Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

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

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

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

Tampa Bay Times — Gov. Rick Scott fails all Floridians on health care

Gov. Rick Scott’s cruel indifference to Floridians who can’t afford medical care illustrates why he is the state’s worst governor in the last half-century. He has no empathy for its people, no credible explanation for his position and no interest in reasonable compromise. The conservative Republican prefers to wage an ideological fight with the Obama administration without regard for the human and financial costs, and that is morally and economically indefensible.

It comes as no surprise that Scott renounced his support last week for accepting billions in federal Medicaid expansion money. He has been silent on it for months, assuming the issue would fade and the Legislature would not touch it. But opinion polls show voters support taking the federal money, and a broad coalition of businesses offered a sensible plan to use the money to subsidize the cost of private insurance for more than 800,000 low-income Floridians. The Senate unanimously approved a state budget that includes the bipartisan proposal, the more conservative House refused to include the Medicaid expansion money, and the pressure was on the governor to provide some leadership.

Instead, Scott reversed himself. The governor who said two years ago that he would accept the federal money because he could not “in good conscience deny the uninsured access to care” had a change of heart and opposes it. Scott says the Obama administration cannot be trusted to follow through, but he is the one who has failed to act in good faith.

Remember that Scott opposed the Affordable Care Act that includes Medicaid expansion when he first ran for governor in 2010. Then he announced he would accept the Medicaid expansion money in 2013, just hours after the Obama administration agreed to waivers the governor sought to transform Medicaid into a privatized managed care system. Yet Scott’s silence was deafening in the following weeks as two conservative Republicans from Pasco County, then-House Speaker Will Weatherford and top lieutenant Richard Corcoran, refused to let the House adopt the plan that was passed 38-1 by the Senate. If there is a trust issue, it is in the Governor’s Mansion.

Scott’s excuse for changing his position now on Medicaid expansion money is that the Obama administration says it will stop sending more than $1 billion a year to the state’s Low Income Pool this summer. That money goes to hospitals and community health centers to help cover the cost of treating the uninsured and the underinsured, and the federal government made clear last year it would extend the payments for one final year ending this June. Yet Scott included that federal money in his 2015-16 proposed budget as though it would magically keep coming. If there is a lack of integrity in funding health care programs, it is in the Governor’s Mansion.

The Bradenton Herald — Celebrating Bradenton-Sarasota as U.S. champ on well-being

Southwest Florida’s glittering reputation on the national and international stages just keeps on blossoming. Just days ago, another big honor came our way — one that goes to show the region is a great place to live.

The Bradenton-Sarasota-North Port metropolitan area soared to No. 1 in the nation on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index of the 100 most populous communities across the land.

Gallup-Healthways researchers conducted in-depth interviews of more than 176,000 Americans across all 50 states. The organization began tracking well-being in 2008.

To compile scores, researchers measured responses in “five essential elements of well-being.” In ascending to the top spot, this region did not lead any metric, but placed in the top 12 in all five.

They are, as outlined by Gallup-Healthways:

Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily. Bradenton-Sarasota came in second in the nation on this metric, a great showing with all our retirees.

Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security. Another second place.

Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life. Here, fourth in the country.

Community: liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community.

Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — ‘No’ is not a solution for hospital funding

The Florida Senate has proposed a plan to ensure that the state does not lose out on more than $1 billion in federal funding for hospitals that provide health care to low-income patients.

The House strategy is to fold its arms and hold its breath until it turns blue. It has steadfastly refused to consider the Senate plan, draw up an alternative or even to budget for contingency funding from the state.

Simply saying “no” is not a solution.

Florida’s $2.2 billion Low-Income Pool, which helps hospitals and other health-care providers across the state pay for the care of uninsured or underinsured patients, stands to lose $1.3 billion in federal funding in June, in large part because the state has refused to expand eligibility for Medicaid.

Losing LIP money would be a huge blow to Volusia and Flagler counties. Halifax Health, which provides about $50 million in uncompensated care and community health programs annually, would lose $14 million in LIP funds. Bert Fish Medical Center in New Smyrna Beach would forfeit about $2 million; Florida Hospital, which is seeking a merger with Bert Fish, says it would be denied between $90 million and $100 million for its hospitals around the state.

The Florida Times-Union — Cheers: Accolades to School Board for allowing public comment during workshops

Cheers to the Duval County School Board members for allowing the public to comment during their most important meetings.

For years, the board would permit the public to attend monthly workshop sessions, which are the meetings where members and administration officials do the real groundwork that leads to school policies.

But citizens couldn’t speak at those workshop sessions, an illogical arrangement that kept the public from providing valuable feedback to board members while they were making decisions and policies affecting Duval students, parents and other stakeholders.

However, School Board members recently agreed to start allowing citizens to speak during the workshop sessions. It’s the right thing to do, and board members deserve applause for finally taking this step.

