Sunday, April 4, 2021

Thank You to the Champions

   The champions really showed out last week. .

Colin Walkes, Sister Laura, and Representative Omari Hardy went well out of their way - literally and figuratively - to defend Floridians against attacks on our health and rights.

You’ve likely heard about the “Right to Harm” bills by now.  What you may not know is that 2 community leaders trekked all the way from the Glades to Tallahassee to speak up for their neighbors, and one state representative brought extensive research to the table to dispute myths about the bad bill.

Read excerpts of their statements below (some paraphrasing for clarity and brevity).  Consider reaching out to say thank you to Rep. Hardy, and post this blog post on your social media.

Colin Walkes

Former Mayor // Pahokee, Florida // Muck City Black Lives Matter

Walkes stands outside of the Florida Capitol Building after addressing the Environment, Agriculture, and Flooding Subcommittee on March 30, 2021.

“I'm a former mayor of the City of Pahokee.  I'm in opposition of the bill.  I want to dispel the myth that we the locals are opposed to our agriculture industry.  We understand the importance of the industry.  We understand that it provides for us.  What our community does not want, if we are harmed, is for our recourse to be taken away from us.

We are asking the Committee to protect us, the citizens and residents.  We want to ensure that our industry thrives, but we must take care of the people that help the industry to thrive.  If we do not exist, the industry will die off without us.”

Sister Laura Cavenaugh

Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament // Belle Glade, Florida

Sister Laura outside of the Florida Capitol Building on March 30, 2021.

“My name is Sister Cavenaugh and I have ministered in the Glades since 1986.  I work directly with the people of the Glades, particularly with children and the elderly.  I see exactly what the health impacts of agriculture can be, whether it’s affecting our air, our water, or our food.  Because of this and the injustices I see, I ask you please vote no on HB 1601.

One of our sisters in Belle Glade is a nurse, and for many years she was a school nurse.  I remember her coming back to the convent and saying, “Man!  It’s been a really smokey day.  I had so many kids come into the office.”

She had to put them on nebulizers and inhalers.  Then after a while if they didn’t improve she would have to call the parents.  One time she couldn’t get in touch with the parents and had to send a child to the emergency room for severe asthma.  

I deal with kids that live in tenements and walk to and from school every day.  Because many of them live in homes without adequate ventilation, that means they and their families, including the elderly, are breathing in the smoke and soot as long as the burn is occurring, from October through May.

This bill would eliminate mine and my neighbors’ ability to seek justice for health damages through the court system.  That’s not acceptable.  We would have no recourse.

We deserve the right to hold agriculture - and any other business - accountable to the damage they sometimes do to our health, especially if there are healthier alternatives to their practices.  There is a better way.  And it starts with accountability.

If this bill is really about hayrides and winery tours and corn mazes, then make it about that only.  Right now, this bill is a danger to me and my neighbors and tramples on our rights to seek justice.

For the sake of our children, our health, and our futures, please vote not on HB 1601.”

Florida Representative Omari Hardy

House District 88 // Palm Beach County

Rep. Hardy fought a good fight.  He introduced 6 amendments and questioned and debated the bill for nearly 2 hours.  Unfortunately, his concerns and hard hitting points were ignored by his fellow committee members, and the Committee voted in favor of the bill.

“When I moved to Palm Beach County I heard tale of a community where ash falls from the sky.  People have to clean it off of their cars, homes, and school custodians have to clean it off of the playgrounds.  I wondered who would accept that for their children.  I wondered what kind of concerns you must have for your economic viability to accept that kind of bargain for you and your family.

I think this bill will provide cover for practices that have been demonstrated to be harmful for people in the state of Florida.

Independent, peer-reviewed studies show that particulate matter increases dramatically during burn season.  That stuff gets deep into your lungs, into your children’s lungs.  That’s the stuff that causes or exacerbates asthma.  During harvest burn season you have people going to the hospital because they can’t breathe.  Because clearly the practice of burning is affecting their ability to do what we all must do to stay alive.  That’s problematic.

Emissions are carcinogenic and mutagenic, meaning they cause cancer.  This is the stuff that’s emitted when sugar cane is burned in the Glades.

There are those that feel they have to choose between clean air and a good job.  They feel that they have to choose between air that doesn’t give their children asthma, and the ability to put food on the table for those children.  That’s not fair.  That’s a choice nobody should face.  And frankly it's on those of us in this body, on this committee, and the federal government to resolve that choice in favor of the people in the community.  They need a new deal from the federal government which gives these companies billions of dollars in subsidies.

I cannot vote for this bill because it provides cover for practices that are clearly harmful.  I’ll be voting against it and I hope that the committee does the same.”

Press Coverage

Environmentalists Say Bill To Protect Farmers From Lawsuits Disenfranchises Communities Impacted By Sugarcane Burning

Florida “Right to Farm” Bill Protects the Right to Harm

After sugar’s $11 million flex, Florida lawmakers push to protect industry

“Right To Farm” Law Unfairly Favors Agriculture

Critics: Farm bill would allow agriculture operations to pollute Florida communities

Do Florida lawmakers want to make it harder to sue sugar farmers?

Call your Representative to tell them to vote no on HB 1601 if it comes to the House Floor.

  Thank you, Sister Laura and Colin Walkes, for speaking up for your community! .