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 — Rooting out rot in housing program

Hillsborough County should hit the pause button on reforming its housing program and investigate the indifference and incompetence that enabled slumlords to live off taxpayer money while poor people with housing vouchers were forced to live in unsafe and sickening conditions. If the county mismanaged the program so egregiously before, why should the public have any confidence that it can get it right this time by supervising charities to do a better job instead? There is no real fix without understanding the depth of the problem.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Michael Laforgia and Will Hobson reported Sunday how the county’s mismanagement of its Homeless Recovery program endangered the very people whom taxpayers were getting off the streets. During the past five years, the county paid for space in buildings in blighted areas of central and north Tampa where homeless people, including families with children, veterans, the mentally ill and the working poor, were lumped together in filthy, crime-ridden slums. Caseworkers sent these clients to live in moldy, bug-infested rooms where some had to live alongside sex offenders or step over puddles of human waste to a bed paid for by taxpayers.

The hardships that residents relayed show why some homeless people would rather take their chances on the streets. Residents put poison on their mattresses to kill bedbugs. A father of three found syringes on the bathroom floor. Since 2009, police or sheriff’s deputies visited the rentals some 5,500 times, or once every eight hours for five years. They chronicled reports of more than 300 assaults and 150 thefts. One-fourth of the $4.3 million the county has spent in the past five years has gone to vendors whose buildings were routine hazards or hotbeds of crime.

The county responded to the Times’ reports by replacing two senior managers and moving to outsource the housing program to nonprofit groups. That is a step in the right direction, but it’s clear the operation was shoddy throughout the ranks. So why is the county guaranteeing that the staff members replaced from the housing program will find new jobs in county government? It is appalling that these conditions existed, yet no one else is being held responsible for failing to enforce any order or decency.

The Bradenton Herald — Homebuilder goes on an Amazon adventure in Manatee County

Nothing says smart marketing like name recognition. So when an Internet retail behemoth like Amazon announces plans to locate a huge distribution center in Hillsborough County just north of the Manatee County line, what would be a catchy name for a new housing development?

How about “The Villages of Amazon South.”

That’s not a reference to the river in South America.

Neal Communities plans to build almost 2,000 homes in Parrish plus office and commercial space.

With hundreds of new jobs expected with the arrival of Amazon, homebuilders are anxious to serve the growth.

Neal Communities, known for sharp marketing efforts, admits this Amazon South moniker is “just a working name.”

But it sure beats “The Villages of Walmart South.”

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Long delay in flood insurance reform questionable

Floridians who live in flood-prone areas will be happy to know that a bipartisan group in Congress has a plan to delay rate hikes in the federal flood insurance program.

The nation as a whole, however, may not be as happy with a deal that postpones for four years premium increases needed to help the program climb out of a deep, deep hole.

The flood insurance program provides heavily subsidized rates for people with homes in low-lying areas. In the aftermath of the massive damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, the flood insurance program’s deficit soared above $20 billion. Congress had to act to keep the program from running out of control.

Reform legislation approved last year aimed to move homeowners’ insurance rates closer to the actual risk for houses built in flood-prone areas. As a result of the reform law, some homeowners were facing rate increases of more than 20 percent. These increases would continue for four years.

A large percentage of those federal flood policies cover primary homes and second homes in Florida.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the troubled program, said 1,585 flood insurance policies in Volusia County would be affected by the changes. In Flagler County, 151 policies would be affected.

The sudden rise in rates posed a significant threat to Florida’s real estate market, which is just now regaining strength after the collapse of the real estate bubble. Republicans like Gov. Rick Scott and Democrats like U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson agreed that Congress should at least delay the rate hikes.

The Florida Times-Union — Hypocrisy: Cutting food but saving flood insurance

Mousing around the news of the day … click.

Congress hardly blinks twice at cutting food stamps for the poor, but when it comes to doing away with a subsidy for the well-to-do, it’s whoa, Nellie.

Taxpayers across the country, including those who live in places where it seldom rains, have shelled out $25 billion to prop up the National Flood Insurance Program that protects people who buy often fancy homes in flood zones.

An obviously confused Congress passed a law last year that would phase out the subsidies.

But when the higher flood insurance rates that followed kicked in last month, people started screaming like a stuck pig.

That prompted a rarity: a bipartisan effort to delay the rate increases to quiet the constituents’ complaints.

