “me” to a culture of “we.”
  7. Also, we desperately need more polka bands.
  8. Miami will unveil a modern, comprehensive Transit Master Plan.
  9. Miami will grow the world’s largest marshmallow.
  10. Miami will exclusively make decisions that favor the local residents, ensuring high quality of living, talent retention, and a platform for our communities to grow, put roots, and ensure a livelihood for all with a long term vision (that includes environmental) not just for the moment.
  11. Miamians will go for a walk on January 1, 2015 and realize they live in neighborhoods and think making them better is within their grasp.
  12. Miami resolves to vote in record numbers, even in local elections.
  13. Miamians resolve to take transit once a month and/or try the new City of Miami bike share program.
  14. Miami will seize and develop green space opportunities.
  15. Miamians and their local leaders resolve to be more collaborative  and less competitive. Perhaps a shift to an at-large district system would be better.
  16. This coming year, Miami will not support any corporations that accept corporate welfare. Miami-Dade County will not allow any more Wal-marts to open.
  17. The DecoBike/CitiBike bike share program will expand to include Mt. Sinai and Jackson Hospitals.
  18. Miami resolves to encourage real citizen input that informs decision-making. Changes that affect our community need to be open to discussion, public meetings need to be accessible, and our leaders need to be transparent about the political process.

What would you like to see for our city in 2015? Tweet us your New Years Resolutions for Miami @EmergeMiami or jump in on the conversation on Facebook.

Posted in Announcements

Buskerfest Busks at Dusk

Buskerfest-2014-Black-Final-Headliner

Buskerfest Miami Street Performance Festival returns to Downtown Miami on December 12th. From 4-8pm, local musicians, theater groups, comedians, acrobats, dancers and more will be showcasing their talents at ground level of the Metromover Inner Loop stations. The final performance and wrap-up party begins at 8pm at the Tina Hills Pavilion in Bayfront Park. Guests will be treated to a feature performance by local hip-hop fusion powerhouse Dangerflow with support from The Alt Default, one of three “best bands” of Buskerfest Miami 2013.

The event is FREE for attendees and offers a unique opportunity to meet the local performance community and revel in the diversity of Miami’s culture. Attendees can pick up a Buskerfest passport at any stop to track their travels, select their favorite act of the night, enter a raffle and cash in on deals and discounts offered by downtown businesses, restaurants and bars.

Buskerfest Miami is a collaborative organization dedicated to improving civic life through public street performance. The Buskerfest Miami Street Performance Festival is generously supported by the Miami Foundation, the Miami Downtown Development Authority and Tiliarts, part of the Tilia Family of Companies. For more information, please visit buskerfestmiami.com

RSVP on Facebook or Meetup

Posted in Events

Stuffed from Thanksgiving Turkey? You’re Lucky: Anti-Public Feeding Ordinances Hurt the Homeless

Photos from Resist Homeless Hate Laws

Photos from Resist Homeless Hate Laws

Problematic historical origins, gluttony, and commercialization aside, Thanksgiving is about appreciating what you have and giving back to those who have less, which is why laws like Fort Lauderdale’s ordinance against sharing food outdoors need to go before they inspire politicians in Miami and elsewhere to follow suit.

You may have heard about this ordinance from news stories about 90-year-old Arnold Abbott, who has faced arrest and received multiple citations for violating the ordinance and giving out food to the homeless in city parks.

The public justification for these laws is that they will actually benefit the homeless, by requiring washing facilities and toilets as well as the ability to maintain exact food temperatures. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler claims that he wants these feeding programs to move indoors and get permits.

The real reason seems to be, however, that upper-class developers and business owners believe that homeless individuals’ disheveled appearance will scare away potential patrons (it’s important to note that Fort Lauderdale also passed an ordinance allowing police to confiscate property left in public spaces). After all, retrofitting a simple truck or van to meet these standards is beyond the means of most of the small nonprofits doing this work. Not to mention that the vast majority of commercial food trucks don’t meet these standards, but they seem to be excluded from these regulations because they attract paying customers.

Posted in Announcements

It Takes a Village to Build a Sea Level Rise App Or, “I Am Not a Scientist, But I, Too, Can Understand Climate Change”

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I grew up in Southwest Florida in the 1970s and 1980s, a long time before there was any talk of sea level rise or climate change. We never saw a major hurricane. Hurricane Andrew, the “big one” that hit Miami, didn’t arrive until 1992. I moved to Manhattan in the late 1980s, where I lived for 18 years, and then to Philadelphia, where, in 2012, we were completely unaffected by Hurricane Sandy. I returned to South Florida in 2013, never having experienced a major weather event.

The September day I arrived at my North Miami Beach apartment, the skies were clear. It started to rain when then the movers came. Two hours later, my car was sitting in six inches of water.  I thought it was a fluke. Then it happened again. And again. And again. Fall 2013 was very rainy, and I learned to watch the weather so that I could move my car out of the flooded areas of my parking lot if necessary. What was happening?

My colleagues at FIU, Juliet Pinto and Kate MacMillin, had just completed their award-winning documentary, South Florida’s Rising Seas. “It can be a sunny day, and we can have a week, two weeks of a lot of water,” Miami Beach resident Christine Florez says in one of the film’s most memorable passages. I told them about my parking lot. They thought it might be related to climate change.

Climate change? In my parking lot?

Posted in Announcements