This past March 8th, at the onset of our Florida's legislative session, thousands of Floridians rallied on street corners throughout the state, in 31 cities, to send Florida's state legislature a strong message. It was a warning to lawmakers that Floridians were dead set against the harmful conservative Tea Party agenda Republicans had in store that would drag us back to the Jim Crow era, punish the poor and working middle class and generations to follow.
As you may recall, other fair-minded, hardworking, tax-paying residents of other states across the country also rallied against a similar evil political agenda in their own state. Perhaps the nation's most memorable rallying cry was in Wisconsin where Republicans ordered the Capitol Building to be shut down while Americans were horrified and watched arrogant lawmakers ignored the will of the people.
I had the pleasure to not only participate in the Fort Lauderdale Awake the State rally on March 8, but with my bullhorns (yes plural), I helped lead demonstrators in chants and worked with law enforcement to assure that the near one thousand people gathered in Fort Lauderdale remained peaceful. Among the highlights was when I took immense pleasure to have the police remove belligerent and pigheaded Tea Baggers who infiltrated our designated area.
After the jump, read about the upcoming May 10 rally and watch a video of the March 8 rally.
Last Friday, Florida lawmakers ended their 60-day legislative session where public education, women's rights, voting rights, and labor organizing rights were not only trampled on, but slaughtered on a butcher's block like some perverse ritual. The Tea Party legislature also took great pleasure to widen the divide between the wealthy and Florida's most vulnerable of residents and made this past legislative session to resemble the tortures during the Spanish Inquisition while expanding rights for gun owners. The Republican leadership was reportedly running around the Capitol Building in white hoods, robes, and carrying wire hangers while banning Democratic State Representative Scott Randolph from naming any body part on the floor of the House, more specifically, the word "uterus."
The Republican-controlled state legislature flat-funded critical HIV/AIDS care and treatment programs at the same level as last year, which is really a funding decrease. Despite the bipartisan efforts of Democratic state senator Nan Rich and Republican state senator Joe Negron to increase funding in the Senate for HIV/AIDS care and treatment by $5 million, State House Republicans willfully ignored to recognize the near genocide and blood on their hands.
Across the nation, there are just fewer than 8,000 people on a wait list to access life-saving medications through AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP). Nationally, 95% of the people on an ADAP wait list live in the south. Florida is home to more than half of that number of people nationally on a wait list for Florida's ADAP.
The state legislature has also ignore efforts to mitigate new HIV-infections in failing to advance legislation for age-appropriate, medically accurate, comprehensive sexual education. These Republicans could care less that a child from a broken home has less opportunity to learn from responsible adults outside the schools environment. Meanwhile teen pregnancy rates remain high, Florida has among the highest HIV-infection rate, and number of people living with AIDS.
In April and May, the Florida Department of Health hosted a series of public hearing workshops to receive input on the state's consideration to make various changes to eligibility for its HIV/AIDS care and treatment programs. Among some of the more positive changes were: 1) end the discrimination language largely against LGBTQ-families and redefine the definition for "household," and 2) they also want to expand the kind of documentation people can use to become eligible for the programs.
The most harmful proposed change being considered would be to potentially reduce the income limit for someone to access the programs from $43,560 for a single person (400% FPL) to $21,780 (200%). Keep in mind that the annual cost of HIV-medications is anywhere between $10,000 and $30,000 and various depending on a person's health. For an individual earning $43,560, a person could potentially be left with only $13,000 a year to pay rent, food, gas, auto insurance, and other expenses while trying to remain employed and without access to a health insurance plan.
While the pharmaceutical industry's philanthropic contributions through pharmaceutical-sponsored patient assistance programs (PAP) have been significant, advocates remain critical of the industry's drug prices and also want a firm moral commitment from the industry that will continue these PAPs for as long as they are needed. At last week's public hearing in Miami, several Floridians living with HIV/AIDS stated Big Pharma gave them a one-year lease on life, but they are not certain what happens after that one-year given the uncertain times Americans are facing. They also stated that Tea Party Republican Governor Rick Scott and conservative Republican legislators should be ashamed of themselves for ignoring the state's AIDS-crisis.
I will write more about the AIDS Drug Assistance Program Crisis in another post for projectors to take action on.
This Tuesday, May 10, join thousands of other fair-minding Floridians who are going to once again mobilize across the state to demand Governor Rick Scott veto the harmful budget and legislation that is headed his way for signature. Floridians are also demanding to have the constitutional right to recall statewide elected officials.
Florida, it's time to stand up again to lawmakers who have kidnapped and ransomed our hope for a better tomorrow.
Find a demonstration in your community by visiting www.awakethestate.com and stand in solidarity with other Floridians.