But there has been no such effort to respond to constituents who won’t have food to eat.

The next time a Republican bellyaches about big government, mention the National Flood Insurance Program.

The list of what’s wrong with Congress is long. Add hypocrisy to it.

Click.

Undoubtedly you have heard the howls of protest about the Obamacare website and the demands for answers, but there’s been hardly a peep about Florida’s new and improved (at a cost of $60 million) unemployment system that’s not working.

Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell described the “dud” of a website this way:

“People can’t get their benefits. They get kicked off the system. The website freezes.

“And the phone-in help lines are so overloaded that people can’t even get through.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson has noticed and is calling for a federal investigation.

Gov. Rick Scott, who has had plenty to say about Obamacare, has been silent on the unworkable website done under his watch.

“It’s working” is how Scott answers every question these days.

Uh, no it’s not.

Click.

A familiar complaint about downtown is a lack of parking.

Downtown Vision Inc. answered that last week with some very interesting numbers:

For starters, downtown has more parking spaces than four of the five Disney World parks combined — 43,000 parking spaces compared to Disney’s 32,539.

And there are more than 1,600 metered spaces downtown that are free after 6 p.m. and on weekends and holidays.

If you have trouble finding parking downtown, go to the website: downtownjacksonville.org.

There you will find an interactive map with parking locations and rates.

Downtown is making a comeback. Don’t let parking stop you from taking part.

Click.

It didn’t get much attention, but the St. Johns River was designated as a Blueway paddling trail last month by the Florida Greenways and Trails Council.

The St. Johns River Alliance is working on a map that will show every canoe and kayak launch along the 310 miles the river travels.

The river already has a big economic impact. This will increase it as more and more people, residents and tourist alike, get out and discover the river’s beauty.

The Gainesville Sun – Kids and e-cigs

As anti-smoking campaigns reduce tobacco use among young people, public health advocates see a new threat in electronic cigarettes.

E-cigarettes convert liquid nicotine into a vapor that users inhale. They come in flavors such as various types of fruits and candies, potentially attracting children to use them.

The 2013 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey found that 12 percent of high school students had tried e-cigarettes, an increase of 102 percent since 2011.

Alachua County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson asked staff to draft an ordinance to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, require them to be placed behind counters in stores and prohibit their use in non-smoking areas. Clay County has enacted and Marion County is considering similar measures.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also considering the regulation of e-cigarettes. A federal rule would be more effective than a patchwork of local ordinances.

In the meantime, Alachua County and other municipalities are right to work to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors. Yet the county should resist the urge to regulate the personal behavior of adults that doesn’t affect others.

Some research suggests that e-cigarettes help a small percentage of tobacco users quit. But the health effects of inhaling nicotine vapor are unclear, and the track record of the tobacco companies that sell some e-cigarette brands gives reason to be skeptical of claims that it is a safe alternative to smoking.

It’s reasonable to regulate an addictive product that poses potential health risks. Hopefully the FDA soon does it job and prevents the need for Alachua County to act.

The Lakeland Ledger — Campaign Issues – Lakeland Mayor: Polar Opposites on Scandal Points

If a Lakeland voter has a clear idea of whether Police Chief Lisa Womack and City Manager Doug Thomas have done well or poorly in handling the overwhelming slew of Lakeland Police scandals — having to do with on-duty sex, incompetence at crime scenes and testifying in court, requiring humiliating “bra-shaking” searches of women during traffic stops and much more — then that voter should be able to find a clear choice when voting for mayor Tuesday.

The two candidates in the race oppose one another on nearly every point among the key issues facing Lakeland. Presumably, one candidate has the correct solution to winch the city out of the mud and start it down the path to propriety.

The candidates are:

■ Gow B. Fields, 50. He became a city commissioner in 1992 and in 2009 was elected mayor, the first term of which he is completing. Fields is the agency principal and owner of Fields Insurance & Financial Group.

■ Howard Wiggs, 66. He has been a city commissioner since 1993. Wiggs is co-owner and president of Bagley Advertising/Idea Pros. He has a Bachelor of Science degree from Florida Southern College.

The editorial page editor interviewed the candidates Tuesday.

POLICE SCANDALS: What action should the City Commission take on the Police Department scandals that have come to light this year?

