A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Miami shows way on cross-bay rail
Area leaders frustrated by the construction tie-ups on the Howard Frankland Bridge should look at the excitement in Miami. Last week, the mayors of Miami-Dade, Miami and Miami Beach embraced the concept of connecting downtown Miami and Miami Beach with light rail, marking another step for the megacity in developing a world-class economy, tourism market and quality of life. The Tampa Bay region should be as bold and cooperative in pursuing a plan and a timetable for rail across the bay.
The meeting in Miami was the second since January at which officials discussed a rail link over Biscayne Bay. The mayors moved quickly, agreeing to partner to find $3 million to pay for an early study that could lead to design and development plans. The local governments are looking to contribute $250,000 apiece, with the balance coming from state and federal grants.
The idea of connecting Miami Beach and downtown by rail is nothing new. Neither is the similar goal of connecting Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. That idea got a kick-start recently after Florida’s Department of Transportation agreed to spend roughly $25 million to build an underpinning for rail on the structural support of the planned new northbound span of the Howard Frankland. That at least would put the supports for rail in place. But the difference is that officials in Miami are spending time and money to get their dreams moving, working together and signaling to the state and federal governments that the local governments are committed partners in this big-ticket project.
Pinellas has an opportunity to move the needle with the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum in November. Hillsborough is laying the groundwork for another transit referendum after the first one failed in 2010. For both counties to begin building a modern transit system that bridges the bay, a new source of dedicated revenue is essential. Yet neither side has managed to make regional connectivity a front-burner issue even amid the Pinellas vote, the transit talks in Hillsborough or DOT’s pledge of $25 million toward cross-bay rail.
The Bradenton Herald — Manatee County’s traffic congestion worsening but solutions too elusive
Traffic continues to be an intractable issue around Manatee County, especially in the southwest sector where two giant development projects are on the drawing boards. Fears of future gridlock are rightfully strong and must be addressed.
Current congestion on the Green Bridge connecting Palmetto and Bradenton remains an unsolvable puzzle for city and state officials, as reflected with the tepid reception on all sides to the latest suggestion.
A Florida Department of Transportation official made separate presentations to the Bradenton and Palmetto city councils, the latter coming last week. At the cities’ request, FDOT has been examining the issue.
Traffic operations engineer L.K. Nandam proposed new right-turn lanes in Bradenton at Third Avenue West and Manatee Avenue West in the southbound lane for traffic coming off the Green Bridge.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Spreading information on fertilizer
Regardless of whether Volusia County sticks with a moderate fertilizer ordinance or elects to implement stronger regulations, the rules will be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.
The immediate benefit will be to call attention to the problems fertilizer runoff causes for the area’s water resources, particularly the Indian River Lagoon, and will spur a public education campaign to get homeowners to self-regulate. That’s a worthy start to solving a serious problem.
The County Council last week voted 4-2 to adopt the state’s model ordinance, which prohibits applying nitrogen or phosphorus before seeding or sodding a lawn or within 30 days, bans fertilizer application within 10 feet of waterways and states that fertilizer should not be washed off or blown off sidewalks or streets into storm drains or waterways.
However, the council also voted to notify the state that the county intends to implement a stronger ordinance, similar to one recently passed by neighboring Brevard County and other communities. Those measures would include banning phosphorus, prohibiting using fertilizer with nitrogen between June 1 and Sept. 30 and using fertilizer within 15 feet of a waterway. Another would require that at least 50 percent of the nitrogen in fertilizer be in a slow-release form.
The Florida Times-Union — The Players Championship is one of our area’s biggest assets
It showcases our entire community to nearly 1 billion TV households worldwide.
It draws mobs of ticket-buying golf fans from practically every American state and Canadian province — many of them affluent folks happy to spend plenty of money while in Northeast Florida.
It is a massive charitable fundraising machine that benefits more than 300 local charities. The 2013 tournament alone raised a record-breaking $7.1 million.
And the impact doesn’t stop with the May tournament — it’s merely the centerpiece of year-round charity work by The Players Championship organization.
And, yes, The Players is also a fantastic golf tournament.
The best field in professional golf comes to the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach to battle the famous distinctive course and iconic 17th hole.