And let’s give some extra cheers to board members Becki Couch and Jason Fischer, who led the reform.

Florida Today – Facts about the Election Support Center

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to President John Adams: “Facts are stubborn things.”

There have been recent editorials about the property purchased by the county on John Rodes Boulevard in 2012. The county earmarked this property to be Brevard’s next Election Support Center. Last week’s emergency road closure due to a collapsed drainage structure on John Rodes, less than half-mile from this property, has compelled me to share some facts about this property with you — the voters and taxpayers of Brevard County.

Fact: I repeatedly spoke against the purchase of this property.

Fact: It was the only property of the 19 under consideration by the county that I, as your supervisor, spoke against.

Fact: I spoke against it for one overwhelming reason: repeated flooding.

Fact: I cannot “put off the election for a few days until the water recedes,” as has been suggested to me.

There are those who would like you to believe I’ve been making a mountain out of a molehill for the past three years, but the “fact” is we are not talking about flooding in theory. We are talking about flooding that took place during the actual property selection process in 2011; flooding that was documented in pictures and video (available on www.VoteBrevard.com); and flooding that was said to be addressed after Tropical Storm Fay shut down John Rodes during the presidential primary in 2008.

The Gainesville Sun – Down the wrong road

A bill working its way through the Legislature could make road projects more expensive.

Local legislators need to detour this measure into oblivion.

Senate Bill 896 would shift the costs for moving utility lines on road and infrastructure projects from utility companies to taxpayers. Under current law, if a local government widens or improves a public road, the utility company must move or remove lines in the affected area at no cost to the government. SB 896 (and its companion in the House, HB 391) would shift that cost responsibility to the counties and municipalities — i.e. local taxpayers — for projects that are inside a public right-of-way and that are related to water and sewer improvements, stormwater/swale improvements, bicycle lanes, streetscapes, etc.

The staff analysis of the bill paints an alarming picture for cities and counties: “While the extent is unknown, the potential for severe negative fiscal impact appears to exist. … The increased responsibility of state and local governments, and nonusers of utilities, to bear the cost of utility relocation previously borne by the utility owner and its users may delay or even prevent needed transportation improvements, particularly for local governments.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, argues that it’s only fair that the entity causing the disruption pay for its costs.

“If (the government) is the one who decides to widen the road, who should have to pay for that utility?” he asked during a recent Senate Transportation Committee meeting.

The Lakeland Ledger — Stopping The Fiscal Bleeding

Haines City officials apparently want to rip up the city’s contract with the company managing its red-light cameras and perhaps rip out the cameras when the current deal expires in January. After a recent briefing from its staff, the City Commission was inclined to agree, signaling that it, too, wants to end this particular and widely criticized mechanism of traffic-safety enforcement. The cited reason is curious, albeit based on hard-nosed reality, and directly conflicts with critics’ biggest claim about such programs: Haines City is losing money on the cameras.

As The Ledger’s Madison Fantozzi recently reported, Haines City has watched its revenue from the cameras plummet. In 2013, the city netted $563,450 after doling out $2.4 million in overhead, which included sharing revenues with the state, paying the contractor, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions, and covering costs for court cases and for a police officer to review the citations. Last year, overall revenue fell to about $1.74 million, with the city’s share amounting to $83,150 after expenses. Halfway through this fiscal year, the city has taken in only $245,112.

Not only is Haines City not making money off the cameras, Fantozzi reported that the city is $60,000 in the red, and is behind in making its $62,000 monthly payments to ATS.

The Miami Herald — Don’t shut the courthouse door

Is it still possible to fight City Hall? In Miami, unfortunately, City Hall is squandering taxpayers’ money fighting back.

The history of America is replete with stories of courageous citizens who waged and won important civic battles against a powerful establishment on behalf of good public causes. Often, their battles were won in the courtroom, the venue of last resort for citizens who believe they cannot get a fair hearing from elected or appointed officials who make public policy and approve the expenditure of public money.

Now, however, the city of Miami is asking the courts to bar the door against local residents whose complaints city officials find inconvenient. If the city succeeds, it would be a significant defeat for the public’s right to fight City Hall.

We would like to think that strict regulations are in place these days to require public input at every turn when important issues arise. Increasingly, however, governments have sought to block public participation, manipulate public hearings and curtail the flow of information. And when the threat of legal action arises, attempts are made to shut the public out of the courthouse, where all parties are equal and issues can be fully exposed to scrutiny.

In Miami, as reporter David Smiley outlined in a Herald story this month, almost a dozen citizens have accused city officials of engaging in a variety of underhanded tactics in an aggressive effort to promote lucrative projects for developers at the public’s expense. These efforts include the use of misleading information, hiding public records, ignoring the city’s own laws and delaying the release of relevant information until it was no longer useful, according to the plaintiffs.

