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

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Tampa Bay Times — Time to stand and be counted on water

The Florida Senate is closing out an election-year session with a historic package to restore the state’s natural springs. The House is moving in the opposite direction, readying an anti-environmental bill that is bad for the ecosystem, bad for taxpayers, bad for local control and bad for anyone interested in the security of the state’s drinking water supply. This is a moment for lawmakers to choose sides and for voters to watch.

The Senate’s legislation, SB 1576, would start the long job of reversing decades of degradation to Florida’s springs. These once crystal-clear waters — now choked with runoff from septic tanks, wastewater plants, storm drains, farm and lawn fertilizer and other pollutants — are vital to the state’s economy, tax base and the health of its drinking water supply. A bipartisan bill pushed by Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, would provide nearly $371 million a year for a range of cleanup projects, from removing leaky septic tanks to limiting the spread of fertilizer and restoring the springs’ natural flow.

The bill’s impact, though, reaches further. It creates a new sense of urgency for restoration efforts and lays the groundwork for improving public health in rural and urban areas alike. The state would create protection zones for springs and plans to preserve them. Polluters would have a harder time dumping their waste directly into public waterways. The state would have to establish minimum flows for critical springs; counties would have to work together to protect entire watersheds; and officials could not use ongoing research as an excuse to avoid proceeding with attainable restoration efforts.

The House has opted instead to push a measure that’s toxic even by the low standards of its sponsor, Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. His bill would give landowners the right to pump from public water sources for 50 years, up from the current 20 years. Counties would be barred from adopting more protective rules for wetlands than the state, and locally elected officials would be prohibited from requiring a supermajority vote to approve new, large-scale development. Patronis’ bill makes it easier for developers to game the system by getting agricultural tax breaks for speculative land investments. And it weakens the oversight of wells and well contractors while creating flimsy new standards for environmental mitigation banks.

The Bradenton Herald — To protect children, Florida should treat addicted parents

Florida’s Legislature responded to disturbing revelations that the state’s child welfare system is woefully lacking with bills in both chambers that provide major reforms. But the measures fall short of dealing with one of the core problems.

The Miami Herald’s Innocents Lost investigative series of reports left no doubt that the state has failed to adequately protect children from abuse by their parents or caregivers.

In detailing the deaths of 477 children whose families had previous dealings with the Florida Department of Children & Families, the Herald exposed numerous flaws in state policy and procedures.

Thankfully, lawmakers took notice and became compelled to act. But the focus has been on abuse and neglect investigations and stronger regulations governing the state’s ability to remove children from terrible parents.

While the legislative and governor’s emphasis on children is perfectly correct public policy, troubled parents need help, too. Substance abuse and mental health treatment for parents should be an integral part of the child welfare system.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — A promising start to a long journey

It may not be quite as daunting as cleaning the Augean stables, but Daytona Beach’s effort to eliminate urban blight still constitutes a Herculean task.

It’s one that won’t be accomplished quickly, nor by any single means.

Nevertheless, the first-year reports on the city’s rental inspection program are encouraging.

In April 2013, Daytona Beach began a program of inspecting rental properties with four or fewer units — of which there are about 11,000. The purpose isn’t to enforce building codes, but to ensure proper maintenance. Inspectors not only examine the exterior, looking for rotting wood and missing window screens, but also go inside to check if power outlets are working, hot water is coming out of taps and a sufficient number of smoke detectors are in place and functioning.

The city gives property owners a set amount of time to make a repair before the property is reinspected. If they fail to comply they go before a special magistrate, where they could face fines or liens attached to their rental homes.

The good news is that according to Mike Garrett, the city’s chief building official and the person who oversees the inspections, the program has had “very little pushback.” Although 49 percent of the units failed their first inspection, only 7 percent failed their reinspection. That shows most landlords are making necessary repairs.

The Florida Times-Union Just outcome may be elusive in Alexander case

The editorial board rarely comments on specific criminal case issues. We’re more interested in process and the broad scope of things.

But the Marissa Alexander case is not typical. It has gained national attention because it spotlights domestic violence and because of Florida’s insanely harsh gun laws, which could send Alexander to prison for 60 years for firing a single shot that didn’t hit anyone,

A group of Jacksonville ministers recently called for Alexander to be offered a plea deal that she turned down originally — three years in prison for three counts of aggravated assault in connection with firing a pistol in her house in 2010.

The ministers’ solution of three years, with credit for nearly that much time served, would be a just outcome.

