A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Floridians left behind on health coverage
In West Virginia, Sharon Mills lacked health insurance and struggled to manage her diabetes until her state expanded Medicaid and she obtained coverage. In Florida, Jennifer Bates isn’t as lucky. The Wesley Chapel resident lost her job in customer service in August and has no health coverage because her state representative, House Speaker Will Weatherford, blocked efforts last year to accept billions in federal Medicaid money. Advocates for the poor, business groups and the health care industry should keep pushing the Legislature to accept the Medicaid money and enable Bates and 1 million other Floridians to get access to health care.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans are taking advantage of expanded Medicaid in the 25 states that have embraced that provision of the Affordable Care Act, which requires the federal government to pay 100 percent of the cost for the first three years. In West Virginia, the New York Times reports, more than 75,000 have signed up for Medicaid. They include residents such as Mills, a disabled nurse, and Rachelle Williams, a 25-year-old uninsured McDonald’s worker. Hard numbers are difficult to come by, because many new Medicaid recipients already were eligible for Medicaid and did not realize it until they sought private coverage in the federal marketplace. But studies show substantial portions of the new Medicaid patients are eligible only because of the expansion in the states that accepted the additional federal money.
In Florida, legislators passed up $51 billion over 10 years to expand Medicaid or subsidize private policies. That left people like Bates out of luck. Her unemployment benefits leave her with too little income to qualify for a federal subsidy to buy private insurance in the federal marketplace. The health care reform law anticipated people like her would be covered by the Medicaid expansion. The U.S. Supreme Court made Medicaid expansion optional for the states when it upheld the guts of the Affordable Care Act, and Florida is one of the Republican-led states that has chosen partisan politics over sound public policy and refused to participate.
The Bradenton Herald — Staying the course with Florida Standards
As the Sunshine States moves toward tweaking the Common Core State Standards and transforming the newer, more rigorous education expectations into tougher Florida Standards, the state Board of Education will be the next battle ground come the panel’s February meeting.
Common Core critics continue to falsely pound on the standards as some sort of federal government plot to control state’s rights to set their own course.
But this bipartisan blueprint for improving the nation’s global standing in education was developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers — in other words, states, not the federal government.
Forty-five states have adopted the new learning benchmarks, a sign of the widespread belief that school systems need to challenge students to develop deeper critical thinking skills in the language arts, math and other disciplines. This is all to graduate students capable of competing stronger in the global marketplace and allow parents to compare schools across the country on similar metrics.
With state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart proposing almost a hundred revisions to Common Core, Florida will have even more robust standards. Calculus standards and cursive writing instruction were part of those additions. The Board of Education should be objective and nonpartisan during February’s hearing on Stewart’s proposals.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Stadium could profit from naming rights
Daytona Beach’s Municipal Stadium is worth upgrading with a combination of private and public money.
Here’s an additional idea: fewer tax dollars would be necessary if the city could also cut a naming-rights deal with a donor.
The city proposes to spend $675,000 on stadium improvements. Some of that money would be from private sponsors and grants. Some of it — $262,500 — would be from city taxpayers.
Over the last five years, various sources will have spent $2.2 million to upgrade the stadium, which is used by the city’s high schools and Bethune-Cookman University.
But a recent assessment of the stadium’s lighting recorded the stadium at 19 foot-candles, a level that makes it difficult to see images on TV clearly. The standard for televising night games is 100 foot-candles, an accepted measurement of luminance. The 26-year-old stadium still uses the same lighting system it came with when the structure was erected in 1988.
The lighting could be a problem as the stadium has plans to offer itself as the playing ground for championship games that could be watched nationwide. The stadium also needs a bigger, higher-tech scoreboard. A new scoreboard would have LED video display capable of instant replays, statistics, advertising and commercials.
The Florida Times-Union — Government meetings need to allow public comment
In its session last year, the Florida Legislature sought to close a huge hole in the state’s open government fabric.
The people had no specific right provided the state Constitution or in state statutes to speak at meetings of public agencies.
So the Legislature passed a law that requires giving the people “a reasonable opportunity to be heard on a proposition before a board or commission.”
