A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Land grab poses risks for region
Florida is gradually recovering from the economic recession, but a new threat from the collapse of the housing market is hitting the Tampa Bay area. Big investors have scooped up thousands of homes in recent years and are focused on charging the highest rents possible. The land grab by Wall Street has huge implications for neighborhoods throughout the region, and area leaders should remain vigilant to limit damage to the area’s economy and quality of life.
The Tampa Bay Times’ Drew Harwell reported that in the past two years, seven of the largest investors buying homes in the bay area have spent more than $1 billion, acquiring 6,800 homes in an unprecedented buying spree. Now these investors are pushing the envelope to return profits to Wall Street — with some pushing rents surprisingly high, evicting late-paying tenants and delaying routine maintenance. These investors landed here just as the average household spending on rent neared its highest point in three decades, consuming about one-third of a tenant’s income, compared to 27 percent in 2004.
Investors and analysts say the investment in single-family houses meets a need by the so-called “rentership society” by providing homes to those unable or uninterested in purchasing them. Some families prefer single-family homes to apartments. And many younger workers prefer renting to being tied down with a mortgage. But this market is not entirely one of choice or convenience. Many renters are former homeowners who lost their credit and savings in the last housing bubble. For them, dealing with rising rents and obstinate landlords is the price they pay for bad financial luck or an earlier mistake.
As one of the areas hit hardest by the housing bubble — where the home ownership rate sank last year to its lowest point in 30 years — Tampa Bay is a guinea pig for this untested industry. Renters are sending monthly payments out of state and the local economy loses the spin-off benefits that come with investing in a family home.
The Bradenton Herald — Transportation, brewery measures break with principles
The conservative principles that embrace a free market and other pro-business policies, small government and taxation limits get a bit fuzzy in Florida’s Republican-dominated Legislature. Here are several examples as the Legislature enters the final week of the 2014 regular session.
The House unanimously approved a transportation bill Thursday that include support for more toll roads to help pay for road construction.
In fiscal 2013, the Legislature stole almost $194 million from the state’s transportation trust fund — not only allowing infrastructure to further deteriorate but robbing road builders and construction workers of contract and job opportunities.
That trust fund is nourished, in part, by state gas taxes, which have remained stable since 1991 — a good thing, we must say.
As Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Titusville, explains his bill, HB 7175, “As Republicans, we don’t want to tax the people. Why would I want to vote to raise any taxes?”
Instead, he found another way to get into people’s wallets, via toll roads. Goodson, by the way, is a roads contractor. A toll is still money to government, no matter the justification. The difference between a “fee” and a “tax” is not lost on pocketbooks.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Politics clog Keystone XL pipeline
We’re starting to get the feeling that President Obama doesn’t want the Keystone XL pipeline built.
What began in 2009 as a deliberative effort, purportedly to study the issue and gather all the facts, has become a protracted exercise in political procrastination. The latest stall tactic by the administration was its quiet announcement April 18. The State Department is postponing indefinitely the decision on whether to approve building the pipeline, that would carry crude oil from Canada through the United States to American refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.
The new excuse is that the federal government is awaiting resolution of ongoing litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court, in case it mandates changes in the pipeline route that would require further study.
That’s paper-thin reasoning. In February, a Nebraska judge ruled that the process by which the state had completed its environmental impact study (which by the way concluded that the pipeline would pose “minimal” risks to Nebraska’s environment) was void because the final authority rested with the state’s Public Service Commission rather than the governor. The judge pointed out that his decision had nothing to do with the merits of the pipeline, only an issue of Nebraska constitutional law.
The Florida Times-Union — Holocaust exhibit should not be missed
It’s a photo of three elderly Jewish sisters. With three numbers, in perfect chronology, tattooed on three arms.
Three numbers that were branded on these women decades earlier when they were young girls — and prisoners in Auschwitz, one of the Nazis’ largest concentration camps.
The photo, shot in stark black and white, is undeniably the most stunning portrait in Israeli photographer Vardi Kahana’s “One Family” art exhibition; one of the number-tattooed sisters is her mother, Rivka.
But it’s hardly the only arresting image in the photo exhibit, which is on display through Sunday at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.
The final day is significant. It’s the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which calls on all of us — of all faiths, backgrounds and ages — to reflect on the horror and inhumanity that led to the extermination of more than 6 million Jews by the Nazis during World War II.
That enduring, haunting sense of reflection is a clear theme of the exhibit, which consists of dozens of photos all shot in black and white.
The Gainesville Sun – Different rules
Being a college football player has its privileges. Getting a free pass from law enforcement shouldn’t be one of them.
The quashing of an arrest warrant for former Gator cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy raises questions about whether he received special treatment.
Purifoy was allegedly caught last month with marijuana and a synthetic drug known as bath salts. An Alachua County sheriff’s deputy found Purifoy inside a car parked in Linton Oaks about 11:34 p.m. on March 18 with a marijuana joint and two baggies containing bath salts, according to an arrest warrant.
