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 — Scott should push in-state tuition for immigrants

Now that the Florida House has passed legislation that would allow undocumented students who attended state high schools to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities, Gov. Rick Scott should help persuade the Senate to approve it. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, says he has the votes if he can get the bill out of committees and to the full chamber, and the governor should help him. This is an issue of fundamental fairness to young people our communities already have invested in, and the legislation should not be allowed to die without a Senate vote.

Undocumented students who graduate high school in Florida now pay out-of-state tuition at state colleges and universities, regardless of how long they have lived in the state, their academic credentials or their potential to succeed on campus. They also are ineligible for state or federal financial aid such as subsidized loans or grants, putting postsecondary education in Florida even further out of reach. Several Florida colleges have moved to help undocumented students by allowing them to pay in-state tuition. But the legislation approved by the House offers a fairer, broader solution.

The legislation, HB 851, allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition if they have attended a Florida high school for four years and if they apply to college within 24 months of receiving their high school diplomas. House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, strongly supported the bill and accepted changes to win more Republican votes — including the four years of high school requirement and a guarantee that undocumented students would not be given spots allocated for Florida residents. The legislation was approved by an 81-33 bipartisan vote, and every Tampa Bay House member voted for it except for two Republicans who have yet to recognize the benefits of inclusion: Reps. Larry Ahern of Seminole and Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes.

The Bradenton Herald — Quit misdirecting blame to Manatee County for dog sentence

The sad and controversial case surrounding a pair of dogs who mauled a boy ended this week. By court order, the two Australian shephards were deemed dangerous and euthanized on Thursday night.

The dogs’ owner, Karen Erskine, lost her beloved pets. She put up a long and valiant fight to save them.

The boy’s parents and the youth will be dealing with this nightmare for a long time, too, perhaps a lifetime.

But the law is the law, plain and simple. Neither Manatee County commissioners nor Animal Services write or enforce state laws. Yet both are bearing the brunt of the public’s wrath over judicial rulings condemning the dogs.

The boy lost a large piece of flesh in one of his legs while he riding his bike. Anyone seeing images of that wound would have to agree this was major damage, and not just minor puncture bites as some contend.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — End electoral dysfunction in Flagler

Someone might want to hand Palm Coast city officials and Flagler County Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks a copy of the book “Getting to Yes” — because they’ve been stuck on the path to nowhere for too long.

Voters stand to be the ones truly lost.

Before 2011, Palm Coast City Council elections were held on odd-numbered years, but Palm Coast voters that year overwhelmingly agreed to start holding local elections in even-numbered years. Those referendum results had to be filed with the state before the revisions could be included in the city charter. However, because city officials waited until last September to file the results, a local resident filed a complaint with the state arguing that the city should have held elections in 2013 and is therefore in violation of its charter.

The city says the timing of the referendum, not the filing, is what matters. Weeks isn’t so sure and wants Palm Coast to request an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office. The city said that isn’t necessary.

The Florida Times-Union — Opening enrollment is right thing to do

Imagine you’re a parent of a school-age child in Duval County.

You don’t want your child to attend the neighborhood school.

Maybe you are not impressed with the academics.

Maybe you don’t get along with the principal.

Maybe you work on the other side of town and want your child to attend school near your workplace.

Life just got complicated.

Staying within the Duval County public school system would mean applying for a magnet school, possibly waiting for the results of a lottery or applying for a special transfer.

The Gainesville Sun – Getting involved

Gainesville has no shortage of informed and opinionated residents, so you would expect that meant an engaged electorate.

Voter turnout tells a different story. Turnout in last month’s City Commission elections was a dreadful 15 percent, a typical figure for city races in recent years.

Everyone has the right to complain, but those arguments carry a lot more weight if you follow them with action. There’s another chance for the electorate to get involved: a runoff election between Annie Orlando and Helen Warren for an at-large seat on the City Commission.

With early voting running Monday through Saturday, we encourage voters to head to the polls. Voters also can cast ballots on Election Day, April 8.

To help boost turnout and inform the electorate, The Sun is co-sponsoring a candidate forum Thursday, April 3 at Springhill Missionary Baptist Church, 120 SE Williston Rd.

The Lakeland Ledger — Courthouse Impropriety: Treat Assistant Equally

On Sept. 13, Circuit Judge Beth Harlan and her judicial assistant, Alisha Marie Rupp, were arrested on charges of scheme to defraud and grand theft.

From the beginning, their treatment by the criminal-justice system has been unequal:

Harlan, 55, was allowed to bypass jail upon her arrest because no bail was required of her. Harlan was released. Rupp, 34, was taken to jail. Bail was set at $3,000 for Rupp.

William Bruce Smith, chief judge for the 10th Judicial Circuit — which encompasses Polk, Hardee and Highlands counties — allowed Harlan to continue her position in “voluntary suspension,” which meant that she did no judicial work but continued to received her salary of $142,000 per year.

