A roundup of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Pinellas sheriff offers smart pre-arrest diversion proposal
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has proposed a promising alternative to arresting individuals for minor crimes and creating criminal records that make it harder for them to get jobs and participate in community life. Instead of launching a civil citation program for misdemeanor marijuana arrests like Tampa and other cities in Florida, Gualtieri wants to create a pre-arrest diversion program that would enable adults to avoid getting a record for a variety of low-level crimes. The Pinellas County Commission, which is set to hold a workshop on the issue Tuesday, should give the sheriff’s proposal a full and fair hearing.
County commissioners decided to take on the issue of civil citations at the behest of the St. Petersburg City Council, which last year asked them to consider creating a countywide ordinance aimed at ending arrests for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The council is still debating the components of a citywide measure, but Gualtieri’s proposal is a better option. Instead of issuing civil citations, the sheriff wants to create a pre-arrest diversion program. It would be modeled after the department’s juvenile diversion program. Rather than arrest adults who have committed certain minor crimes, Gualtieri would put them through a diversion program. That would prevent adult offenders from having a criminal record or getting a civil citation, which would still create a record of the offense. To successfully complete the program, offenders may be required to pay a nominal fee, perform community service or submit restitution to victims.
Gualtieri’s plan ably addresses what has become a nationwide call for reforming a criminal justice system that relies too heavily on incarceration, often for low-level crimes, and disproportionately affects African-Americans. The arrests create criminal records for people that can affect them for life as they seek employment, housing and loans.
A growing number of cities and counties in Florida, including Tampa, have created civil citation programs that mostly center on the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Gualtieri makes a good case for broadening that effort. Under his plan, the program would include several yet to be determined low-level crimes such as retail theft and disorderly conduct. The sheriff’s proposal would allow for more even enforcement for similar offenses instead of carving out a single exemption for marijuana possession.
Bradenton Herald — FDOT should expedite fixes to Bradenton-Palmetto gridlock
Ask anyone with a driver’s license about Manatee County’s transportation challenges and expect an earful of complaints about the utter gridlock at certain times of day and season. The Florida Department of Transportation held a public workshop Thursday to gain resident feedback on a state analysis of the issues in a 13-square-mile zone spread out from the hearts of Bradenton and Palmetto. They got that earful.
Traffic congestion is not a new issue but a rather old one that defies an easy fix and frustrates city and county officials for the lack of progress.
The Green and DeSoto bridges, the only two spans connecting Bradenton and Palmetto, look like parking lots on occasion — especially during rush hours, season and spring training, which draws a lot of Pittsburgh Pirates fans. Worries from Palmetto residents about reaching Manatee Memorial Hospital in a timely manner are a grave concern.
On Manatee Avenue West, traffic heading into downtown Bradenton backs up almost 20 blocks during the evening rush hour. Cortez Road isn’t much better. Today, we’re stuck with only those two east-west arterials, two bridges to Anna Maria Island, and the two across the Manatee River.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Hospital merger a healthy development
It’s been a long time coming, but Bert Fish Memorial Hospital is finally, officially, under the aegis of Florida Hospital. And like any good partnership, this merger holds promise of benefits for all parties.
The deal puts the Adventist Health System, the parent corporation of Florida Hospital, in control in the Southeast Volusia market, strengthening its competitive stance against Halifax Health. It’s a rivalry that, thus far, has often benefited Volusia and Flagler residents: Two big, nonprofit hospital chains going toe-to-toe to offer the best health care to local communities. (The competition is still hot: Halifax officials told The News-Journal’s Michael Finch II that they’re considering a freestanding emergency department in Edgewater.)
Bert Fish — now renamed Florida Hospital New Smyrna — is also scoring a big win. As a small regional hospital with no local partners, it faced flagging revenues — with an operating loss of $14.7 million in 2015 — and other operating constraints. A merger has been in the cards for a long time; in fact, Bert Fish was aligned with Halifax for seven years before going through a messy divorce in 2004. This new partnership will almost immediately reduce the New Smyrna Beach hospital’s overhead, as functions like human resources and purchasing could be shifted to Adventist. Access to working capital and medical specialties also should make a big difference to Florida Hospital New Smyrna’s bottom line, and the taxing district will see a payment of $40 million for a 25-year lease on the hospital.