The Orlando Sentinel — Time to rein in Florida’s specialty license plates

Could it be the Florida Legislature has finally had enough of the license-plate overkill on state roads? Let’s hope so.

Florida currently issues 123 different specialty plates, with more likely on the way. Enough already. More than enough, actually.

Lawmakers seem to feel the same way. Last week, House and Senate committees said that for a new plate to be approved, its sponsors must reach higher advance-order sales thresholds. They’re talking about 4,000 requests in two years. The current requirement is 1,000.

Besides moving to raise the threshold, the Senate Transportation and House Economic Affairs committees also approved 26 more license-plate designs, though many are not expected to reach the 4,000 pre-order threshold.

Examples of the proposed plates include Support our Constitution, Paddle Florida, Jacksonville Armada Football Club, and a bunch of fraternities and sororities.

“[States are] only doing this to get money,” Chief Justice John Roberts said. To not infringe on free-speech rights, he said, the solution might be that “they don’t have to get in the business of selling space on their license plates to begin with.” Which begs the…

“Most of these license plates will never see the road,” said Senate Transportation Chairman Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg. “The license plate program in Florida has kind of become a sideshow.”

Across the nation, specialty plates have become such a sideshow that the U.S. Supreme Court is now involved. Last month, justices heard oral arguments in a case from Texas, which refused to approve a plate that features the Confederate flag and commemorates Confederate veterans.

The Ocala StarBanner — Down the wrong road

A bill working its way through the Legislature could make road projects more expensive.

Local legislators need to detour this measure into oblivion.

Senate Bill 896 would shift the costs for moving utility lines on road and infrastructure projects from utility companies to taxpayers. Under current law, if a local government widens or improves a public road, the utility company must move or remove lines in the affected area at no cost to the government. SB 896 (and its companion in the House, HB 391) would shift that cost responsibility to the counties and municipalities — i.e. local taxpayers — for projects that are inside a public right-of-way and that are related to water and sewer improvements, stormwater/swale improvements, bicycle lanes, streetscapes, etc.

The staff analysis of the bill paints an alarming picture for cities and counties: “While the extent is unknown, the potential for severe negative fiscal impact appears to exist. … The increased responsibility of state and local governments, and nonusers of utilities, to bear the cost of utility relocation previously borne by the utility owner and its users may delay or even prevent needed transportation improvements, particularly for local governments.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, argues that it’s only fair that the entity causing the disruption pay for its costs.

“If (the government) is the one who decides to widen the road, who should have to pay for that utility?” he asked during a recent Senate Transportation Committee meeting.

The Pensacola News-Journal — Pensacola shows respect for funerals

The editorial in Sunday’s edition of the PNJ implied that law enforcement may be wasting taxpayer dollars through the tradition of escorting funeral processions.

In that same edition in the “letters to the editor” section, a lady from Montgomery writes to thank the citizens of Pensacola for stopping traffic as a show of respect during her father’s funeral procession.

For 59 years I have witnessed the citizens of south Alabama and Northwest Florida stopping their vehicles in whatever travel lane that they are in when a funeral procession meets them on the highway. It makes me proud that people in our area consistently show such respect to a deceased person’s family with no questions asked and without regard to race, creed, color, past accomplishments or past failures.

Twice this year I attended funerals in Okaloosa County. There was no police escort during either funeral. Everyone attending the funeral service was on their own to get to the cemetery, and traffic safety became a concern.

Even more awkward and sad were that without the police escort the public was not made aware that a funeral procession was passing and the family of the deceased was not given the traditional traffic-stop salute of respect.

The Palm Beach Post — Legislature’s proposed mental health fixes a step forward

Quietly, important things have been happening in the Florida Legislature for people with mental ilness, thanks to years of effort by advocates, families and Florida’s Supreme Court.

Although the proposed reforms are sweeping and multifaceted, they’ve won unanimous support in committees. We urge state leaders to see the reforms become law, and back up their support with dollars.

For the past two years, The Palm Beach Post’s reporters and editorial board have been shining a light on the state’s fragmented and underfunded mental health system.

The Post has urged the state to see that front-line mental health counselors get a raise, something they haven’t had in two decades.

The Post has also called for criminal justice system reforms that stop criminalizing mental illness. Solutions developed in Miami-Dade County under the leadership of County Judge Steven Leifman are a good model.

Leifman has proven that millions can be saved when the system’s severely ill “frequent fliers” are diverted to mental health court and offered medication, therapy and support needed to return them to their communities. The ghastly, expensive system in place now locks up mentally ill defendants in forensic hospitals until they’re deemed competent to face a judge. The judges often have no option but to release them back to the community. Typically, they’re re-arrested in short order.

