Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

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

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

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

Tampa Bay Times — St. Petersburg City Council boots it again on stadium stalemate

The St. Petersburg City Council’s dispiriting discussion this week failed to break the unproductive stalemate over a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays and redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site. But it was not a total loss. The rambling conversation revealed the lack of vision and sophistication of half of the council members to grasp what is at stake, and it underscored the importance of this fall’s elections to add more thoughtful voices.

Allowing the Rays to begin a regional stadium search holds such clear benefits for St. Petersburg over clinging to the unproductive status quo that voters should make this a top campaign issue. Two of the four obstructionists, Bill Dudley and Wengay Newton, will be leaving office because of term limits. Jim Kennedy, whose parochial blinders led him to see little difference to St. Petersburg whether the Rays move to Tampa or Montreal, will not be on the ballot. But Steve Kornell is seeking re-election, and he should draw a credible opponent who understands that holding the Rays hostage is a losing hand.

The Rays’ understandable desire to search for a new stadium site in either Pinellas or Hillsborough counties offers an opportunity to preserve Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay for a new generation. It also would allow St. Petersburg to proceed with a master-planned development of the Trop’s 85 acres, with or without a new stadium. That would increase property values throughout surrounding neighborhoods, create jobs and generate millions of dollars in new tax revenue. Yet half of the council continues to rebuff Mayor Rick Kriseman’s sensible attempts to proceed with the stadium search, which would include reasonable compensation for the city if the Rays moved to Hillsborough before their contract on the Trop expires in 2027.

One bright light that emerged Thursday was council member Amy Foster’s revelation that her thinking has evolved since voting against Kriseman’s deal in December. Foster said she now recognizes that the redevelopment of the Trop site is too important to keep on the shelf. That leaves the council with a 4-4 split, with Foster joining Charlie Gerdes, Darden Rice and Karl Nurse in supporting an opportunity to both preserve baseball and redevelop the Trop site. It is a split that probably cannot be broken until after the election.

The Bradenton Herald — Revised Florida Senate health care plan a winner at resolving House Republican objections to Medicaid money

In crafting amendments to the Senate’s centerpiece legislation that provides health care coverage to more than 800,000 low-income and uninsured Floridians, the upper chamber addressed key House roadblocks to passage.

The billions in federal money connected to Medicaid expansion remain available, presenting the state with a long-term solution to uncompensated medical costs now hammering hospitals and other heath care providers.

With a special session set to begin Monday, the Legislature’s sole mission is approval of a state budget.

Health care costs loom as the biggest hurdle with the Senate and House still at loggerheads, but this important issue could well be sidelined without a compromise.

Last week’s Senate revisions to the chamber’s Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange, which strengthens the central provisions on consumer choice and personal responsibility, should compel House acceptance.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, expressed optimism last week in a Herald interview.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Close cracks from court’s early release

Normally a “whodunnit” involves the forensic investigation of a crime. In a recent Volusia County court case, though, the mystery is who is responsible for releasing a violent felon — who police say proceeded to terrorize his victim a second time.

Ricky McGriff was arrested in the battery of a woman May 8 and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and battery. He previously had been in and out of prison between 1985 and 2013 for violent crimes such as robbery, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault with a weapon, escape, battery on a law enforcement officer and cocaine possession.

That rap sheet should have been more than sufficient to deny McGriff bail, or to set it very high. However, Circuit Judge James R. Clayton said he was unaware of McGriff’s criminal past, so on May 9 he released the suspect on his own recognizance and ordered him to be supervised by Pretrial Services.

Daytona Beach police say that on May 12, after McGriff took the woman to the State Attorney’s Office in an unsuccessful attempt to get her to persuade prosecutors to drop the charges against him, he spent two days terrorizing the woman in a locked apartment. McGriff hit, punched and kicked his victim, according to the arrest report.

Talk about dropping the ball. The question is: Who fumbled it? There are plenty of fingerprints on it.