But the biggest winners may well be the residents who look to Florida Hospital New Smyrna as their closest hospital, and fund it through their property taxes. They will benefit from access to Florida Hospital’s network of medical services. Florida Hospital New Smyrna will be in a stronger position when recruiting doctors and other medical services to Southeast Volusia, and in a more stable position to deal with waves of changes to the federal Medicaid and Medicare programs.
The Florida Times-Union — Abuse during childhood can produce PTSD
Emily was a toddler when the abuse began. One of her Jacksonville mother’s many boyfriends who began to very severely assault her.
It continued with boyfriend after boyfriend.
When Emily, which is not her real name, was 3 she was removed from the home and placed with relatives. Although the little girl was physically safe, her mental wounds wouldn’t heal.
She had terrible anger problems that, as she grew older, made her aggressive to other children. She would bang her head on the floor. She wept uncontrollably. She had night terrors.
In first grade, her aggression toward her classmates escalated. At times that aggression turned inward and she would bite her hands until they bled.
She was finally referred to a counselor. It was that counselor who diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder and began a regimen of therapy adapted to children who suffer from traumatic experiences.
Florida Today – Legislature delivered for Brevard schools
In today’s political climate, it is rare to hear praise and appreciation for our legislators, but today, I want to change that. The 2016 Florida legislative session has concluded, and the Brevard legislative delegates demonstrated their commitment and support for Brevard Public Schools with two initiatives that will significantly contribute to the welfare of our students and the county.
I want to personally thank Speaker of the House Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner, Senator Thad Altman, Representative Ritch Workman, Representative Tom Goodson and Representative John Tobia for their work on behalf of our community and the state of Florida. I would also like to recognize the contributions of Sen. Don Gaetz, representing Northwest Florida, for his work towards this effort.
The first initiative Brevard legislators championed was to provide additional support for school districts in counties with large sections of tax-exempt federal land or institutions. The Federally Connected Student supplement was first placed in the 2015-2016 budget specifically to help districts that serve families of U.S. employees. For Brevard, this resulted in an additional $2.6 million dollars for the 2015-2016 school year, however this allocation was approved for one year only.
Recognizing how essential this funding is for the support of our families serving at locations such as NASA and Patrick Air Force Base, we knew we needed to work diligently to make this funding source a part of Florida’s statutory language. Through the tireless efforts of our Brevard legislators, this supplement is now permanent, creating much-needed and sustained support for the families that serve our nation.
The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers
When 5-year-olds spend more time preparing for standardized tests than college students applying to law school, something is seriously wrong.
Leave it to Gainesville kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles to point out the problem in a Tallahassee courtroom this week.
Cheer: Bowles and other local teachers and officials, for standing up for students in a case challenging the adequacy of Florida’s school funding.
The lawsuit, filed in 2009 but just going to trial this month, argues Florida has failed to fulfill its state constitutional obligation to provide every student with a uniform and a high-quality education. Gainesville-based Southern Legal Counsel is litigating the case, which includes testimony from several local teachers and officials.
Bowles, Alachua County’s 2015 teacher of the year, made headlines when she refused to administer a state-mandated test to her kindergartners. The state subsequently suspended the test.
The Lakeland Ledger — Solar amendment demands voter scrutiny
It’s uncommon, but not unheard of, for Florida voters to have second thoughts about amending the state Constitution. Lakeland businessman C.C. Dockery knows this well.
In 2000 Dockery successfully shepherded through a proposed amendment creating a high-speed rail system for Florida. It passed with 53 percent of the vote back when a simple majority was sufficient. Four years later, however, the rail system was repealed by 64 percent of the voters. That came after then-Gov. Jeb Bush and Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher bashed the plan because of its supposed cost, as much as $25 billion according to a Bush-appointed task force.
Dockery’s experience shows an amendment can be rescinded once approved. But it’s quite another thing for two groups to offer competing amendments covering the same topic, as happened with solar energy.
Ultimately, only one prevailed, and after the Florida Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday, voters will have a say in the future of solar energy in the Sunshine State.
