Arts funding pays big dividends
St. Petersburg continues to thrive as an arts and cultural destination, but value of the arts is far more than merely recreational. In addition to driving economic growth, the arts are important drivers for critical and creative thinking and innovation — essential skills for America’s competitiveness.
Unfortunately, arts funding is under attack this year. In Washington, there are calls to defund the National Endowment for the Arts and other organizations. In Florida, the Legislature is considering drastic cuts in arts funding.
Arts and cultural organizations get most of their support from individual gifts and corporate sponsorships, with a relatively tiny amount of support from the government. As one example, government funding may help pay for school field trips to cultural institutions — a small investment with a major payoff.
Florida’s matching grants program helps in providing such opportunities. This year, 658 Florida organizations like Jobsite Theater in Tampa, the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, and the Fine Arts of the Suncoast in Pasco County are seeking grant funds.
As of last week, though, the Florida Senate was recommending funding an astoundingly low 0.0049 percent of cultural and museum grants, with the House recommending funding only 24 percent.
Funding all arts and culture grants would cost $54.8 million, a tiny fraction of the state’s budget. And consider this: Arts investments show a 9-to-1 return in generating money back to government treasuries, according to Americans for the Arts. It’s a good investment by any measure.
Contact your legislators and let them know that this isn’t the time to cut support. Instead, we should embrace the arts as a vital, positive force in our society.
Kristen Shepherd, executive director, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg
Unease hangs over Tampa gun showFeb. 25
Reality check on guns
Let me get this straight: Florida Gun Shows has a policy that "Safety is our number one priority and can only be maintained if there are NO loaded guns in the show."
Yet the NRA, Donald Trump and a significant number of their supporters believe safety in schools will be enhanced by having more loaded guns. Anyone see anything wrong with this picture? Loaded guns are too dangerous for gun enthusiasts in shows but just fine for our teachers and children in our schools? Huh?
Suzanne Ritch, St. Petersburg
Mental health diversion
Since the massacre at Parkland, several politicians have tried to steer the conversation to mental health. Frankly, this is a transparent attempt to muddy the waters. America does not have a more severe mental health situation than other developed countries. What we have is a lunacy of murder machine availability. Americans are 25 times more likely to be killed by a gun than people in other developed nations. Gun deaths are an epidemic here caused by the cowardice of public officials and the greed of weapons manufacturers.
In contrast, Australia passed an assault weapons ban in 1996 after a man, using an AR-15, killed 35 and wounded 18. They have not had a mass shooting since. AR-15s are not useful for hunting. They are designed and built to kill and maim as many humans as possible in a short time. No civilian needs such a weapon.
The answer is stronger gun laws. We have seen, at the state level, that strong gun laws save lives. The Giffords Law Center annually rates the gun laws of each state. The states rated an A have one-third the number of gun deaths per year as those rated F. Florida is rated F. Those states rated A have all passed universal background checks. In addition, New York, California, Washington, D.C., and five other states have passed assault weapons bans. Eight states also limit large-capacity magazines.
Florida desperately needs an assault weapons ban, large-capacity magazine ban and universal background checks. Then we must apply these commonsense rules across our nation.
Paul F. Robinson, M.D., Ph.D., Tarpon Springs
Tougher laws coming?
To gun rights advocates concerned about bump stocks and gun licensing restrictions: Be careful what you wish for. Political storms are brewing, and the Democrats may make large gains in Congress and state houses, and when they do, they may be inclined to pass much stronger legislation against guns than these minor items. Passing reasonable legislation now may take some of the heat off of guns later.
Jack Hubert, Hudson
Trump says he would have confronted school shooter | Feb. 27
No history of heroism
President Donald Trump declared that he would have gone into the school to confront the killer "even if I didn’t have a weapon." The truth is that he avoided the dangers of Vietnam by getting every draft deferment possible. He had his chance to serve his country, and show his leadership and bravery, but he took the coward’s way out.
Stephen Fulcher, Zephyrhills
Concerns dim prospects of texting billFeb. 27
Curb distracted driving
On Nov. 7, 2014, my son, Anthony Branca, was killed by a distracted driver in Tallahassee. He was 19. His death could have been avoided if we had a law that allowed for stricter enforcement.
Senate Bill 90 would make texting and driving a primary offense in Florida. But the chair of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Rob Bradley, is refusing to put this bill on the agenda for a vote.
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, distracted driving crashes in Florida have increased 25 percent since 2012. In states that have passed a primary offense law for texting and driving, traffic fatalities drop nearly 10 percent. Please call Sen. Bradley and voice your support for SB 90.
Demetrius Branca, Tallahassee