A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — On Rays, no time to waste
The decision by the Atlanta Braves to leave the city for a new stadium in a suburban county offers a lesson for Tampa Bay: Every year that ticks off the Tampa Bay Rays’ lease to play at Tropicana Field reduces leverage for St. Petersburg and makes it more likely the team could leave the region. But there are other reasons St. Petersburg Mayor-elect Rick Kriseman and the City Council should move quickly next year to reach an agreement to let the Rays look at potential stadium sites on both sides of the bay:
Transit. In November 2014, Pinellas voters are expected to decide whether to approve a 1 percent sales tax to pay for enhanced bus service and light rail. The Department of Transportation has agreed to build at least a substructure for rail on a new span of the Howard Frankland Bridge; Tampa International Airport plans to connect to a new Westshore transit hub; and Hillsborough officials are contemplating their next transit effort. Where and when rail is built affects where a stadium should be built.
Tax revenue. In 2015, the Tampa Convention Center bonds will be paid off and the redevelopment districts that generated the revenue for them will expire if they are not reapproved. The same year, the Tropicana Field bonds paid by a portion of the Pinellas resort tax will be paid off. Both of those revenue streams would be needed to help pay for a new baseball stadium in their respective counties, and claims on the money by other legitimate interests already are being made. If there is no clarity soon about where a stadium would be built, there may not be enough public money to help build one anywhere in Tampa Bay.
The Bradenton Herald — Thankfully, Florida, nation escape hurricane devastation
Today — Nov. 30 — marks the end of another tame hurricane season. Florida survived yet again without a big blow and billions in damage. Only Tropical Storm Andrea touched the Sunshine State, bringing minor flooding, gusty winds and a downpour to Manatee County.
This makes a record-setting eighth straight year the country has been graced without a major hurricane making landfall. The last one slammed into Florida in 2005 — Wilma, the second-most devastating hurricane of the record-breaking 2005 season.
This year we were warned to expect an active June-to-December season back in May with dire predictions of around 17 storms with half evolving into hurricanes and about four developing into major ones. The grand hurricane total this year: two, neither major and neither survived long nor made landfall. Tropical storms? Thirteen. Impacts? Minimal.
Thank goodness for the dry air, wind shear and other factors that played a role in calming the atmosphere in the hurricane breeding grounds over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Helping homeless will help city
Volusia County and the city of Daytona Beach need to develop more effective programs for the area’s large homeless population. This should be done not just for humanitarian reasons, but also for the economic good of the city and the fiscal health of the county.
An estimated 600 people live on the streets in the core area of Daytona Beach. Many of these people loiter on Beach Street, the heart of the city’s downtown, and some panhandle shoppers and diners or sleep on benches and in alleyways near stores and restaurants.
City police officials say crime isn’t a serious problem on Beach Street. As Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood told a News-Journal reporter working on a story about downtown revitalization efforts, “It’s a beautiful venue.”
The street near the Halifax River definitely has aesthetic appeal, and it’s not dangerous, but there is no question that it suffers from negative public perceptions associated with the number of homeless people who frequent the area. Beach Street merchants worry about how shoppers react to panhandlers and others who wander along the street at night. Fear or even mere annoyance are not the kind of emotions business owners want customers to experience when they come to Beach Street, which has regained vitality in recent years but still needs more shoppers, diners and residents.
Developers are promoting urban living to potential residents, but as long as the homeless congregate downtown, residential development is likely to suffer.
Volusia County Judge Belle Schumann raises another issue connected to homelessness — the high cost of arresting and jailing people who may see jail as the best available shelter.
The Florida Times-Union — Finally, a real plan to fight poverty
A group of city leaders have cracked the code to lifting people out of poverty. It doesn’t involve slogans or preaching but a series of nine assets.
If seven of the nine assets are reached, people more than double their chances of rising out of poverty. It won’t be the same set of assets for everyone, however.
Only two of these assets were statistically significant on their own: Parent University and Accountability.
The project is called “1,000 in 1,000: Moving 1,000 people out of poverty in 1,000 days.”