So it is difficult to believe that locally The Players was in limbo.
The Gainesville Sun – Barriers to records
Florida lawmakers need to take a stand for open government, rather than allowing barriers to stand in the way of public records.
They have a chance to do so by passing SB 1648. The measure would mark the most significant strengthening of the state’s open government laws in two decades, said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee.
The legislation would prevent government agencies from charging excessive fees for public records, a particular problem with state universities.
The measure would clarify that agencies can’t ask that records requests be in writing. It would also require training of government employees in public-record requirements, among other provisions.
Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford pledged to support open government as part of their shared agenda for this legislative session. The Senate fulfilled its end of the bargain by passing the bill on a 39-0 vote.
The Lakeland Ledger — From The Publisher: An Open Letter To Readers
It has been a month since I moved here to become publisher of the Ledger Media Group.
During that time, it has become obvious to me that Polk County is a special place. From the festivals and events to the natural beauty that surrounds us, we are all blessed to call Lakeland and the surrounding area home.
We can take pride in the generosity of the many devoted citizens who came before us and the legacy they set in motion. Everywhere I go there are reminders of people like George Jenkins, whose impact on our community will last for generations to come. These are signs for all of us that we should do our part to improve our community.
I want to build on that strong commitment to improving our community with my vision of The Ledger’s role in our county. Keep reading to learn more.
You will see community involvement as a key element here at The Ledger. We will continue long-standing partnerships with organizations like the United Way, chambers of commerce and Polk Vision. And we will continually look for new opportunities to move our community forward.
The Miami Herald — Florida’s sad voting record
As has become all too typical, Florida’s voting performance in the 2012 election was less than stellar. The Pew Charitable Trusts, a reputable nonpartisan organization, studied all 50 states’ handling of the election that gave President Obama a second term and it found Florida wanting yet again.
• While things improved in Sunshine State balloting over the dismal performance of the 2008 national election, said the Pew report, Florida had the nation’s 49th-longest wait time to vote.
• Average wait times in the state grew by 16 minutes, to an average of 45 minutes, whereas wait times decreased by three minutes elsewhere.
• Some voters in Miami-Dade County had to wait for eight hours to cast their ballot.
• Florida also had more spoiled or unreturned mail-in ballots than most other states.
The Orlando Sentinel — Now’s the time to pay mind to Alzheimer’s
Every 67 seconds a doctor shares the dread news with someone in America: You have Alzheimer’s disease. Nearly 500,000 people who’ve heard that diagnosis call Florida home.
Worse, expect the ranks of Floridians afflicted with the irreversible brain disease that lays waste to thinking skills and memory to swell by nearly 50 percent over the next decade. The state’s health-care system will be left scrambling to manage what has become the nation’s most expensive disease.
That’s why the thoughtful approach for Florida lawmakers going forward is not to overlook making a substantial investment in Alzheimer’s research.
But the fate of legislation directed to that end, House Bill 709, remains uncertain. Sponsored by Rep. Matt Hudson, a Naples Republican, the measure would direct $3 million to launch and promote dementia research. It also would establish an advisory board for awarding research grants.
A good start, supporters say. Given the dark veil projections indicate will blanket the Sunshine State, $3 million’s a drop in the bucket.
The Ocala StarBanner — Medicare talk
Wednesday’s Medicare “data dump” — revealing after decades of secrecy how much each doctor is paid by the federal program — is an overdue step toward smarter medical spending.
Unfortunately, the raw data lacks context and is creating some sticker shock over multimillion-dollar payments to certain specialists. Among the most notable was Dr. Asad U. Qamar, an Ocala cardiologist, who had the highest billings in the nation in that specialty. But we caution, patience is warranted as analysts sort out the numbers. Remember, the figures issued Wednesday represent costs but not profits for doctors. (For example, most of the $18 million Qamar’s Institute for Cardiovascular Excellence received could represent overhead expenses for six physicians, five offices, and untold employees and equipment.)
Even so, the information — involving outpatient doctor care — opens a window on a complex subject.