It is based on the essential premise that citizens have a right to be involved in the creation of the laws in their state — not as a formality or an afterthought but during the early stages of those laws.
So when it comes to allowing public access at meetings, there are two ways of viewing it:
■ Do you meet the narrowest interpretation of the law?
■ Or do you follow the spirit of the law that encourages openness with the people who are being served? That is the position of the Times-Union’s editorial board.
The Gainesville Sun – Spring into action
Florida’s springs and other water resources are finally getting deserved attention.
But it’s going to take public pressure on elected officials to ensure that talk translates to measures that truly protect water quality and quantity.
Last week was filled with promising signs. Rallies were held around the state promoting the Floridians’ Clean Water Declaration.
The declaration, which can be signed at wewantcleanwater.com, says in part that the state has the responsibility to provide clean water for future generations.
Even Gov. Rick Scott showed he’s paying attention to the issue, calling on the Legislature to spend $55 million in the upcoming budget for springs protection.
It was a welcome acknowledgement that protecting water is essential for the state and its economy. But a closer look at Scott’s proposal and other developments raises cause for concern.
While Scott’s pledge seems like a lot of money, it comes at a time when fiscal analysts are projecting a $1.2 billion surplus. Local nature photographer John Moran pointed out that the pledge amounts to the cost of a cheeseburger for each Floridian.
State senators are talking about appropriating seven times as much for springs protection — but face resistance from the House.
While spending on water projects is a needed investment, it won’t solve the state’s water woes. That will require the regulation of septic tanks, fertilizer applications and other pollution sources along with water managers actually turning off the spigot on endless groundwater withdrawals.
The Lakeland Ledger —Lakeland Police Scandals: Lisa Womack’s Resignation
When Lakeland Police Chief Lisa Womack delivered her resignation to City Manager Doug Thomas on Friday, the letter said, “I have come to the conclusion that it is in the best interest of me and my family for me to transition out of my position of chief.”
By resigning, Womack also acted in the best interest of the Lakeland — in the sense that its residents, Police Department and municipal government now can make a clean break from 2013, the worst year since the city’s establishment in 1885.
Lakeland’s horrible year of 2013 started with the Police Department repeatedly breaking Florida’s Public Records Law by withholding public records. In the first week of the year, Womack told Ledger reporter Jeremy Maready that the department played a “cat-and-mouse” game with news organizations when it did not want to release public records it considered sensitive, which he reported in an article Jan. 6, 2013.
Following publication of the article, State Attorney Jerry Hill convened a grand jury to investigate the Police Department’s handling of public records. As part of the process, the State Attorney’s Office sent three undercover investigators to the department. They requested records, but what they received was incomplete. As the grand jury’s presentment said, “There is no reason to believe that any other citizen walking into LPD to request records would have a different experience.” The investigative report remained sealed until opened Dec. 13 by order of the 2nd District Court of Appeal. Finally, the public learned how deeply the 18-member grand jury had criticized the Police Department and Womack.
The Miami Herald —A blow against corruption
A federal judge struck a blow against the scourge of public corruption last week in sentencing former Sweetwater Mayor Manuel “Manny” Maroño to 40 months behind bars. The former political leader of a proud Miami-Dade municipality meekly accepted his punishment and seemed resigned to his fate after pleading guilty for his role in a corruption conspiracy.
Maroño is only the latest in a very long line of public officials in South Florida who have been snared in corrupt schemes of one kind or another designed to enrich themselves at public expense or increase their political power, or both.
In this case, Maroño was caught in an FBI sting operation in which he accepted thousands of dollars in kickbacks in exchange for supporting sham government grant operations.
What sets this sentencing apart was federal Judge William Zloch’s stern admonition to both the confessed wrongdoer and the prosecutors who handled the case. The magistrate denounced the plague of public corruption in South Florida, calling it a “cancer,” and pointedly challenged the prosecutors over a prison recommendation at the low end of the sentencing guidelines.
“Would you agree that public corruption has become commonplace in our society?” the judge asked the prosecution team. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Dwyer agreed, but defended the proposed 37-month deal worked out with the ex-mayor’s defense attorneys because Maroño had readily admitted to his crimes, hopefully sending a warning to other corrupt politicians to come clean after they’re caught.