Donald Trump’s loud mouth and lack of preparation for the presidency caught up with him this week. His absurd comment about women and abortion is illuminating not only because it reveals that he’s seriously clueless on the issues, but also because of what it says about his candidacy.
Mr. Trump got brickbats from all sides for saying that women who seek abortions if the procedure is outlawed should receive “some form of punishment.” He beat an urgent retreat when both supporters and opponents of abortion expressed outrage.
The blunder revealed the candidate’s ignorance on important issues. And the speed with which he recanted — a remarkable occurrence for someone who never apologizes and claims he never bows to “political correctness” — exposed his lack of political conviction. His amended version said doctors who perform illegal abortions should be punished, but the original question was clear, and so was his reply: Punish the women.
Mr. Trump was asked by MSNBC host Chris Matthews in a town hall forum how he might enforce his proposed restriction on abortion. He was totally unprepared to answer because he had apparently failed to consider the consequences of his views. As usual.
Orlando Sentinel — Lawmakers fall short on health care
Hundreds of thousands of Floridians each year struggle with mental-health problems and substance abuse. Their hardship extends to their families and even to the state’s economy, which loses billions of dollars a year in productivity.
State lawmakers took some significant steps during their regular session this year to improve mental-health and substance-abuse care. But once again, they squandered the opportunity that would have made the biggest positive difference.
First, the improvements.
Lawmakers passed legislation that should help Floridians who need treatment get it sooner, before their problems require acute, high-cost care in state mental hospitals. That’s important, because those hospitals are understaffed and underfunded.
Ocala StarBanner — Solar choice is no choice at all
It’s uncommon in Florida for two groups to offer competing constitutional amendments covering the same topic, as has happened with solar energy.
Ultimately, only one prevailed. After the Florida Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday, voters will have a say — a limited one — in the future of solar energy in the Sunshine State.
We hope, however, as Justice Barbara Pariente suggested in her dissent to the 4-3 vote allowing the measure on the ballot, that they pay close attention because the amendment before them is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Florida, North Carolina, Kentucky and Oklahoma are the only states that force solar consumers to buy their power from an electric utility. An eclectic collection of interests — libertarians, environmentalists, tea party activists and Christian conservatives — united under the umbrella Floridians for Solar Choice to subvert the utilities’ dominance.
Pensacola News-Journal — IHMC lecture: ‘Gravity is our friend’
Joan Vernikos’ father grew up on a Greek island and as a teenager, decided that he wanted to become a physician. So at age 17, he got on a ship to France and showed up at the medical school in Montepellier, and announced his intention of studying to be a doctor. They said fine, Vernikos said, and he learned French and medicine at the same time.
He passed on that drive for learning to his two daughters: Joan, who studied pharmacy; and her older sister, who became a physician. Joan’s career took her to the U.S., where she became renowned for her research on how gravity-less environments like space accelerate aging; and by association, the more interaction with gravity we have on earth — via physical activity — the slower we are likely to age.
Vernikos will share her insights at lecture at the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition at 6 p.m. on Thursday. Her lecture, titled “Gravity is Our Friend,” will focus on gravity deprivation syndrome, which is characterized by insulin resistance, oxidative stress, fat storage in tissues that normally contain only small amounts of fat — a condition called ectopic fat storage — and other symptoms that affect both health and mobility.
Vernikos will also talk about “relative G deprivation”—for example, how uninterrupted sitting for many hours during the day can lead to poor health and premature aging.
The Palm Beach Post —Municipalities have responsibility to pet consumers, too
The Palm Beach County Commission is considering a sales ban on commercially bred puppies in pet stores. Elected officials, members of the public and store owners will present the usual opposition.
This letter is an attempt to put out some fires before they start to engulf all sense and reason. We have been down this road now in more than 45 municipalities in Florida. There are no new routines in the playbook.
In Eliot Kleinberg’s article last week in The Palm Beach Post, there were the usual comments claiming that our mission is to put people out of business and that not all dogs come from bad breeders or puppy mills. These claims are reasonable since few officials or consumers understand the “puppy mill-pet store connection.”
