A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers

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A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:

Tampa Bay Times — Don’t leave Charlotte’s Web sellers to chance

Florida lawmakers made a sound decision earlier this year when they legalized Charlotte’s Web for the treatment of children with epileptic seizures. Now state regulators setting rules for who can grow and distribute the drug should establish a free-market competition rather than a lottery for businesses that meet the law’s minimum qualifications for growers. Patients and parents of children who will use the drug should be able to do business with companies that will produce the safest, most efficacious products on the market — not simply the grower whose name is pulled out of a hat.

Lawmakers approved Charlotte’s Web and Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law after months of lobbying by the parents of sick children who said the drug eased pain where traditional medicine had failed. The drug is a noneuphoric strain of marijuana that is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It contains high amounts of cannabidiol, an ingredient known for treating seizures, cancer and Lou Gehrig’s disease. The strain was developed in Colorado and named after a 7-year-old girl who had 300 epileptic seizures a day until she found relief using Charlotte’s Web. Advocates say more than 125,000 children in Florida could be helped by Charlotte’s Web.

In Florida, lawmakers placed significant restrictions on the drug’s composition and on how it will be grown and distributed. The law calls for the creation of five dispensaries around the state. Growers must have been in business for 30 continuous years, pay for a $150,000 license and post a $5 million performance bond. Proposed rules from the Department of Health create five regions for the drug’s distribution. If there is more than one applicant for a region, the department proposes a public lottery “to determine the order in which applications are considered.” Companies chosen in the lottery will have 120 days to begin dispensing the products or lose their license.

The Bradenton Herald — Bradenton Herald-State College of Florida’s next Community Conversation on medical marijuana

The Bradenton Herald and State College of Florida are pleased to announce a dynamic lineup of panelists for a Community Conversation about the medical marijuana amendment on the November ballot.

The Aug. 20 public forum, on SCF’s Bradenton campus, will feature statewide leaders from both sides of the issue, law enforcement and a medical cannabis researcher.

Amendment 2 has sparked broad opposition from substance abuse organizations and law enforcement agencies. A Quinnipiac University poll taken in November, however, shows 82 percent of voters in favor of the amendment, including a majority of conservatives.

The battle lines are drawn, with one pivotal argument about the language in the amendment and whether it is too permissive and open to abuse. Expect to see millions spent on advertising as the election nears.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal —Vote ‘yes’ on half-cent sales tax for schools

On Aug. 26, Volusia County voters will be asked to renew, for the next 15 years starting in 2017, the half-cent sales tax dedicated to funding new public schools, new technology for classrooms and improvements for campus security.

We recommend a “yes” vote, for these key reasons:

This is not a new tax or a tax increase. It is an extension of the half-cent that was added to the local sales tax by voters in 2001, and which is scheduled to expire Dec. 31, 2016. The local economy has absorbed that half-cent through good times and bad; it is “baked in” to the area’s spending and budgeting decisions. Extending it would not have a deleterious effect.

Furthermore, unlike property taxes, a big chunk of the half-cent sales tax revenue — an estimated 30-40 percent — comes from non-residents.

The school district has demonstrated that it has spent the half-cent revenues responsibly. It has completed 90 percent of the projects on the original funding list, which includes building eight new schools and replacing 10 others. Contrast that success rate with Orange County, which passed a half-cent sales tax in 2003 that was projected to pay for work on 136 schools. But district officials there say they will fall 39 schools short of that initial expectation.

The Florida Times-Union —Judge was right to throw out extreme congressional districts

The 5th Congressional District that U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown represents extends snakelike from Jacksonville to Orlando.

When the Florida Legislature drew new congressional district maps following the 2010 census, this district was actually made more extreme. A narrow appendage was added that jutted into Seminole County.

In the view of Circuit Judge Terry Lewis in Leon County, that was illegal. It flew in the face of Florida voters who passed a constitutional amendment to require districts to be drawn as compactly as possible while maintaining minority access.

NARROWS TO A ROAD

How extreme? In order to capture African-American residents, the district sometimes narrows to the width of Highway 17.

Lewis also named the 10th Congressional District in Central Florida as being illegally drawn for similar reasons.

Florida House and Senate leaders announced last week that they would not appeal the Lewis decision. It may be too late to change congressional lines in time for this year’s election. Still, there will be three more congressional elections before new districts would take effect in the next decade.