This costs about $210 million a year and prepares only about 3,000 individuals for trial. It eats up one-third of all adult mental health dollars, according to a legislative committee report. It’s ripe for reform.

Leifman has also pushed to ensure law enforcement, court and jail officers are properly trained so that they respond to mental health crises not with fear or violence, but with techniques that de-escalate situations and increase safety.

The Panama City News-Herald — Cost of gas: How low will it go?

Spring is here, summer is on its way, and now the ups and downs of gasoline prices are important not just to residents of Northwest Florida, who in a week’s time might use a few gallons of gas getting to and from work, or to and from school, or to and from the golf course.

Gas prices also are important to tourism boosters.

Northwest Florida and its beaches are drive-to destinations. That is, most of our tourists drive here from Southeastern states.
And when gas prices are down, the reasoning goes, more tourists hit the road.

So hoteliers, restaurateurs, shopkeepers, tourism promoters and people who benefit from a more vibrant local economy — which is just about everyone — should be delighted that gas prices are falling again. Dusty Rickets, who works for our sister paper, The Northwest Florida Daily News, reported this week that the average price per gallon had dropped 4 cents from a week earlier.

AAA-The Auto Club Group thinks the price at the pump could be $2 this summer.
About a year ago, the average price per gallon was $3.66. Prices dipped to just under $2 early this year, then started climbing back.

How long will the current price drop last?

The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Rid the books of old ban on gay adoptions

Don’t look now, but a majority of Florida lawmakers might soon stand up for equality.

For 33 years, Florida banned gay couples from adopting children, until the 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned the ban five years ago.

Still, the law has remained on the books, a relic of another time.

Now, the ban’s days may be numbered. Maybe.

The Florida Senate voted Wednesday to erase the ban from the statutes, a measure the House had agreed to in March.

But after social conservatives heard what happened, the House came back Thursday and passed a second bill (HB 7111) that would let private adoption agencies deny services to gay couples on religious and moral grounds. Republican Rep. Jason Brodeur of Sanford said a “conscience” law is needed to keep faith-based groups from leaving the state.

Maybe House members didn’t notice what happened when Indiana lawmakers passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The rest of the world saw. Such a firestorm arose about allowing businesses to deny services to gays that many companies threatened to leave or boycott the state.

Major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, questioned whether Indianapolis was the right spot to compete.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Friends of Lake Lafayette concerned about sinkholes

The Friends of Lake Lafayette care about the contaminants flowing into Lake Lafayette and into sinkholes that lead to our drinking water aquifer and Wakulla Springs. The Friends want careful monitoring of the Weems Pond Alum Treatment Plant installed by the city. There have been serious problems with the facility in the past.

The upper portion of Lake Lafayette contains a large sinkhole and numerous smaller sinks that drain water to the Floridan Aquifer and to Wakulla Springs. The lake is an important habitat for fish and wildlife, including the bald eagle, osprey, ducks and a variety of wading birds.

The Friends of Lake Lafayette and Wakulla Springs Alliance recently toured the completed Upper Lake Lafayette Nutrient Reduction Facility. The facility treats storm water runoff from the 11,000-acre watershed of Upper Lake Lafayette and was built to reduce nutrient loads, primarily phosphorus, as required by state and federal regulations.

The facility consists of an alum injection system, primarily used in urban lake settings with small watershed areas and closed basins such as Lake Ella. Alum injection basically traps particulates in settling basins, including some particulate nitrogen. However, it does not remove dissolved nitrogen compounds, such as nitrate. Nitrate is the pollutant of concern in Wakulla Springs, which links with upper Lake Lafayette via sinkholes and the aquifer.

The Tampa Tribune — Worry about voters, not bureaucrats

A microphone picked up a frustrated Pinellas Sen. Jack Latvala calling Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner’s testimony about online voter registration as “so much …” — with Latvala using a salty term to finish his comment.

If he was a bit profane, Latvala was on target. He, his fellow lawmakers and all Florida voters have good reason to be upset with Detzner, whose trivial opposition to online registration is characteristic of his inept handling of his election responsibilities.

Even as Detzner made an uninvited appearance before the Senate this week in an effort to sabotage online registration legislation, his department was trying to explain the inadvertent release of voter information from high-risk individuals, including law enforcement officials, judges and crime victims. The department’s media release tried to minimize the blunder, but there was no hiding that these individuals’ personal information had been compromised.

Given such a track record, maybe it was to be expected that Detzner would say it would be too complicated to adopt online registration in two years, though the system has been adopted without incident in 20 other states and is strongly supported by Florida’s supervisors of elections.

Detzner warned about rushing into such a change. But the legislation’s 2017 deadline gives ample time to make a change that supervisors around the country say is simple, secure and economical. Other states have completed the task in less than a year.

Online registration has proven popular with voters of all parties.

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 [email protected] and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

Latest from Apolitical

Go to Top