“We need to take into account the reports we have received,” Fields said, “both from the Police Advisory Commission, from the city manager and the chief of police, as well as the input that we received from the media, the State Attorney’s Office and the public in general. We have heard from a variety of agencies, sources and individuals, and it is now time for the City Commission to complete those plans and give some direction on going forward.

The Miami Herald — Ballot recommendations

Most municipalities in Miami-Dade County don’t have an election this year. But that doesn’t mean that voters living outside the few cities with contested elections have no reason to go to the polls. County voters are being asked to approve $830 million in bonds for the Jackson Health System, an issue that deserves full public support.

The county’s sole public hospital is a vital institution in this community. If Jackson didn’t exist, someone would have to invent it.

Its major responsibility is to take care of individuals who have no insurance and nowhere else to go in an emergency.

It fulfills that role well, but it’s also the No. 1 hospital in South Florida, according to a recent survey. Its trauma center is world-renowned and its affiliation with UM doctors gives patients access to first-rate medical care.

But the facilities are aging. The hospital must invest in refurbishment and upgrades so that it can continue to offer the best service and attract paying patients to offset the care it gives to indigents.

The cost to owners of a home valued at $123,000 will be an average of $17 per year — well worth it.

Take a moment to go vote. Lines will likely be short. So is the ballot. And vote Yes on the upgrade to the Jackson Health System.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY

Upgrade Jackson Health System

Yes

MIAMI

Mayor

Tomás Regalado

City Commission

District 3

Frank Carollo

District 5

Jacqui Colyer

Ballot question

Develop Coconut Grove waterfront

Yes

MIAMI BEACH

Mayor

Michael Gongora

City Commission

Group 1

Micky Steinberg

Group 2Jorge Exposito

Group 3

Matti Bower

Nondiscrimination in city employment, benefits

Yes

Forge ties with School Board

Yes

Help for condo owners

No

Keeping protections

Yes

60 percent vote for Convention Center

No

HIALEAH

Mayor

Carlos Hernandez

City Council

Group 5

Luis Gonzalez

Group 6

Paul “Pablito” Hernandez

Pension reform

Yes

The Orlando Sentinel — What we think: Break cycle of crisis budgeting

After all the damage Congress did to America’s economy and reputation by partially shutting down the federal government last month and flirting with a first-ever default, it’s maddening to think that members only put off the next budget deadline to Jan. 15. No wonder popular approval for Congress has fallen into single digits.

We hope the joint House-Senate committee that began working on the next budget deal this past week — it includes one Florida member, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson — won’t live down to the public’s rock-bottom expectations with another stopgap spending plan. Nelson and his colleagues need to agree on a longer-term blueprint that brings deficits and debt under control and ends the ruinous cycle of crisis budgeting in Washington.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that it can happen, starting with the different approaches to deficit reduction in the rival budget plans approved by the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate. The House plan relies only on spending cuts. The Senate plan cuts less in spending, and makes up the difference by closing tax loopholes.

To reach a deal, House Republicans will have to drop their opposition to tax increases of any kind, even when the extra money comes from closing loopholes for special interests. And Senate Democrats will have to stop ruling out any cuts in entitlement programs, including Medicaid and Social Security, even if they apply only to upper-income beneficiaries.

A recent national poll commissioned by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which focuses on fiscal issues, found that a majority of voters in both parties were willing to bend on tax increases and entitlement reforms if it produced a long-term budget agreement.

Still, some prominent Democrats are now arguing against doing anything substantial after the deficit for the budget year ending Sept. 30 came in at “only” $680 billion. That’s the lowest figure since 2008, and ends a run of trillion-dollar deficits that began in 2009.

Perhaps only in Washington would anyone be celebrating about only having to borrow $680 billion. And the deficit is projected to resume growing later this decade, as more baby boomers retire and begin drawing their health and retirement benefits.

In the short-term, another budget impasse that shuts the government will do more damage to the U.S. economy. The last one cost the economy $24 billion, according to an estimate from Standard & Poor’s.

And in the long term, deficit spending will put the U.S. deeper in debt to China and other foreign creditors. It’ll force the federal government to spend more and more on interest at the expense of other investments that would grow the economy and maintain the military.

Too much borrowing today will make America weaker tomorrow. Both parties should be able to rally around that message.

The Ocala StarBanner — Editorial: Overreach on flood insurance

If you thought that the planned huge increases in flood insurance rates would mostly affect rich folks along the beaches and bayous of Florida’s barrier islands, a closer look will show otherwise.