The 5th Congressional District didn’t have to be so absurdly drawn.

The Gainesville Sun – For a better corps

The Peace Corps advertises itself as “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”

Unfortunately, the international volunteer program’s application process is proving to be too tough for some people.

A falling number of applicants has left the program at its lowest level of volunteers in more than a decade. In response, the program this week announced some of the biggest changes in its more than 50-year history.

The changes include allowing applicants to pick preferred destinations and programs. Its application has also been shortened, now taking an hour to complete instead of eight. Applicants who used to have to wait up to 18 months for a decision now are supposed to hear back in three months.

The changes will likely be welcomed at the University of Florida, which sends more students to the Peace Corps than nearly any other university in the country.

UF produced the most group members of any university in 2012 and the third most in 2013. More than 1,200 UF alumni have served in the program.

The Lakeland Ledger — A Conversation With Sara Roberts

When you meet Sara Roberts, you understand why she was selected two years ago to lead the countywide Polk Vision organization. The 42-year-old was born at Lakeland General and grew up in Davenport. She lives in Lakeland, but travels countywide. She’s the only full-time employee, but often can be seen with one of two part-timers who work with her. Polk Vision receives funding from various partners – some give as little as $100, the county gives the most — $25,000. The Ledger recently caught up with Roberts. Following is an edited version of the conversation.

What is Polk Vision all about?

We elevate the conversation about topics that are vital to our community, the Polk County community.

How did it get started?

The BOCC (Board of County Commissioners), United Way and the University of South Florida-Lakeland came together and said we need to have a vision for the whole county of where we want to be in 20 or so years. They brought a consultant in and did a visioning process in 2004, then formed a 501(c)3.

The Miami Herald — Murder in the sky

The murder of 298 people aboard a civilian airliner over Ukrainian territory represents an unmitigated, horrifying act of terrorism for which Russia and Vladimir Putin must be held accountable.

At this writing, there are still many unanswered questions about the incident. But there is little reason to doubt that Russia and its KGB-trained leader bear a large measure of responsibility for spilling innocent blood. There is simply no way Mr. Putin and the war party in Moscow can evade their complicity.

Without Russia’s active encouragement and open support, there would be no violent insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Hence no armed “separatists.” Hence no anti-aircraft rockets aimed and ready to fire at a moment’s notice at anything in the sky. Hence no tragedies like the one that brought down a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flying at an altitude of 33,000 feet over contested territory.

On Friday, Fidel Castro, of all people, piped up to blame Ukraine for the disaster. No one should consider this anything but the ranting of a half-demented old man in his dotage. All the evidence so far points to the Kremlin-backed, pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine as the ones who fired the anti-aircraft missile that knocked Flight 17 out of the sky.

“That shot was taken in a territory controlled by the Russian separatists,” President Obama said Friday. His ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, went further, suggesting direct Russian complicity: “We cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating this (anti-aircraft) system.”

The Orlando Sentinel — Orlando should make sure Uber plays by rules

Orlando’s taxi industry has been driving scared since Uber rolled into town last month. Uber is the 5-year-old San Francisco company behind the UberX smartphone app that connects passengers with drivers who provide rides in their personal vehicles — often for less than taxis charge.

Mears Transportation, a 75-year-old company that owns three taxi services that operate in the Orlando area, has been leading the local industry’s offensive against Uber. With about half the taxi permits issued by the city, Mears has an obvious interest in trying to keep out lower-priced competition.

But there’s merit behind Mears’ argument that Uber isn’t fighting fair.

Mears and other conventional taxi companies in Orlando must comply with a raft of city regulations. Mandates include police background checks for drivers, city permits for drivers and vehicles, and proof of commercial insurance at levels dictated by the city.

In addition, taxi companies in Orlando must provide service to all parts of the city at all hours. Their drivers must charge fares set by the city, accept all forms of payment, never turn down a request for a ride, and accommodate passengers with disabilities.

The Ocala StarBanner — Redraw Brown’s crazy district

A judge’s decision striking down U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown’s congressional district found that its bizarre shape is more about protecting Republican election prospects than protecting minority voting rights.

By attacking the decision, Brown, D-Jacksonville, is making it clear that her main concern is protecting her job — even if it means ideological allies have a tougher time winning in neighboring districts.