During that suspension, Harlan was paid more than $80,000, reported The Ledger’s Jason Geary in an article Thursday.

The Miami Herald — Make the investment

Florida legislators have gotten off the dime and are coming up with one idea after another and another to force the Department of Children & Families to take far better care of kids in grave danger of being abused — or killed. Now, are they going to come up with the money it’s going to take to make dysfunctional families whole?

With the portraits of some of the 477 children who died while in DCF care staring lawmakers in the face — featured in the Miami Herald’s series, Innocents Lost — proposals to reform the agency are moving through the state Senate and the House, proposals that might have never seen the light of day had lawmakers not been shaken and, presumably, shamed by the brutal reality with which too many children live — and die — in this state.

Commend the House for seeking to impose more-specific and resolute wording to DCF’s “safety plans:” “If impending danger is identified, the child protective investigator shall create and implement a safety plan as soon as necessary to protect the safety of the child.” This makes it clear to DCF that the child’s well-being — indeed, the child’s very life — will take precedence over its policy of family preservation. Unfortunately, preservation was so narrowly defined as to mean that children who were clearly in peril of being seriously hurt by the dysfunctional, incapable adults, were left in their “care,” with tragic consequences.

Then this: “A safety plan may not rely on promissory commitments by the parent, caregiver, or legal custodian who is currently not able to protect the child or on services that will not result in safety.” It shouldn’t be necessary to spell out that drug-addicted or neglectful parents might promise anything to get the agency off their backs. Unfortunately, DCF took some caregivers at their word.

Now the question is, Will these suddenly concerned lawmakers manage to find the big bucks needed to really make a difference in the lives of children living with violent, drug-addicted, mentally ill or neglectful parents and caretakers?

The Orlando Sentinel — Ease class caps, free cash for other school needs

Lake County schools leaders, who have battled budget woes for months, got some rare good news last week. The state Department of Education decided not to fine the district for busting the caps on class sizes.

Lake got lucky. In January, the district admitted exceeding the state limits for students per classroom at six of its schools. That admission only came after a Minneola High School teacher blew the whistle on a scheme to assign — just on paper — about 70 students to a “leadership class” to circumvent the caps.

Lake, like all other districts, has a legal obligation to heed the limits. But a dozen years after voters imposed them, those limits are overdue for an adjustment.

Lake isn’t the only school system in Florida that has struggled to meet the class-size mandate. Other districts, including Broward and Brevard, have cracked the caps. Together they’ve been penalized, just since the 2010-11 school year, to the tune of nearly $25 million.

But fines represent a tiny fraction of the cost of the limits. Since state voters amended the Florida Constitution in 2002 to set maximum class sizes in core subjects such as math, reading and science, districts have spent more than $27 billion to build and operate the additional classrooms and hire the extra teachers to comply, according to Florida TaxWatch, a business-backed think tank in Tallahassee.

The Ocala StarBanner — It’s time to retire the penny

On a 2001 episode of the television show “The West Wing,” one of the president’s aides becomes obsessed with the idea of eliminating the penny.

He’s eventually told that legislation to do so would never fly because the speaker of the House was from Illinois ­— the same state as Lincoln, whose face is on the penny.

Flash forward to 2014. President Obama, who previously represented Illinois in Congress, was asked last month in a Google Hangout session why the U.S. hasn’t killed the copper penny. After all, it cost 1.8 cents to make a penny in 2013.

“I will tell you right now this will not be a huge savings for government, but any time we’re spending more money on something that people don’t actually use that’s an example of something we should change,” Obama said in response to the question, Business Insider reported.

The Pensacola News-Journal — Heart of the oil spill

The further we get from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the more crucial it is that we remain hypervigilant and angry about what BP’s man-made disaster has done to the Gulf of Mexico.

In an important watchdog story for the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday, reporter Craig Pittman detailed how federal scientists have confirmed that oil from the spill causes “severe defects in the developing hearts of amberjack, bluefin and yellowfin tunas.”

The research findings are especially troubling because amberjack and tuna are species of fish who spawn in the spring and summer in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Had the spill occurred in November, the concern might be less. Instead, oil and BP’s toxic dispersant flooded active breeding grounds from April 20 to July 16 – almost three months of constant poisoning at the fragile beginning of these species’ lifecycles.

Pittman reports that the embryos of the fishes were exposed to samples from the Deepwater Horizon spill. Scientists then watched the damage as it was done:

The Palm Beach Post —To save the ‘innocents’, put welfare of the child ahead of keeping family intact

In the wake of The Miami Herald series, “Innocents Lost,” about 477 children known to the Florida Department of Children and Families who died during the past six years from neglect, drugs or abuse, state legislators have vowed to rewrite child welfare laws and increase funding to the agency. That’s good. What’s not good is the denial by Gov. Rick Scott and DCF interim Secretary Esther Jacobo that the agency needs to revise its policies on removing high-risk children from unsafe homes.