But there would remain serious issues highlighted by this case that only the Florida Legislature can address. Now in session, the Legislature should revisit the 10-20-Life mandatory minimum sentence law.

Some have attempted to paint State Attorney Angela Corey as the villain in this matter.

That is hardly the case.

The Gainesville Sun – Selecting a superintendent

As the Alachua County School Board prepares to narrow the list of candidates for superintendent, a cloud of discord needs to be cleared to ensure the final choice has broad community support.

Interim Superintendent Hershel Lyons is currently not an official contender for the job. But that’s not because he’s being snubbed, as one community member suggested last month.

It’s because Lyons never applied. When the board started the process of selecting a permanent superintendent more than six months ago, Lyons said he wasn’t interested.

The board hired a group to conduct a national search. Then on the eve of the application deadline, Lyons said he’d be interested if the School Board didn’t find another suitable choice.

It’s no crime for Lyons to change his mind. And the board might still decide Lyons should be considered among the finalists, despite him missing the deadline.

The Lakeland Ledger — Old Dixie Highway; Tenoroc High: Wrong Way On School Road

Tenoroc High School falls about halfway between Lakeland and Auburndale. Responsibility for the safety of students and others who walk along Old Dixie Highway, 1.5 miles north from U.S. 92 to Tenoroc, has fallen into the gap between the two cities.

The responsibility belongs to the Polk County Commission. However, a majority three of five commissioners has ripped away virtue and thrown it in the scraggly drainage ditch alongside this narrow road of death.

That ditch is where Colton Meyers, 14, spent his last moments of consciousness, after being hit by another student’s car while he was walking home from school about 2 p.m. on Dec. 8, 2009.

Despite grave injuries to his head, and arms and legs that looked broken to those who rushed to help, Meyers tried to talk.

“He was trying to” talk, but had trouble forming words, fellow student Jessica King told Bay News 9. “It was hard to understand.”

Meyers was lifted from the ditch and transferred to a helicopter that flew him to Tampa General Hospital. He died that evening.

The Miami Herald — A good start

Last week marked a definite milestone, and perhaps a tipping point, in the drive to offer Americans better access to health insurance. With the number of people enrolled in new, individual plans under ACA topping 7 million, the law has gained a level of acceptance that makes all the effort it took to get here worthwhile.

To be sure, there were moments when even ardent supporters harbored well-founded doubts, most notably after the disastrous roll-out of the HealthCare.gov website last fall. But despite last-minute difficulties, more than 4.8 million users visited the site on the last sign-up day, March 31, and hosted 185,700 concurrent users.

Given that the number of uninsured Americans has been estimated at nearly 50 million by the Census Bureau in 2011, the additional number obtaining coverage thanks to the ACA exchanges sounds small — but that’s not the full story.

Add to the 7 million the additional millions of people under age 26 who have been able to stay on their parents’ plans, thanks to “Obamacare.” Then add the estimated number who also gained coverage under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) — another 7 million, according to ACASignup.net.

In addition, according to news reports, a Rand Corp. study found that about 9 million people have bought health plans directly from insurers, instead of using the marketplaces. The vast majority of these, Rand found, were previously uninsured.

The Orlando Sentinel — Leaders due praise for crackdown on predators

Plenty of people deserve credit for the four bills signed this past week by Gov. Rick Scott to make Florida safer from repeat child molesters and rapists.

Let’s start with the leaders of the Florida Legislature, who get criticized plenty, including on these editorial pages. But today we applaud Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and other legislative leaders for making it a priority to pass bills that address the problem of sexual predators who have completed their prison terms, then go on to attack again. They followed through on a promise to act, and made addressing the problem their first order of business this legislative session.

And let’s give plenty of credit to Sun Sentinel reporters Sally Kestin and Dana Williams, along with photographer Mike Stocker, who made us all aware that in a 14-year period, 595 sexual deviants released from prison or a civil detention center had gone on to attack again. No one knew of the problem before Kestin and Williams gathered and analyzed the data.

Plenty of credit goes, too, to those who told their stories. It is not easy to relive a terrifying story in public. Many victims would rather forget, though they never will. But because some brave souls agreed to share their experiences, they made a meaningful difference.

And plenty of credit goes to those of you who made your voices heard after reading the harrowing investigative series, and decided it was long past time for the state to take action.