Wherever there is water or low-lying areas — and there are plenty in Marion County — owners of affected homes could see their flood insurance rates increase drastically with a new federal law.

Congress should pass proposed legislation that would postpone any rate increases until the federal government has a better grasp of the widespread impact of the higher costs. The government does need to put its deficit-riddled flood-insurance program on a fiscally sustainable, fair and affordable track. However, the reforms created by the new law may make things much worse — in unexpected and unintended ways.

Fortunately, a bipartisan coalition in the U.S. House and Senate agrees. Members of that group, including Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, held a news conference Tuesday to introduce a bill aimed at protecting homeowners and businesses in coastal states.

The legislation would delay the rate hikes for four years and require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to complete an affordability study before increasing flood-insurance premiums. The study was mandated as part of the law, the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012, but not completed.

While the full impact of higher rates isn’t clear, increases might destabilize the real estate market in coastal states and stall the economic recovery. These worries are especially intense in Florida, home to 37 percent of the nation’s flood-insurance policies.

The Pensacola News-Journal — Big game for FSU

It’s FSU-Miami, and that’s enough.

It’s Florida State against Miami tonight in Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee. It’s a big game. But you get the feeling that this is one of those seasons when every game for Florida State’s football team is big.

Fans started the season with uncertainty. The team was opening its season on the road, against Pittsburgh, a new face in the Atlantic Coast Conference. FSU had lost a school-record 11 players to the NFL draft, and it was taking the field with an untested quarterback. It was a big game.

Ha! That new quarterback, Jameis Winston, completed 19 of his first 20 passes as FSU shredded the Panthers, 41-13.

After scrimmages with Bethune-Cookman and Nevada, FSU waded into its ACC schedule. It got past Boston College and then was staring at Maryland, ranked in the top 25. Was FSU ready for the challenge? It was a big game.

Ha! FSU won 63-0, and suddenly the nation took notice.

We know what happened next. FSU jumped in the polls and squared off against unbeaten and No. 3-ranked Clemson. It was billed as the most important game in ACC history. It was a really big game.

Ha! FSU was leading 51-7 before it finally took its foot off the gas in a stunning 51-14 victory.

That brings us to today. Florida State is 7-0 and just a hair away from being ranked in the top two of the Bowl Championship Series. If it were to be ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the final poll, it would play for the national championship.

Tonight, it plays host to Miami (join the live blog during the game at Tallahassee.com.). This is the state rival that broke FSU’s heart so many times during the Bobby Bowden era. We hesitate to even type the words “Wide Right.”

Miami is undefeated through seven games and ranked No. 6 in the USA Today coaches poll.

But the folks in Las Vegas know all about Mr. Winston now. They know about unstoppable receivers, powerful running backs and an indestructible tight end. They know about an offensive line that gives the quarterback the time he needs. They know about a defense that is feasting on turnovers.

They say Florida State is a three-touchdown favorite. But FSU fans know what it means when Miami comes to town.

This is a big game. Go, ’Noles.

The Palm Beach Post — Delay creates chance for smaller Chapel-by-the-Lake condo project

The West Palm Beach City Commission did a favor for First Baptist Church and the developer who wants to build a condo project on land he would buy from the church.

As The Post’s Eliot Kleinberg reported Thursday, the commission probably would have rejected Al Adelson’s third proposal: two towers instead of one, but still 25 stories and 24 stories. After the commission delayed a vote Monday, Mr. Adelson asked for 60 days to submit something new. The more important new thing may be that the church is accepting reality.

The Panama City News-Herald — A civil solution

Walton County recently became the 50th county in Florida to implement the state’s juvenile civil citation process.

It’s time Bay County joined the parade.

Civil citations are an alternative to criminal prosecutions. They focus on early intervention and rehabilitation for first-time, non-violent, misdemeanor juvenile offenders instead of institutionalizing them. This can take the form of receiving counseling, making restitution, performing community service, even writing letters of apology. Youths who complete the program leave without an arrest record, which spares them the stigma that could later harm their employment prospects or ability to serve in the military. However, if they fail to complete their requirements, they are arrested.

The idea is to catch kids as soon as they fall off the straight and narrow, address the causes of their misbehavior (such as family problems or substance abuse) and give them an opportunity to get back — and stay — on track.