POSSIBLE BUT DIFFICULT
Make no mistake, escaping poverty is not easy. But it is possible and that is what makes this so exciting.
It all began with a meeting in late 2006 called by the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. A local team of city leaders was challenged to set a bold goal to attack poverty.
And in a city known as a three-ring binder city, then-City Council President Michael Corrigan expected this study to go the typical way — nowhere.
But Corrigan learned that this effort was different.
The group first studied national research on poverty. Then they ran a pilot program, working with 100 families over three years.
And they listened.
The group learned from the families themselves about what they needed,
For instance, the leaders discovered one reason why some people rely on emergency rooms.
Dawn Lockhart, the CEO of Family Foundations, explained that a woman would have to take a three-hour bus ride to get to her physician for a 10-minute appointment. That just isn’t practical when she is working two jobs. Instead, she would go to the emergency room at 11 p.m. when there was no conflict with work.
The Gainesville Sun – Save our springs
North Florida’s natural springs have long showed signs of distress.
White Springs, a tourist attraction for Hamilton County as far back as the 1830s, went dry more than two decades ago.
In Alachua County, Poe Springs started turning green about 15 years ago and last year stopped flowing for the first time in living memory.
The Sun’s ongoing series, “Fragile Springs,” includes numerous other examples showing our springs are in serious trouble. Yet some experts, mainly from the water management districts, make the tired case that diminished flow from the springs and related problems are simply due to a lack of rainfall.
It seems clear that they and other environmental regulators in the state will blindly continue allowing people to pump water from and dump nutrients into the ground until it’s too late. It’s going to require public pressure to save our springs. The steps are going to be difficult and fought by well-funded interests.
Agricultural interests will fight changes to the way they irrigate and fertilize crops and dispose of waste from livestock. Utilities will fight restrictions on their permits to pump massive amounts of groundwater.
In the end, we’re all at fault for the sorry state of our springs. Most of us have acted like having lush green lawns are our birthright. We drink milk from the region’s dairies without giving thought to whether it’s a good idea to locate such operations above the area’s limestone terrain.
Lakeland is down to one race with two candidates for its runoff election Tuesday. Jim Malless faces Ricky Shirah, who received the most votes among four candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot for At-Large Seat 1 on the seven-member City Commission.
In the first election, 30 percent of the votes were cast for Shirah, 26 percent for Malless, 25 percent for Michael W. Tamney and 19 percent for Eddie Hall. Because no candidate received 50 percent plus one vote, or more, the runoff election was required.
Jim Malless, 56, is a Realtor. He owns Wireless Planning Services, a cellular-tower consulting company. Malless has a Masters of Public Affairs degree, specializing in public financial administration, from Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. He chairs the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority and the Downtown Community Redevelopment Advisory Board.
Shirah, 59, is owner of Ricky Shirah Towing. He attended Hillsborough Community College.
The editorial page editor interviewed Malless on Tuesday.
Shirah, was invited to the interview and accepted. On Tuesday, he said he would not be available at the agreed time nor at any time during the week before the election.
Questions and answers for Malless are from Tuesday’s interview. Answers for Shirah are from an interview with the editorial page editor Oct. 29.
POLICE SCANDALS: What action should the City Commission take on the Police Department scandals that have come to light this year — and has any new information arisen since the Nov. 5 election to affect your opinion?
The Miami Herald — Renew ban on plastic guns
Homemade plastic guns, that can shoot real bullets, aren’t toys from Santa’s workshop, but, rather, lethal weapons made more easily attainable through the burgeoning technology of 3-D printers.
Yet the federal limits on plastic guns, the Undetectable Firearms Act, first signed into law by then-President Ronald Reagan in 1988, is set to expire on Dec. 9 unless Congress acts to extend it.
All-plastic guns can easily slip past metal detectors at airports and other safety checkpoints.
This should be an easy, doable job even in this most dyspeptic season for federal lawmakers. The law has been renewed twice since it was first passed, after all.