Even so, the judge added three months to the sentence. Maroño’s defense attorney, Kendall Coffey, himself a former U.S. attorney for South Florida, said the sentence was a powerful disincentive for other political figures tempted to use their positions to line their pockets.
“Federal prison sends an incredible message to politicians,” said Mr. Coffey. “They’re scared to death of it.”
The Orlando Sentinel — For families, businesses, expand health coverage
Gov. Rick Scott often talks about wanting Florida to be the best place to raise a family and do business. Usually he can count on strong support for those goals from his allies in the Legislature.
But there’s an egregious exception to that rule for Republican leaders in the Florida House. Speaker Will Weatherford and his top lieutenants have stood in the way of a bipartisan plan from the Senate to expand health-care coverage to about a million uninsured Floridians.
Florida has the second-highest rate of uninsured residents among the states; about one in four Floridians under 65 lacks coverage. This is hard on them and their families. It’s also bad for businesses in the state.
But it’s not too late for House leaders to change their minds.
Last week Republican state Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah re-introduced his chamber’s bipartisan plan. It would tap tens of billions of federal dollars available under the Affordable Care Act to pay at least 90 percent of the cost of covering uninsured Floridians earning up to 133 percent of the poverty level.
Instead of taking the conventional route of enlarging Medicaid, the state-federal program that covers the poorest Floridians, the Senate plan would direct funds to the uninsured to purchase private coverage. While this approach was almost unanimously embraced in the Senate last year, House leaders gave it the cold shoulder.
The Ocala StarBanner — Campus ‘carry’ bill
Last year, state Rep. Greg Steube’s bill to arm school personnel failed — fortunately. It would have allowed designated school employees, once trained, to carry concealed weapons on campus. The risks far outweighed the potential value of protecting students and school personnel from a would-be attacker.
This year Steube, R-Sarasota, has reworked the bill and will reintroduce it in the coming legislative session. The legislation this time will be more measured and comprehensive. It deserves careful consideration but also cautious scrutiny.
There’s no doubt that the threat of a school shooting, especially in light of the 2012 massacre in Newtown, Conn., has become all too real for students, parents and school personnel.
Yet any proposal to allow anyone but a law enforcement officer to carry a gun on school grounds should be viewed with extreme skepticism.
That said, Steube’s new bill is an improvement over last year’s. Among other provisions, it would:
Require that any armed personnel — whether school employees or volunteer security guards — have a law enforcement or military background.
Require extensive weapons training recommended by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and annual retraining.
Prescribe schoolwide drills to prepare for a potential shooter on campus.
Require that school construction plans be reviewed by law enforcement to ensure that security measures are incorporated.
Drills and law enforcement reviews are reasonable and warranted. Many schools and districts, including those in Marion County, already include “lockdown” drills and security reviews in their safety plans. Any districts or private schools that have not taken such steps should be required to do so.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Bowden: Bitter feud gave birth to PNJ
The March 5, 1889, Daily News echoes through 125 years, silencing gun-toting, former Union Army captain and lawyer Joseph Dennis Wolfe, editor of Pensacola’s Daily Commercial. Wolfe battles many enemies in the post-Reconstruction 1880s, chief among them railroad builder, mayor and state senator, William Dudley Chipley, whose Plaza Ferdinand VII obelisk shadows the ground where Wolfe’s great hero, Andrew Jackson, exchanged Spanish colors for the American flag in 1821. Wolfe rests in St. Johns Cemetery, his long-forgotten toxic editorial barrage against Chipley spawning birth to the newspaper you’re reading.
Leading black troops during Pensacola’s Federal occupation, Wolfe snarls that Pensacola’s ex-Confederates are too dumb to know Old Hickory is now dead.
Shot at more than once, Wolfe carries a Navy Colt by his side while traveling by buggy on Pensacola streets. Shying from carpetbaggers, registering as a Democrat, Wolfe is admitted to The Florida Bar. He bitterly opposes Florida Gov. Edward A. Perry, a Massachusetts native, Pensacola lawyer and former Confederate brigadier general; Stephen Russell Mallory, Confederate Navy secretary; and Chipley, former Confederate lieutenant colonel who built the Pensacola & Atlantic Railroad.