The Florida Times-Union — Hurricane season has arrived

Since 2005, Florida has not had to deal with the devastation of a severe hurricane hitting its shores.

We have been historically lucky.

But we all know this record-breaking streak of hurricane-free years is due more to good fortune and ample blessings than anything else.

We’ve been getting favorable rolls of the meteorological dice from Mother Nature during these past nine years.

In some years, hurricane activity has been robust in the Atlantic, but no hurricanes hit the Sunshine State. Even New York City was hit by a hurricane!

But who knows when Florida’s luck will turn from lucky sevens into snakeyes?

Floridians should be taking advantage of all of this luck now that the 2015 hurricane season, which officially begins tomorrow and runs through November, is upon us.

ENCOURAGING STEPS

The good news is that financially, Florida has been doing a pretty good job of making fiscal hay while the skies have been clear — and the hurricanes have been absent.

Since 2005, the Citizens Property Insurance Corp. — the state organization that offers taxpayer-funded property insurance to homeowners who can’t get it from private insurers — has been able to steadily reduce the number of policyholders in recent years.

Florida Today – Port’s rail project should be put before voters

While the idea of mitigating the Canaveral Port Authority’s proposed rail extension with an inlet is intriguing, it would fundamentally alter the unique ecology of the northern Banana River Lagoon.

Such an inlet has the potential to be a haymaker — the wild, knockout blow to an ecosystem that goes unseen until it’s too late. Even if the inlet concept has merit, water entering the northern Banana River directly from Port Canaveral is likely to be only slightly less injurious than hewing an 11-mile commercial rail extension through the middle of the lagoon.

The notion that the CPA would like to help save our lagoons shouldn’t be contingent upon approval of an enormous infrastructure project. Rather, such largesse should stem from its role as a respected, responsible corporate citizen and steward of our environment.

It’s a funny thing about people with contracts; they hand them to you then ask you to trust them.

The GT USA contract with CPA doesn’t state will “pursue rail options,” or use words like “might,” “could” or “explore.”

The contract clearly states “barge-to-rail services to be operational on or around June 1, 2015, with rail extension operational on or about Dec. 1, 2017.”

Now CPA says the rail causeway will be built on trestle rather than an earthen berm. Not “could,” “might” or “maybe.”

“Will.”

The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and Jeers

A park with a purpose is now open to the public.

The Paynes Prairie Sheetflow Restoration Project’s purpose is cleaning polluted water before it flows to the prairie and into Alachua Sink. But the project’s creators also made a beautiful park in the process.

Cheer: The city of Gainesville, for finally opening the site to the public. Now known as Sweetwater Wetlands Park, it includes miles of trails and boardwalks.

Now the city must continue making improvements, such as improving wheelchair accessibility, and fulfill a promise to open the park seven days a week in the fall rather than just on weekends and holidays.

Jeer: Congress, for passing another short-term extension of the nation’s road and transit funding program. The two-month extension is Congress’ 33rd short-term patch of the program since 2008, the Associated Press reported.

Members of Congress need to start making tough decisions such as raising the gas tax or taking other steps to rebuild our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Cheer: Habitat for Humanity and other groups, for making sure a local Vietnam veteran’s home is handicapped accessible. Habitat enlisted help from Home Depot, Godwin Roofing and the VA Medical Center to make such upgrades as widening a bathroom door for motorized wheelchair access and installing a walk-in shower and ramp.

Jeer: Gov. Rick Scott, for his lack of transparency.

The AP’s Gary Fineout reported that Scott’s initiative to help citizens access public records, Project Sunburst, has fizzled. There are just 11 letters on the site, written in June 2012, and more emails of former employees than people now working in the governor’s office.

The Lakeland Ledger — Government Contracts: Florida’s Disdain for ‘Buy Local’

Last week, a litany of 44 new laws endorsed by Gov. Rick Scott contained a measure banning local governments’ “buy local” ordinances on projects funded partly by state money. It’s a shame since many counties and cities — Polk County among them — have enacted such laws as a way to boost the hometown economy.