The series paints a portrait of an agency that is inept at best, with child protective investigators who routinely miss or ignore glaring red flags that the children they are supposed to protect are in grave danger. More priority is given to keeping families intact than keeping children safe from harm.

That’s evident by the number of infants and toddlers who died after being left in homes by DCF workers who didn’t consider the risk to the children of domestic violence, parental drug use or the criminal histories of their parents’ live-in lovers.

This newspaper has long supported DCF’s policy of family preservation — providing services in the home to keep the family intact — but not at the expense of innocent lives.

Scott and Jacobo blame state and federal laws that protect the rights of parents, saying they hamstring the agency. Scott told the Herald that courts have the final say on whether children can be removed from their homes.

The Panama City News-Herald A lingering mystery of the air

Sometimes it’s easier to just cite a convenient explanation and stamp “Closed” on the case file. In the early ‘90s, law enforcement officials wanted badly to pin an unsolved 1986 murder in Miramar Beach on serial killer Frank Walls — even though there wasn’t a smidgen of evidence linking him to the crime. Blaming Walls would’ve been a convenient way to close the case.

Something similar happened this week, on a vastly larger scale, with the baffling disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The Malaysian government announced Monday the plane and the 239 people on board had plunged into the southern Indian Ocean — even though there wasn’t a smidgen of physical evidence that had actually happened.

The “evidence” cited Monday was an inventive analysis of satellite data that seemed to show the Boeing 777 traveling thousands of miles off course and ditching southwest of Australia.

Maybe it did. The satellite data look impressive. But deciding where the plane must have crashed doesn’t help us understand what happened on the doomed jet, or why.

Flight 370 was en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8. Shortly after leaving Malaysia, the plane veered south and continued flying for hours. No distress calls were sent. No wreckage has been retrieved.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Kenneth Brummel-Smith: Don’t waste money on expensive health care

I read with trepidation the report that the Legislature decided to spend $5 million promoting “medical tourism.” I then cringed when I read further and saw that Miami and Jacksonville were being touted as the sites where presumably these funds would be spent.

Why? Because these two areas are among the most expensive places to get health care in the country. In addition, they are also have some of the poorest performances on health care quality. Is this really what the Legislature ought to be spending taxpayer money on when it refuses to expand health care for the poor?

The Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care (www.dartmouthatlas.org) is a public site where anyone can look up the cost and quality of care anywhere in the country. Year after year, Miami is the most expensive place to get health care in the U.S. The average cost per Medicare beneficiary in 2007 was $17,274 — nearly three times as much as the lowest-cost area, Rapid City, S.D. ($6,264). But, you’d respond, they have a lot more high-grade specialists in Miami, so the quality of care is fantastic. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

In fact, in general there is an inverse relationship between cost and quality. The highest-cost areas generally have the lowest quality, and the lowest-cost areas have the highest quality. Miami and Jacksonville score poorly in almost all accepted quality measures — diabetes management, access to primary care and number of days spent in a hospital at the end of life. Low cost places such as Portland, Ore., and Sioux Falls, S.D., have some of the highest-quality measures in the nation.

The Tampa Tribune — Hillsborough a model for fixing child welfare system

The Miami Herald has provided a public service by culling through six years of child abuse reports to produce a series of articles that put faces and names to 477 children who died of abuse or neglect after the state had been warned they were in danger.

The articles give urgency to efforts in Tallahassee to fix a child welfare system that hasn’t always been a funding priority. The state’s Department of Children and Families, and the private agencies hired to manage cases in the various districts across the state, are saddled with too many cases and not enough options for diverting addicted and neglectful parents into treatment. As the Herald painfully exposed, the state left vulnerable children in the care of abusive parents and caregivers, precipitating the deaths. The DCF often relied on empty promises from the parents that they would change their behavior.

Bringing the deaths to light during the legislative session all but assures passage of measures that are meant to improve the outcomes when the state is alerted to a child in danger. Gov. Rick Scott has requested an additional $40 million for DCF next year, much of it to hire more child protection investigators. But it takes more than that. Lawmakers should also adopt proposals to enhance the training for investigators and expand services for at-risk families.

Inspiration can be found in Hillsborough County, which is no stranger to the tragedy of children dying after the agency responsible for protecting them had been warned they were at risk. Just a couple years ago, nine children died in Hillsborough over a two-year period despite red flags and tips to the agency under contract to protect those children.

The aggressive response in Hillsborough worked, and it offers a template for the state. The child welfare agency under contract when the nine Hillsborough children died was replaced by the nonprofit Eckerd Community Alternatives, a proven family services organization already operating in Pinellas and Pasco counties.

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.