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2021 Legislative Update, 'Dirty Gold,' LGBTQ+ Mental Health During COVID-19, And The Blank Slate Exhibit

Domenic Esposito's sculpture "The Salable" (2021) is part of the new exhibition in West Palm Beach entitled "Blank Slate."
Domenic Esposito
Domenic Esposito's sculpture "The Salable" (2020) is part of the new exhibition in West Palm Beach entitled "Blank Slate."

A look at the minimum wage and medical marijuana in the Legislative Session. Plus, a new book on Miami's connection to the illegal gold trade. How LGBTQ students are finding connection in quarantine and a new sculpture exhibition in West Palm Beach exploring mental health.

On this Thursday, March 4, episode of Sundial:

Legislative Update

The legislative session is underway in Tallahassee and there are a number of controversial bills up for debate with lawmakers. One proposed bill would limit who qualifies for the $15 minimum wage increase.

Florida voters overwhelmingly supported Amendment 4 last November, which would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage by a dollar each year reaching $15 an hour by 2026.

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We spoke with Christine Sexton with the News Service of Florida in Tallahassee.

“What lawmakers are saying is, people under the age of 21, convicted felons and other 'hard to hire people'' should be able to be carved out from this [minimum wage.] The Legislature often is accused of, and they often do, revisit issues that voters pass through constitutional amendment, ” Sexton said.

Another controversial piece of legislation would limit the amount of THC that can be in medical marijuana. THC is the psychoactive chemical in medical cannabis. Proponents argue too high a dosage of the chemical can have adverse long term impacts, although there isn’t significant research to support that claim.

Advocates, such as the Veterans for Medical Marijuana Use group, argue it will require individuals to spend more money on pot to address PTSD and other ailments they’re suffering from. Sexton said it’s unclear where Gov. Ron DeSantis stands on this bill, given his previous support of smokable medical marijuana.

2021 Florida Legislative Session Update

'Dirty Gold'

Gold can be found in all parts of our technology and our homes, from your smartphone and computer to your wedding band or earrings. The mining industry in South America is highly unregulated and is having devastating repercussions on the environment. Furthermore, miners are often working long hours, receiving below poverty wages and women and children have been forced into sex work.

The new book “Dirty Gold,” from current and former Miami Herald reporters Jay Weaver, Nicholas Nehamas, Kyra Gurney and Jim Wyss, explores this illegal trade and the critical role South Florida plays in the process.

“The fact that Miami is the center of this industry in terms of being where all this gold comes into the U.S. It was a huge surprise to readers here and across the country. One of the biggest gold refineries in the world is based in Opa-locka,” Nehamas said.

The book came out of the 2018 Miami Herald’s investigative series Dirty Gold: Clean Cash. It’s available in local bookstores and online.

'Dirty Gold'

LGBTQ+ Mental Health During COVID-19

Being stuck at home during COVID-19 and cut off from social networks can be especially distressing for LGBTQ+ kids — who are already at a greater risk for mental health issues. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, high school students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are more than four times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to their heterosexual peers.

WLRN intern, and high school senior, Suria Rimer spoke with Amanda Canete, Youth Program Director at the Compass LGBTQ+ Community Center. Canete explained the need for students to have access to a supportive community while everyone is cooped up at home.

“School and Compass may have been the places that [LGBTQ people] felt the most comfortable. Especially if you have unsupportive family members, you’re going to have a lot more distress and there’s no relief outside because we are all stuck at home. It really does take a toll on your own mental health and how you feel about yourself,” Canete said.

You can find more resources from the Compass Center and the Trevor Project if you, or someone you know, is in need of support.

And subscribe to the Class of COVID-19 newsletter to read Suria’s reporter’s notebook about this topic.

LGBTQ+ Mental Health During COVID-19

Blank Slate

2020 was an incredibly difficult year for millions of Americans who many have lost their grandparents or parents or their jobs. The mental health toll has been enormous, according to the State of Mental Health Report there was a 93% increase in need for services for anxiety and a 63% increase in the need of services for depression.

Sculptor Domenic Esposito’s new exhibition Blank Slate opens in West Palm Beach this weekend and it explores the stories behind our mental health toll, and it hopes to combat the stigma behind seeking help.

“I’m seeing it day in and day out, people are all suffering from this isolationism. You can make the argument for telehealth and the Zoom calls, but it’s not the same to be in a group environment and have someone to talk to and someone to listen to you,” he said.

Esposito gained national attention for his sculpture of an 800 lb. spoon used for cooking heroin. His brother has dealt with opioid addiction for years and Esposito wanted to bring the issue to the attention of pharmaceutical companies.

The sculpture was placed outside of the Sackler Family corporate offices in Connecticut — their company, Purdue Pharma, faced multiple lawsuits for their role in the proliferation of prescription drugs.

We spoke with Esposito about his advocacy work on opioid issues and mental health access, as part of the exhibit.

Stay Connected
Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.
Suria is Sundial's fall 2020 high school intern and a production assistant.