If the allegations are true, Purifoy is surely guilty of bad judgment. He has been projected to be chosen in the early rounds of next month’s NFL draft.
Local law enforcement reportedly offered Purifoy a deal to avoid charges. The Sun reported that Purifoy, who reportedly told deputies he thought the bath salts were the drug MDMA, agreed to work as a drug task force informant. But a source close to the case told The Sun that Purifoy never returned calls from investigators. Because of the alleged lack of cooperation, ASO charged him with drug possession.
An arrest warrant was issued but canceled by a judge. Sheriff Sadie Darnell has questioned whether Gainesville police personnel were involved and GPD is investigating.
The Lakeland Ledger — Lakeland Police Scandals: Government ‘In The Dark’
When Lakeland City Manager Doug Thomas hired Tampa PR firm Tucker/Hall in July, a period began in which not only the residents of Lakeland were unaware of an expensive-and-powerful process below the surface at City Hall, but the six city commissioners were not informed about developments. The operation was further obfuscated by using the Lakeland office of the private GrayRobinson law firm as an intermediary to hire Tucker/Hall.
Thomas did not take the hiring to a City Commission meeting for approval. The expense — which now stands at $134,624 — exceeded $25,000, the amount by city practice at which the city manager must seek commission approval.
Instead, Thomas contacted the mayor and six commissioners individually. He held one-on-one conversations with them in which he sought their approval for the action he was taking.
The Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Law requires decisions of boards such as the City Commission to be made together in a public meeting, for which public notice has been given, and for which minutes will be recorded promptly and made public.
None of these requirements was met. Instead, the responses from the mayor and six commissioners were elicited one-by-one by Thomas.
In an after-the-fact abuse, Thomas told commissioners that they did not cast votes in their one-on-one conversations with him but rather “endorsed his decision,” as City Commissioner Don Selvage explained in Monday’s commission meeting. Nonetheless, Selvage said twice that he voted via Thomas to hire Tucker/Hall.
The Miami Herald — Legislature’s unfinished business
OUR OPINION: State lawmakers still have time, though dwindling, to do some good
Florida’s legislative session is winding down, which means the lawmaking frenzy is gearing up. As always, it’s been a mixed bag of hits, misses and truly dreadful calls. And as always, the Miami Herald Editorial Board has some guidance to give.
Things were looking good for Florida’s Dreamers. Their chance to pay lower tuition at public universities never looked better: Gov. Scott was behind them, the Senate bill has 21 co-sponsors. But two Senate leaders threw up a roadblock — politics as usual. It’s not fair, and punishes just the kind of young people this state needs — educated ones. Twist some arms, Mr. Scott. It’s imperative to bring this to the Senate floor — where it should be approved.
The Legislature’s politically driven refusal to accept federal money to expand Medicaid leaves $50 billion on the table and puts thousands of lives at risk. At this point, anyone asking lawmakers to reverse course is beating a dead horse. Nevertheless, this denial of service to constituents cannot be overlooked. It’s an abject failure of responsibility by Florida’s lawmakers for which there is no justification.
The Orlando Sentinel — Stop making excuses: Save state’s springs now
The late Florida conservationist Archie Carr, one of countless admirers of the state’s natural springs, once called them “the singular blessing of the Florida landscape.”
But as former Gov. Bob Graham pointed out last week in a column for the Sentinel, “springs are dying from too little flow and too many nutrients.” Anyone who has visited a spring where once-clear waters are now fouled with algae and weeds knows just what Graham is talking about.
This year these imperiled environmental treasures have run into another deadly threat — this one in Tallahassee: excuses.
A bipartisan group of state senators has worked for months on a comprehensive plan to restore and protect springs that includes measures to maintain groundwater flow and reduce nutrient pollution. But that plan has been ignored in the House, and weakened in the Senate.
This past week, it got stripped of its $378 million in annual funding. The excuse? State voters this fall will be presented with a proposed constitutional amendment that could dedicate $19 billion for conservation projects over the next two decades. Presumably, its passage would provide plenty of money for springs restoration.
Lawmakers would be foolish to bank on those dollars. While current polls show strong support for the amendment, the 60 percent support needed on Election Day is by no means assured. In 2012, voters rejected eight of 11 amendments on the ballot.
The Ocala Star Banner — The brew battle
You don’t have to be a beer aficionado to identify the source of Florida Senate Bill 1714’s bitter taste: pure protectionist politics.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Kelli Stargel seeks to hold down microbrewers and sellers of craft beer.
The growing category is a good source of new local businesses across Florida. Yet Stargel’s SB 1714 — which is scheduled for a full Senate vote on Monday — proposes restrictions that would be comical if they weren’t so potentially damaging.
The bill would require microbreweries selling more than 2,000 kegs per year of their own brew to distribute their bottled and canned products through an established distributorship. Then they would have to buy back their own product — at marked-up prices — before they could sell it to consumers for home consumption. The bottles and cans of beer wouldn’t even have to leave the premises or change hands. The middleman would just pocket the money.