The Ocala StarBanner — A worthy cause

The people of Marion County are generous by nature. Every year, they donate millions of dollars to charitable groups and special causes that appeal to them for help.

But all charities are not alike.

Many of the organizations, such as the United Way or the Red Cross, are well-known and established. Others are more obscure, but the causes they represent — such as veterans or victims of hunger and homelessness — strike a chord with donors.

Some groups have minimal administrative costs and channel all or most of the donations to the intended recipients. Others spend most — or even all — of the money on salaries and solicitation costs.

The trouble is, because of Florida’s lax laws on charitable solicitations, donors in many cases have no way of knowing which charities are legitimate and which are not.

Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam wants to change that. And Florida’s lucrative direct-solicitation industry wants to stop him.

The Pensacola News-Journal — We must confront Escambia’s poor health

Escambia County’s overall health continues to decline. It’s a problem much more serious than who sells food and drinks at the airport or any of the other issues that divide us. We are losing a generation of people who eat poorly, smoke too much and don’t get enough exercise.

It also takes a toll on the local economy, Carlton Proctor pointed out in his column a week ago. Local businesses, he reported, pay $500 million a year for lost productivity, worker sick days and higher health insurance costs.

Proctor also reported the disturbing news that between 2010 and 2012 the overall health of Escambia County’s residents has fallen from 55th worst in the state to 57th place. The study was Conducted by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Of the state’s more than two dozen urban counties, we’re dead last.

It’s time for action, not studies or government proclamations. There are some solutions that can address the issue, though, admittedly, they could be costly.

The Palm Beach Post — Time for Florida leaders to work with, instead of against health law

The open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act’s health marketplaces has ended.

It is worth pausing to reflect on what this moment means — time to look back, and also time to look toward the future. The numbers indicate the act is working. Now, Florida’s political leaders must find ways to improve on the Affordable Care Act, not repeal it.

The Panama City News-Herald Building a marijuana framework

Did we give Florida lawmakers too little credit? Like many observers of Tallahassee politics, we figured the various medical marijuana bills before the Legislature — especially those pushed by conservatives — were intended to blunt support for a proposed pot amendment on the November ballot. Maybe there’s more to it than that.

Maybe the medical marijuana bills will actually help Florida accomplish what will be needed after voters approve the pot amendment, which seems inevitable.

The amendment to the Florida Constitution would allow “the medical use of marijuana for individuals with debilitating diseases” as determined by physicians.

Bills in the Legislature are narrower. HB 843, championed by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, would offer legal protection to people who use a specific strain of marijuana, sometimes called Charlotte’s Web, to treat children suffering intractable epilepsy. A companion bill in the Senate, SB 1030, authorizes a user registry and state-run dispensaries to provide the substance.

The Tallahassee Democrat – To grandmother’s house we go, before it’s gone

On March 12, two close friends I have known since kindergarten sent me nearly identical photos in an email and a text message.

They were photographs of my grandmother’s house on Lafayette Street, the main drag through the heart of Marianna, my hometown.

The duplicate digital images showed a gutted, two-story English Tudor house with a sagging roof that was waiting for the wrecking ball. It is being demolished to make way for another Dollar General store, or some such discount grocery where you can buy corn chips and Fruit Loops on the cheap.

Nanny, which is what we called my paternal grandmother, died in her bed in that house in 1997. She was 102.

My first cousin, David, lived in Nanny’s house for a few years after she was gone. He died of cancer in 2009 when he was only 58. My aunt, who inherited the house, sold it last year.

Don’t tell anyone else, but I was always a little terrified of my grandmother’s home.

The Tampa Tribune — Scott pressures VA

We are glad to see Gov. Rick Scott pressure the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to come clean on reports of deaths and injuries that resulted from test delays at VA hospitals.

Yet the VA is stonewalling the governor just as it has stonewalled the efforts by the Tribune’s Howard Altman and members of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee to learn details about the deaths of 19 veterans because of delays in diagnostic testing. Five of those deaths and nine injuries occurred in the VA region that includes Florida.

Scott has pledged to make Florida the most military-friendly state in the nation, so this is an area of special concern.

Earlier this week he directed Elizabeth Dudek, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, to inspect VA hospitals and report her findings.

Dudek sent two inspectors to the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center on Thursday, but they were escorted out without being allowed to review any records.

VA officials said they would work with the state but were unprepared for the unannounced visit. But how prepared do they need to be to produce medical records that could reveal why patients didn’t receive test results in a timely fashion?

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.