And yet, law-enforcement officials who support the extension are getting concerned as they watch yet another political squabble threaten to derail reauthorization of the act.
One issue is over whether to simply extend the law or amend it to include provisions that would address the issue of 3-D printed weapons.
The law currently requires 3-D gun manufacturers to have to make the weapons detectable by including some form of metal, but that metal piece often is nonfunctioning and can be easily removed to avoid screeners’ detection.
And even though 3-D printing technology is still relatively new because it’s costly and has limited public availability, Congress should include provisions requiring 3-D printed guns to include a necessary, non-detachable piece of metal. Though 3-D printers aren’t a common household item these days, technology waits for no one, including lawmakers usually slow to catch up with new inventions and advancements.
The Orlando Sentinel — Scott, Detzner face work to restore faith in voting
Gov. Rick Scott and his top elections official, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, have a credibility canyon when it comes to voting policy.
Consider the reaction to Detzner’s directive this past week to county elections supervisors, limiting locations where voters can drop off their absentee ballots to supervisors’ offices. While the secretary of state cited sections in state law that appear to back up his opinion, critics accused him of trying to suppress the vote.
The ACLU of Florida, for example, declared, “Given this administration’s record of attacks on Floridians’ right to vote, we are concerned that this directive restricts Floridians’ ability to participate in our democracy.”
Scott’s record includes signing into law a 2011 bill that cut back on early voting and restricted voter-registration drives. He also initiated an error-riddled effort in the middle of the 2012 election season to purge the voting rolls of noncitizens — an effort that collapsed amid data problems, legal challenges, widespread public skepticism and push-back from county supervisors.
The governor did sign another bill into law this year that rolled back some of the 2011 changes, but only after Florida was nationally embarrassed by voters stuck in line for hours on Election Day last year and a delay of days in tallying the results in the state’s presidential race. And despite all the problems with last year’s effort to scrub the voter rolls, and no evidence that voting by noncitizens is a significant problem, Scott has ordered Detzner to prepare for a new purge.
The Ocala StarBanner — Death sentences
Walter Sergio Gray was 27 years old when he sold three pieces of crack cocaine in 1990 to an undercover police officer in Ocala.
He will die behind bars for the crime. Gray was sentenced to life in prison without parole for selling cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school — even though the building hadn’t been used as a school for at least four years.
His case is among those highlighted in the American Civil Liberties Union’s new report, “A Living Death.” The report found that as of last year, there were 3,278 prisoners serving life without parole for nonviolent crimes in the federal system in Florida and eight other states that provided statistics.
Nearly 80 percent of the sentences were for drug crimes. The rest were for property crimes as minor as shoplifting three belts, siphoning gasoline from an 18-wheeler and stealing a woman’s bagged lunch from her parked car.
The ACLU’s report provides a window into why the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 743 prisoners per 100,000 adults in the population.
The United States is among just 20 percent of countries that have life without parole sentences. Even China and Pakistan allow a review of life sentences after 25 years.
The U.S. has gone in the opposite direction, with life without parole sentences quadrupling over the past two decades. One out of every 30 people in prison today is serving a life sentence, the report found.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Stop meddling with ballots
If you can’t purge ’em, restrict ’em. That’s Gov. Rick Scott’s evolving philosophy toward participatory democracy in the Sunshine State. Since most supervisors of elections have respectfully declined to participate in another flawed and pointless purge of the voter rolls, his newest intrusive orders were issued last week by Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
The commandment went out Monday to Florida’s 67 supervisors of elections to eliminate remote drop-off sites for absentee ballots. Not all counties offer them – so it’s not an issue, as of now, in either Escambia or Santa Rosa. But it’s yet another symbolic gesture from big-Tallahassee-government that never fails to prove its commitment to squashing local and individual civic involvement.
There was no inciting incident that brought this latest act of bureaucracy upon us – no widespread voter fraud through absentee ballots dropped off at public libraries or tax collector offices. That’s why it begs the question: Don’t they have anything better to worry about?