Ninety-nine percent of all pet stores get their puppies from “commercial breeders.” How do we know this? Because no responsible, caring breeder would sell to a store. They would never send a 7-week-old puppy across the country in trucks that are acclimated to temperatures from 10 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Panama City News-Herald — A kinder, gentler Spring Break
Spring Break returned to Daytona Beach this month like an alumnus attending his 20-year class reunion — reliving the past, but in a more subdued and responsible way.
To be sure, college students never completely abandoned Daytona Beach as a Spring Break destination. But more than two decades ago this area held the title as Spring Break capital of the nation, complete with MTV (back in the days when it still had a major impact on popular culture) sponsoring events and broadcasting live from the beach.
However, just as had happened in the early 1980s in Fort Lauderdale, it eventually became too much — too much drinking and debauchery, too much noise and traffic, too many arrests, too many fatalities, all of which combined to tarnish Daytona Beach’s image. Although Spring Break was lucrative for hoteliers and merchants, city officials feared the overall cost to the community was excessive.
So just as Fort Lauderdale did previously, Daytona Beach cracked down on drinking on the beach and other unwanted behaviors to drive away those spring breakers who were mostly interested in recreating the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Like a nomadic tribe, the breakers trekked over to what became the next Spring Break mecca: Panama City Beach.
South Florida Sun Sentinel – Anti-regulation governor regulates abortion
Florida Gov. Rick Scott loves to say we need less government regulation — and less government intrusion — in our lives. That is his mantra.
Yet there he was recently, signing a bill into law that imposes dramatic new regulations over abortion clinics and likely will intrude on women’s abilities to find a provider.
In Florida’s continuing attempt to restrict a woman’s right to legal abortion services, Scott signed HB 1411, which restricts state agencies, local governments and Medicaid managed-care plans from contracting with organizations that own, operate or affiliate with clinics that perform abortions. It takes effect July 1.
The defunding of agencies like Planned Parenthood also will restrict poor women’s access to services like cancer screenings, birth control and other preventive care.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Seven predictions for this unparalleled presidential contest
Political horse race observations and predictions from the Publisher’s desk:
1) A prediction: You might recall that I predicted many months ago that the country would simply not allow another Bush-Clinton presidential election. I am now predicting that the country will also not allow a Trump-Clinton election. That means either one (or both) will not be on the November ballot, or there will be a legit third-party candidate on the ballot in all or most of the states.
2) For Trump supporters, the past two weeks could be titled: “Welcome to Labor Day until Election Day.” This is what it will look like – every day – for three months. By the time November comes around, Trump will be carrying maybe two to three out of 10 of the female vote and virtually no African-Americans or Latinos. In other words … #blowout.
3) I think it’s actually more likely than not that neither Trump nor Cruz is the Republican nominee. My basis for that is: a) It’s becoming increasingly clear that Trump will not get a majority of delegates pre-convention and that his prospects of winning a general election are dwindling; b) Cruz also performs poorly in head to head with Clinton; c) Key point: If you are the Republican establishment, and you are willing to wrest the nomination away from the candidate with the plurality of delegates, why not also wrest it away from the runner-up? Kasich polls 10-25 points higher vs. Clinton than does Trump and 5-10 higher than Cruz. Seems to me if you are going to go that route, you might as well go all the way.
4) Democrats should have somehow summoned up the fortitude to keep their mouths shut on Trump. I know it’s irresistible, but Trump as the GOP nominee would have been manna for the Democrats. I don’t see that happening now.
The Tampa Tribune — The benefits of civic investment
We wish we had a nickel for every complaint we’ve received through the years about the Riverwalk, which was derided as a white elephant that no one would use.
Instead, the 2.4-mile trail along the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa has proved itself a major success, attracting locals, tourists and investors to the urban core.
The exciting plans to overhaul the exterior of the Straz Center to take greater advantage of the river is an example. As the Tribune’s Christopher O’Donnell reports, the Straz plans call for “an event pavilion that seats up to 800 people, an iconic over-the-water-structure, a grand terrace, a restaurant and cafes with terrace seating” and even docks with a berth for the city’s new water taxis.
The project could cost as much as $100 million, with the bulk expected to come from private donations and grants.
The venture will make the center even more inviting, expand the kind of events it can hold and add even more bustle — and jobs — to downtown and no doubt prompt more investment in the vicinity.