The Palm Beach Post — Educators wrong to pretend that ‘Common Core’ school standards not coming
In setting standards for how public schools teach their students, Florida’s education commissioner declared last week that “it’s important that Florida stand on our own.” That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s the opposite of what is really happening.
In fact, the state is moving to implement the rough equivalent of a national English and math standards — the much-maligned, much-misunderstood Common Core State Standards, which are being put in place in 45 states. This has been in the works for years, but now, amid a vocal backlash from some skeptical parents and conservative grass-roots groups, Florida education officials feel compelled to act as if they are doing no such thing.
The Panama City News-Herald — Unnecessary preference
The Bay County Commission last week took a step toward resurrecting a policy that was better left dormant.
In a 4-1 vote Tuesday, commissioners established guidelines for a proposed ordinance that would give preference to local contractors when bidding on county projects. Local companies could match the low bidder’s price provided the local company’s bid was within 5 percent. Local companies not headquartered in the county would only be allowed to match the low bid if their price was within 3 percent. Many counties have similar policies, as does Bay District Schools. The finalized county ordinance must receive a public hearing before a final vote.
The county previously awarded a 5 percent local preference before the commission voted 3-2 in January 2012 to eliminate it. Commissioners then complained the ordinance loosely defined what constituted a local business, which allowed companies with a mere office in the county but headquartered elsewhere to receive the same preference as true homegrown businesses.
Supporters of the preference argue it helps keep money in the county — local businesses hire local workers, who then spend their paychecks locally, boosting the economy. However, the county did not offer any evidence that such a net benefit occurs. Indeed, other county’s preference ordinances merely state as “fact” that a preference for local bidders enhances local employment, increases the tax base and generally boosts the economy.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Our Greek community
Newcomers to Tallahassee may not know there was a time when almost all Tallahassee restaurants were owned by Greeks. Even those here long enough to remember the Busy Bee, the Seven Seas and, of course, the F&T, may have forgotten that all those Greeks emanated from the same tiny island in the Aegean Sea.
But their ancestors haven’t forgotten. And Jan. 18, more than 230 of those descendants packed the community center of the Holy Mother of God Greek Orthodox Church to celebrate their roots.
For more than three hours, they perused old photos and artifacts, such as the framed 1925 naturalization papers of Theo Patronis. They ate, they drank, they listened to music, they tried to dance — though there was precious little room given the crowd.
Mainly, they laughed, told old stories and reminisced. In a group that ranged from octogenarian, first-generation Americans to middle-aged professional men and women to teenagers, nary a person was spotted playing with a cellphone. Folks were into the reunion.
The reunion was the idea of Johnny Patronis, 85. the Tallahassee-reared, longtime co-owner with his brother, Jimmy, 82, of Captain Anderson’s Restaurant in Panama City. Patronis enlisted his sister, Chris Skaroulis, 76, who enlisted her son, George Skaroulis, 50.
The Tampa Tribune — Encouraging signs for Florida’s environment
The run-up to this year’s legislative session in Tallahassee has been filled with promising signs for Florida’s environment, a surprising and encouraging development considering the virtual antipathy of recent Legislatures toward conservation.
In separate announcements last week, Gov. Rick Scott said he’ll seek $55 million to restore and maintain the state’s natural springs, and that he wants the state to double its spending on Everglades restoration, bumping it up to $130 million.
In the Senate, a $380-million plan to help the state’s natural water bodies is being drafted. And in the House, members are also working on a springs restoration package.
Whatever the motivation — be it political or not — the results will benefit the environment, the economy, and the reputation of Florida as a place of abundant natural beauty. The governor and state lawmakers should be applauded and encouraged to do even more.
The contrast could hardly be more stark compared with Scott’s first years in office, when he gutted environmental protections and cut funding for a program that purchased pristine lands. State lawmakers were no less a threat to Florida’s natural wonders, targeting growth management laws that guarded against haphazard development.
The state’s clumsy attempt last year to sell some of its previously purchased conservation lands has been a dismal failure.