It’s important to get a handle on all Medicare costs for the sake of current and future beneficiaries, taxpayers and the U.S. economy. Policy adjustments that protect the coverage and quality of Medicare, while reining in waste, are needed to enhance the program’s long-term sustainability.
The Pensacola News-Journal — New rules could put patients at risk
Pharmacy staff supervision may sound like a fairly dry policy issue, but new rules proposed by state legislators could have a major impact on the health of Floridians.
The Legislature and the state’s Board of Pharmacy are considering two significant changes to how pharmacists supervise their staff, which together could increase the risk of medication error in Florida pharmacies.
The Florida House and Senate are considering parallel bills that would remove limits on how many technicians a single pharmacist may oversee. Existing state regulations allow for a maximum of three pharmacy techs per pharmacist, but the proposed rules give the pharmacy board unlimited leeway to increase the number of techs each pharmacist can supervise.
Pharmacy techs play a key role in preparing medications but they have much less formal training than pharmacists. Adequate supervision of technicians is therefore essential to the safe practice of pharmacy. Medication safety advocates generally oppose relaxing pharmacist to technician ratio rules, fearing that an increase in techs will lead to a single pharmacist having to oversee increased prescription volume. Higher prescription volume is often associated with higher error rates.
The Palm Beach Post — House bill a gift to tobacco firms at expense of protecting kids from e-cigarettes
Are Florida legislative leaders intent on making even the simplest bills difficult?
It sure seems that way with what’s happening to the previously popular bipartisan effort to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. Those efforts, which seemed to be on a fast track to passage in both the House (HB 169) and Senate (SB 224), got derailed a few weeks back by an amendment offered up by the House bill’s sponsor.
The Panama City News-Herald — Spring break headaches
Northwest Florida had a rough winter and now it’s having a rough Spring Break. As temperatures have risen, so have the number of arrests for underage drinking and the decibel level of residents’ complaints.
Folks are worried even in Panama City Beach, which has established itself as a rowdy, crowded Spring Break mecca. After Fox News aired a report on the beachside debauchery, the issue dominated Tuesday’s meeting of the Bay County Tourist Development Council. Said one business owner: “I honestly believe that we’re better than this.”
Walton County officials, too, believe their beaches are better than what Fox News highlighted. They’ve been arresting spring breakers by the hundreds — mostly for alcohol-related offenses — in the hope that a crackdown will, in Sheriff Mike Adkinson’s words, “slow down the party train.”
Hard partying, though, isn’t the only thing local authorities want to slow down. There are examples aplenty of bad decision-making.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Eddie Jackson: Engineering school is a vital source of Ph.D.s
One of the most significant outcomes of the FAMU-FSU engineering college has been the steady increase in the number of Florida A&M graduates earning Ph.D.s in engineering.
In 2004, the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education published a list of more than 50 fields within the natural sciences that awarded 2,100 doctoral degrees, without one going to an African-American. That list of natural sciences did not include majors offered at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.
Since 1995, when the first FAMU-FSU engineering doctorate was awarded to a FAMU student, 36 FAMU graduates have earned doctorates in either chemical, electrical, mechanical or industrial engineering, without leaving the campus where they received their undergraduate degrees. FAMU engineering majors also have earned doctorates at universities such as Cornell, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech.
In 2011, FAMU ranked third behind Howard University and Spelman College in a list of HBCUs whose graduates went on to earn doctorates in the sciences and engineering.
Tampa Tribune — Harassing friends of the parks
The Florida State Parks system attracts 26 million visitors a year and has an annual economic impact of $i.2 billion.
It supports close to 20,000 jobs, and studies have shown that for every 1,000 people who visit a park, the impact on the local economy is $47,000.
So you would think lawmakers would be pleased that hundreds of citizens volunteer to support the parks, which power the economy while protecting the environment.
But never trust busybody Tallahassee lawmakers to pass up a chance to throw their weight around.
Ethics reform legislation aimed at citizens organizations involved with government activities would threaten volunteer groups such as the Hillsborough River State Park Preservation Society or Friends of Highlands Hammock State Park.
The legislation includes annual financial reporting requirements that are not objectionable.
But the measures also would force the support groups to undergo a “sunset review” every five years, where the Legislature would decide whether the support agencies would continue to exist.