That is nothing more than a shakedown facilitated by elected officials. Many microbreweries say they could not survive financially under that arrangement.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Patients need their physicians, not red tape
One of the most rewarding parts of my job as a physician is hearing from a patient that he or she feels better. Some ailments are debilitating. Others may not present problems now but could lead to significant health issues down the road if not properly addressed. Finding the right treatment or medication to relieve someone’s pain or provide preventive care can be life altering for a patient.
While I appreciate that insurance companies take measures to keep premiums affordable for consumers, sometimes their protocols are counterproductive. One area where this is evident is through protocols called “fail first” (also known as “step therapy”).
Fail first protocols require a patient to try the least expensive treatment or medication to address a problem, despite what his or her physician recommends. Often, this means forcing less effective remedies to save money. Such protocols often deny patients the care they need when they need it, causing their conditions to deteriorate. This can lead to more medical care and increased costs in the end, as well as a lot of frustration.
Fortunately, the Florida Medical Association is taking steps in the right direction to improve the system. The FMA is proposing an insurance reform package to Florida lawmakers that would protect patients from unreasonable fail first protocols and enable physicians to provide the right treatment or medication for patients at the right time.
The Palm Beach Post — Bright Futures dimming as path for many of Florida’s most promising students
Another year, another huge cut in funding for Florida’s Bright Futures scholarships.
As House and Senate budget conferees hash out compromises, word comes that education budget negotiators have agreed on reducing money available for Bright Futures to $266 million. That’s down from $309 million this year. And according to the Florida College Access Network, or Florida CAN, that number will plummet to $180 million by 2017.
The Panama City News-Herald — Destin loses faith in freedom
Perhaps you can’t legislate morality, but you can certainly put a price tag on it. In Destin the price tag is $2.15 million. That’s the sum the City Council will pay to keep a strip club from opening on Airport Road — $1.75 million to make the club’s potential developers a little richer and $400,000 to buy the land on which the club would’ve been built.
The deal was announced Monday night. Residents cheered. They shouldn’t have. Paying off a strip club operator sets a terrible precedent, burdens taxpayers and allows City Hall to thumb its nose at the free market.
Destin has fought the strip club’s Atlanta-based developers since 2008, even though the proposed site was in an area the city had designated for precisely this kind of business. Residents didn’t want it there.
With Monday’s deal, Destin has made it clear it will use the city’s purchasing power to thwart any private business that doesn’t meet a neighborhood’s, or City Hall’s, ideas of propriety. The message will not go unnoticed. Expect other “controversial” enterprises — a topless bar, a shop selling sex toys, whatever — to make plans, spook the locals and, in return for pulling out, demand a fat check from City Hall.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Pam McVety: Springs and Legislature are in a sorry state
I have tried to stay out of the springs legislative process, but now I can’t.
I love the springs of my youth, and I am angry.
Some members of the Legislature are blatantly catering to special interests and ignoring the public’s interest and rights to have our springs protected and, sadly, to have them restored. Unless you have no contact with the news media or the outdoors, you know that our springs are in a sorry state. They are green and slimy — almost every one of them.
We have failed to protect them, and now as they are gasping to survive, the Legislature, on behalf of special interests, has stripped a decent springs bill of important protection and recovery measures. These same interests even have the gall to refuse to support the very bill they asked the Legislature to gut.
As a college student, I use to swim in Sulphur Springs in Tampa. Now I can barely see it through the six-foot-high fence and all the warning signs not to swim in it because it is contaminated. When I was growing up in Florida, springs were magical aqua blue pools of sparkling light, bubbles and white sand bottoms. They were stunners in the world of natural resources. Now they are sorry pools of polluted water that hold no attraction.
The Tampa Tribune — Time for U.S. to add action to talk on Venezuela
Florida’s two U.S. senators are rightly united in calling for the United States to impose sanctions against Venezuela for the government’s brutal crackdown on protesters.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson recently held a joint news conference to bring renewed attention to the actions of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and to urge Congress and the White House to act.
Rubio said he wants to bring opposition leaders to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Maduro’s repressive government, which has beaten and jailed protesters who want the government to change its disastrous economic policies. The two senators want the Obama administration to freeze bank accounts and withhold visas from some members of Maduro’s government.
Rubio is suggesting Venezuelans forced to flee be granted special temporary U.S. visas. And the senators are backing legislation that would divert $15 million to defend human rights in Venezuela.
Obama should listen to Florida’s senators and announce economic sanctions that will punish the government along with its supporters who depend on U.S. trade agreements.
As he often has when confronted with foreign policy challenges, Obama has taken a cautious approach to Venezuela, despite the blatant human rights violations.
A spokesman for the White House National Security Council told The Miami Herald that the administration is working with international partners to start a conversation between Maduro and the protesters.