We contacted Supervisors of Elections David Stafford and Tappie Villane who confirmed that remote drop-off sites aren’t used in Escambia or Santa Rosa counties. Stafford said that it’s too early to act on the directive and that further examination would be needed to know if it’s even legally sound.
Villane agreed that it was too early to know exactly what effect it would have on Santa Rosa County voters, but wondered if it could pose a problem to absentee ballot drop-offs at early voting sites.
But some counties in the state don’t have much time to wait and see. The Tampa Bay Times’ Steve Bousquet reported Tuesday:
The Palm Beach Post — Slam the door on more prison privatization in Florida
Massive new prison privatization in Florida is dead for the moment, and it should stay dead.
Post reporter Pat Beall proved that case way beyond any reasonable doubt in her five-part series “Private Prisons: Profits, Politics, Pain,” which concluded last Sunday. Ms. Beall used many pieces of evidence to make her case that the state’s roughly 2-decade-old experiment with private prisons has been good for the companies and lousy for Florida. She showed that putting the profit motive where it does not belong has led to wrongheaded sentencing policies (see editorial below) and not the much-promised savings.
The Panama City News-Herald — Boosting transparency
Due to funding cuts at the state and local levels, high school athletic teams increasingly have to rely on fundraising and volunteer work by parents and other boosters to make ends meet. A lot of it amounts to relatively modest sums to pay for simple things.
For major sports such as football, though, the stakes can become much higher. Thousands of dollars can be raised to pay for equipment, facility upgrades and even coaches’ bonuses. Transparency is imperative to reassure supporters that the money they worked hard to raise is being spent properly.
Arnold High School has provided a guide on how not to do it.
As detailed by The News Herald’s Brad Milner last week, a Bay District Schools audit of Arnold High School Athletic Boosters Inc. revealed an alarming lack of organization and record-keeping over several years, even as the group was raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. Although every high school has various booster clubs for its sports teams that operate independently of the administration, Arnold is the only one to combine all booster operations under one entity, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Sunday’s Zing!
• Why are we building a “Sense” of Place? You’d think that with all this money we are spending, we could build a real place.
• Whom do I contact to tell the social media to just shut up?
• Why does the buck always stop with the chief of police and never with the city manager, who has overall responsibility for the police department?
• Looking through the Thursday newspaper ads made me wish I needed a new TV.
• On Tennessee Street, the shelter is a daily reminder of our homeless. When it’s out of sight, will it be out of mind?
• On these cold nights, remember that well over a million K-12 students are homeless.
• If Florida and FSU traded football schedules, Florida would be going to a bowl game and FSU would have at least one loss.
• Kent Miller has now explained how to be an octogenarian: Have a large, loving family and an undaunted sense of humor.
• What happened to those $500 bonuses that were supposed to get passed around to state employees? Did anyone get one?
The Tampa Tribune — An affront to religious freedom and individual rights
Americans of all faiths should be encouraged the U.S. Supreme Court will scrutinize Obamacare’s unreasonable mandate that corporations must provide health insurance coverage for contraception.
The rule developed by the Department of Health and Human Services as part of the Affordable Care Act represents an insidious attack on religious freedom and individual conscience.
It requires employers offering health insurance plans to provide free contraception coverage, even if that violates the company owners’ religious beliefs.
And the coverage must include the morning-after pill, which the Catholic Church and other faiths consider the equivalent of an abortion.
Despite religious groups’ objections, the administration has been reluctant to relent on what its officials consider necessary preventive care for women.
President Obama’s team eventually did provide a narrow exemption for religiously affiliated organizations. Still, it insisted free contraception coverage be provided to employees of faith-based organizations, with the artful caveat that the insurance company pay for it.
This, of course, did nothing to change the fact that these operations were being forced to provide coverage its leaders found morally offensive.
The administration has refused to provide even that kind of flimsy concession to the owners of for-profit corporations, which are behind the two challenges to the law that go before the high court, probably in March, with a final decision in June.
The high court decided to weigh in on the matter after three federal courts ruled against the mandate and two upheld it.