To some, that may sound like touchy-feely, soft-on-crime policy. It’s not. Rather, it’s a common-sense approach to treating each case individually and dealing with youthful indiscretions, to confront them early before they blossom, and harden, into more serious behavior. By then, it’s often too late to reach a child as he embarks on a life of crime.

It also makes fiscal sense. According to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, it costs taxpayers on average $40,873 per year for each youth housed in a residential or correctional facility. In contrast, prevention and diversion services cost an average of $2,000 per youth per year. That allows the state to allocate resources in the juvenile justice system to deal with the most-dangerous, highest-risk offenders, rather than funneling everyone through the same meat-grinder. The system spends too much money on kids who don’t need criminal attention, and not enough on those who do.

Best of all, civil citation is not an untested theory. It has a proven record of success.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Let’s have both opinions and facts

The L.A. Times recently created a stir when its letters editor decided to stop publishing letters from readers with opinions similar to “there is no sign humans have caused climate change.”

Asked if the Democrat would follow suit, Mark Hohmeister, associate editor, said it would not (“When facts and opinion collide,” Oct. 19). Subsequently, environmentalists Ellie Whitney and Pam McVety disagreed with Mark (“No time for fence-sitting on climate change,” Oct. 26). I know and respect all three of these people (Ellie is a friend). I agree and disagree with them on different points.

The two environmentalists complained that Mark “straddled the fence,” and he did, but not the fence they were thinking of. He straddled not the global warming fence, but the “opinion page” fence. He had one leg on the side represented by “we try to screen out factual errors” and “we won’t feed you information that we know to be patently false” and the other leg on the side represented by “Our goal is … not to choose winners and losers.” This straddling reflects a contradiction, since if the newspaper screens on content, then it necessarily chooses winners and losers.

Contrary to Ellie and Pam, I don’t think an editor’s decision about whether to print an opinion should have anything to do with the motivation of the claimant. The editor’s default assumption should be that the person is sincere. If an environmentalist believes that a person denying global warming has been paid to fake science, then it is her responsibility to present the evidence to support this.

I agree with Ellie and Pam about climate change, but disagree with the decision of the L.A. Times editor. I think Mark has taken a better overall position on opinion page content, despite his straddling.

Ellie and Pam said they “want our newspaper to help educate the public on valid science, not just to stir up controversy over false issues.” But Mark’s more liberal position on printing controversial opinions does not preclude the first goal. It seems to me that we can have our cake and eat it, too.

The Tampa Tribune — Manatee not out of danger

The record number of Florida manatees that have died this year underscores the importance of continued protections for the seagoing mammal.

So far this year 769 manatee deaths have been documented. The state manatee population is roughly 5,000, and mortality numbers have trended upward in recent years. The creature’s long-term survival is hardly ensured.

Yet boating and development interests have continually tried to undercut manatee protections, claiming it no longer needs extensive safeguards.

In 2007, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission nearly lowered the manatee’s status from “endangered” to “threatened.”

The commission wisely backed off that controversial proposal when former Gov. Charlie Crist raised objections.

A 2012 plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to similarly reclassify the manatee has also been put on hold.

Such reclassifications don’t necessarily lessen protections, though they could lead to that. In any event, the classification should reflect the true status of an animal.

And the death rate shows the manatee remains endangered.

Manatee protections — including slow-speed zones for boats in areas manatee frequent and prohibitions against harming or harassing the creatures — enacted after the adoption of the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1973 have helped. Manatees numbered less than 2,000 then.

But serious threats that can claim scores of manatees at a time remain.

Toxic red tide is particularly deadly for manatees, and is responsible for 276 deaths this year.

Cold weather also is a killer. It accounted for about 300 manatee deaths in 2010. Boating collisions — despite manatee zones — typically account for about 20 percent of annual manatee deaths. Loss of seagrass habitat hurts the animal’s prospects.

We’re not able to do much about cold weather or red tide, but the state can improve the manatee’s outlook by maintaining sensible protections, including slow-speed zones, preserving habitat, addressing pollution sources and adequately funding research and such facilities as the David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Hospital at Lowry Park Zoo. It has rescued dozens of sick and injured manatees and is particularly effective at nursing manatees afflicted by red tide back to health.

The manatee’s status, to a great degree, reflects Florida’ stewardship of its coastal resources. The troubling manatee death rate indicates much more work needs to be done.

 

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.