A move to clamp down on companies that market violent games to children would be an about-face for Florida lawmakers. Bills passed by the Legislature have been a financial boon to those same companies, providing millions of dollars in taxpayer funds. Last year, about $48 million was spent on video game companies operating in Florida. Much of the money went to non-violent games.
Taxpayers are also paying to subsidize the production of violent movies filmed in Florida.
A relatively new tax incentive program has made the Sunshine State an attractive location for production studios looking to shoot high-octane action films against a Florida backdrop.
Parker, an action movie that will begin showing in theaters this Friday, received $424,820 in tax credits for production in South Florida last year.
The movie, starring Jason Statham, is R-rated for strong violence and its scenes are riddled with deadly gunplay. Its motto, scrawled across a cover photo featuring a shotgun-wielding Statham: “To get away clean, you have to play dirty.”
Alguien Te Mira (Someone Sees You), a telenovela that filmed some scenes in Miami, received $1.1 million in tax incentives. Beginning in 2010, the Spanish-language thriller about a love triangle and a serial assassin ran for 26 weeks and featured at least 15 murder scenes.
Mental health funding cuts
While the gun lobby and gun-control advocates fiercely disagree about whether assault weapons or violent movies are chiefly responsible for America’s mass shootings, most parties believe that any true solution to the problem must deal directly with mental health.
Advocates on both sides of the debate point out that most of the mass shooters in recent years were mentally ill young men who did not receive adequate treatment.
Mental health advocates say the number of people who fit that description is on the rise in Florida, where inadequate funding for mental healthcare has left hundreds of thousands untreated.
“We’re only serving half of the adults with severe illnesses that need [mental health] care, and a third of the children” said Bob Sharpe, CEO and president of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health. “So we have substantial unmet needs for publicly financed care.”
According to Sharpe’s estimates , the state of Florida has not had any substantial increases in mental healthcare funding in the past 15 years and, adjusted for inflation, spending is down by more than 30 percent since 2006.
Florida currently ranks 49th in the nation for per-capita spending on mental healthcare, and states like Mississippi outspend Florida by a factor of three.
Last year, the Florida Senate pitched a 25 percent cut to mental health and drug abuse funding, proposing to slash the services by $87 million to help balance a tight budget. The House was able to temper what would have been the state’s largest-ever reduction in mental health spending, but further damage hit the budget when it reached the governor’s desk.
Scott vetoed more than $5.6 million in spending for mental health programs in different parts of the state, striking down funding for healthcare providers like Seminole Behavioral Healthcare in Sanford.
Scott is still deciding whether to accept federal money for an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a move that would provide mental health coverage for hundreds of thousands of uninsured.
Meanwhile, there are signs that growing numbers of mentally disturbed Floridians are accessing guns and committing violent acts.
In 2011, a record 1,471 people used a bullet to end their own lives, with more people dying from firearm suicides than from all homicides, according to state data. Self-inflicted gunshot is the choice method for Florida’s suicidal, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all suicides.
“I hope the Florida Legislature will realize that even though we’ve not had a situation similar to Columbine or Sandy Hook, we are vulnerable because of the level of funding that we have for our community health programs and the level of unmet need for services,” said Sharpe, who will testify before the House Education Committee this week. “I hope there’s action.”