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Lawmakers Push To Expand Medicaid And Medical Marijuana, Losing The Amazon Rainforest, New Art Illuminates Coral Gables

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John Talley
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Courtesy of Illuminate Coral Gables
Twenty-seven American-made pedicabs are transformed into kinetic and interactive sculptures through 1000 handmade silk Chinese lanterns by artist Cai Guo-Qiang for the "Illuminate Coral Gables" public installation.

Florida lawmakers look to expand Medicaid and medical marijuana. Saving the Brazilian rainforest. Plus, a new art exhibit lights up the City of Coral Gables.

On this Monday, Feb. 22, episode of Sundial:

Lawmakers Push To Expand Medicaid And Medical Marijuana

The Florida Legislature convenes next week with a number of daunting challenges: a record loss of life, an economy struggling to recover from the tourism dive and social justice issues all remain top of mind.

Democratic State Sen. Perry Thurston, who represents parts of Broward County, has made proposals for Medicaid expansion prior to the pandemic, urging the Legislature to accept the initial offering of over $50 billion from the federal government. He predicted people being unable to receive the preventative care they need, with dire outcomes.

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“Those predictions have not only come true — they are like on steroids. Because, our communities are suffering with that assistance. We could have had people who would have had much better outcomes. To not accept that money was one of the worst things that our state government and the leaders in Florida could have ever done,” Thurston said.

He’s currently part of a bill that would expand Medicaid access to those who don't qualify under the current system, and estimates 700,000 people could benefit from it.

”If you look at our budget right now, we have a projected $2.7 billion deficit ... we're proposing things that we think are just no brainers, things that can help our state get out of this hole without cutting education and health care. We need to have honest discussions and serious discussions about how we increase revenue. Quite frankly, [expanded access to medical marijuana] is one of the ways we could,” Thurston said.

Lawmakers Push To Expand Medicaid And Medical Marijuana
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Losing The Amazon Rainforest

The Amazon rainforest lost five million acres due to fires, logging and development in 2020, according to a report from the Amazon Conservation Association.

The ecosystem is critical for the South American economy and is home to four hundred indigenous tribes.

“We read about the Amazon rainforest and we sort of think it's the lungs of the world. What the rainforest really does is maintain a lot of carbon underground. The moment you start cutting down trees and deforestation, what you're doing is you're releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. It prevents us from having a carbon bomb going off into the atmosphere,” said Dr. Monica de Bolle, an author and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

She’s also an adjunct lecturer and former director for Latin American studies and emerging markets at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

A coalition of former U.S. cabinet officials and climate policy experts see the Biden administration as a reason for hope and are calling for direct action.

“There is room for engaging in financing and investment for sustainable activities in the Amazon. I think many countries, in particular European countries, have taken this line. They are not buying export products from producers in Brazil that do not have sustainable agricultural practices. These kinds of sanctions can be extremely useful in pressuring the private sector in a country like Brazil to pressure the existing administration into doing things that are protective of the Amazon,” Bolle said.

Losing The Amazon Rainforest
Smoke rises from the fires ravaging the Amazon basin in August. On Monday, Brazilian authorities released data revealing the highest rate of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in a decade — partly due to a recent surge in wildfires throughout the region.

New Art Illuminates Coral Gables

We’re nearing a year of social distancing, masks and long walks outside — for a while, that’s all we can do safely.

With COVID-19 still roaming around, some have continued that tradition. And if you now take a walk around the city of Coral Gables you’ll notice colorful, bright and some traveling lights.

The city is hosting an outdoor public art and light installation called “Illuminate Coral Gables,” on display until March 13.

“It’s a light-based fine art exhibition that is being presented in the public realm, and it consists of several large projection artworks covering some of the notable buildings in town — City Hall, the Miracle Theater, the Coral Gables Museum and the Ocean Bank, also known as the Davidsen Building, on the road,” said Patrick O’Connell, who co-founded the exhibition.

Beyond being eye-catching, some of the works reflect the times we are living in. Antonia Wright and Ruben Millares’ light installation “Yes/No” was inspired by the protests against racial injustice that have been happening for years and came to the forefront in 2020.

They explore how barricades can provide safety and order at celebratory events like parades or music events, while also exuding anxiety when used in protests to separate and control bodies in public spaces.

“We've taken the city's barricades, we've covered them in LED lights and they're four different locations around the city,” said Wright. “Barricades are designed to disappear into the landscape so that you don't notice them. By covering them with lights, we aim to highlight the pun intended to really show their ubiquitous nature on our streets.”

New Art Illuminates Coral Gables
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The exhibit also includes educational and hands-on projects that patrons can participate in.

In this video, artist Carlos Estévez explains how students can make kites that are based on identity, self-portraiture, and inclusivity, which will culminate in a virtual exhibition and possible actual artworks throughout downtown Coral Gables. Find more ways to participate here.

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Leslie Ovalle produces WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.
Suria is Sundial's fall 2020 high school intern and a production assistant.