A Leon County judge last week struck down the district, finding it was drawn in violation of the state’s Fair Districts amendments. Brown has blasted the decision as an “insensitive ruling” that might deny black voters the chance “to elect a representative who shares their ethnic identity.”

Her district, which connects black population centers stretching from Jacksonville to Orlando and takes in a piece of Marion County, was clearly drawn to correct a historical wrong. Before 1992, Florida had not elected a black representative to Congress in 121 years.

The Pensacola News-Journal — Freedom to marry is coming

Prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the ACLU’s case on behalf of Edie Windsor that struck down the heart of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the law prohibiting the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples, more than 20 courts have issued rulings against similar state prohibitions.

Last week, Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Luis M. Garcia declared part of Florida’s ban unconstitutional. More cases are in the pipeline, including the ACLU’s case in federal court seeking what Judge Garcia’s opinion does not address: recognition of marriages performed in other states.

The flurry of activity across the country involves battles over the meaning of the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment – added to the Constitution after the Civil War to prevent states from depriving any person of fundamental rights.

But there are other questions about democracy that are posed by the revolution in legal rights for lesbians and gays in which our nation is now enveloped: How much longer are we required to endure the biases and prejudices enshrined in our laws?

The Palm Beach Post —Allow Medicare to negotiate better drug prices

Florida’s Medicaid program has decided to pay for an extraordinarily expensive new treatment for hepatitis C — but only for the sickest of patients.

Ideally, the blockbuster drug Sovaldi would be available to everyone diagnosed with hepatitis C. After all, the disease is terrible, highly contagious and Sovaldi promises a cure rate of above 90 percent.

The Panama City News-Herald — Tax money can be saved with a little compromise

In “The Godfather” a gang war was referred to as ‘going to the mattresses.’

While a few still liken Bay County politics to Mario Puzo’s crime families it’s usually far more genteel. However, a lift station in Callaway seems to have officials in Bay County and Callaway headed for a long and costly battle.

The station has been a source of problems for more than a decade but the issue got heated last year and has caused an ongoing stink for officials for months.

Callaway commissioners and employees contend the county’s odor control system is inadequate, but county officials say the problem stemmed from Callaway’s failure to pretreat wastewater coming from Sandy Creek. Both sides used taxpayer money to fund independent studies. The results of the studies reminded us of Gomer Pyle — ‘surprise, surprise surprise.’ Wouldn’t you know it, Callaway’s independent study backed Callaway’s position. Bay County’s independent study backed the county.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Deal with Thrasher

Hire a new headhunter, listen to faculty concerns, get more student representatives involved, extend the application deadline until September.

Those issues are merely window dressing in the search for a new president for Florida State University. Because the truth is, the process will be compromised as long as John Thrasher is the elephant in the room.

Mr. Thrasher, 70, is the powerful state senator and former House speaker who has been using that power in an all-out push to land the top job at FSU. He was rumored to be a candidate soon after then-FSU President Eric Barron announced his departure for Penn State, and he became the leading candidate before he even formally applied for the job.

There are three ways this can end:

• Mr. Thrasher can withdraw his name from consideration.

• The search committee can heed the recommendation of its original consultant and make a fast decision on Mr. Thrasher.

• FSU can continue the search process, ignoring the opinion of many that, in the words of the original consultant, it is trying to “concoct a ‘competitive process.’ ”

The Tampa Tribune —Stand your ground continues to rear its ugly head

The state’s flawed “stand your ground” law continues to be a source of refuge for people who may not be deserving of its protections.

Recently, the Florida Supreme Court allowed an appellate court decision involving a “stand your ground” defense to stand. The result: A man who shot and killed two unarmed people never had to face a jury of his peers.

And this week, an appellate court in Palm Beach County decided a convicted felon illegally in possession of a firearm could use “stand your ground” as a defense after shooting another man during an altercation.

Did legislators really intend the law’s self-defense protections to be interpreted so broadly?

These cases are the latest examples of how the 2005 law continues to vex the police and prosecutors who investigate the circumstances surrounding cases involving violent disputes. Under the law, the investigators must await a preliminary judgment about guilt or innocence before a trial is ever held.

As we’ve said before, “stand your ground” as a concept is laudable. People who fear for their lives through no fault of their own shouldn’t be prosecuted. But that was already the rule of law, and the “stand your ground” law eliminates any duty to retreat, which is enabling people who choose to participate in violent disputes to end them by using lethal force.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.