Polk County, for instance, affords locally based vendors a second chance to take work from out-of-county contractors. Depending on the cost of the project, the Polk-based firm must first come within a certain percentage of the lowest bid, then it can win the contract if it can match that price.

Critics denounce such laws as unnecessary and costly protectionism. They believe full and open competition produces the best results for taxpayers. They argue that a local company should have made its best offer at the outset, and live with the consequences for failing to do so.

Those are certainly valid points. But proponents counter that little harm is done so long as the local contractor can match the government’s anticipated cost. And throwing business to hometown firms creates local jobs and spurs the local economy, they maintain. Those, too, are important considerations and would seem to outweigh the argument against such laws, as long as taxpayers still benefit from getting the project done at an appropriate price.

The new state law, fought by groups such as the Florida Association of Counties and the AFL-CIO, precludes state colleges, counties, cities and school districts from exercising such policies on construction projects that will be funded with least 50 percent state money. If the state pays for 49 percent or less, the buy-local policy can be employed.

The Miami Herald — Dangerous deadlock

The Florida Legislature begins an extra-inning session on Monday with two strikes against its chances of success: The House of Representatives has shown little willingness to compromise on its no-Medicaid-expansion stance, and Gov. Rick Scott is even more adamantly opposed.

Only the Senate has actually confronted the issue, coming up with a creative approach to the state’s budget dilemma. Led by Senate President Andy Gardiner, the upper chamber has put forth a free-market, Florida-specific solution. The key feature is a state exchange that would allow some 850,000 uninsured Floridians to have access to Medicaid, all of it financed by the federal government.

The unwillingness of House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and his colleagues to go along, plus the obstinate, no-way opposition of Gov. Scott — even though neither has a credible alternative — stymied the regular session and casts a shadow over the special session before it even starts.

Last week, the Senate attempted to mollify the governor and House critics like budget chief Richard Corcoran by amending the original proposal. Under the revision, new beneficiaries could go straight into a private-market plan on Jan. 1, without enrolling in the existing Medicaid system. The revised bill would provide vouchers to allow the previously uninsured to buy a policy through a state-based insurance exchange.

Even though this is a more conservative plan than the original and puts additional space between the proposal and Obamacare — the healthcare insurance plan that conservatives like Gov. Scott want no part of — it went nowhere. No dice, said Mr. Corcoran. Mr. Scott also dismissed the compromise, raising the specter of an eventual tax increase.

The Orlando Sentinel — Replenish fund for airport improvements

As the U.S. Travel Association’s signature annual meeting, IPW, took off Saturday at the Orange County Convention Center, prospects for the industry in America looked sunnier than ever. Totals trips, travel spending and international visits to the United States are headed for all-time highs in 2015.

But there are dark clouds on the horizon. A congressional report released recently by U.S. Rep. John Mica of Winter Park, a former chairman and longtime House Transportation Committee member, declares U.S. airports are “in crisis.”

The report makes a strong case for Congress to do something — soon. Major U.S. airports are reaching their passenger capacity limits and heading for a “meltdown” this summer during periods of peak travel and bad weather. More congestion, delays and “safety and security challenges” are coming.

These predictions should be especially troubling to Central Florida, where the economy rises and falls with the flow of visitors. While the board that oversees Orlando International Airport recently approved a plan to expand its capacity with a new terminal, problems at other major airports cascade across the U.S. aviation system. If you’ve ever been stuck in Orlando because of delays at Chicago’s O’Hare, you’ll understand.

U.S. airport terminals, runways and other parts of the aviation system, including air traffic control, need more investment to catch up with passenger demand and evolving security requirements. But a primary means of generating money for it, a local passenger facility charge, has been capped at $4.50 per passenger since 2000, and most of the nation’s airports, including Orlando’s, are maxed out.

The Ocala StarBanner — An alternative to NSA’s tactics

As U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s latest filibuster stretched into the night last Wednesday, Rep. Ted Yoho was one of the people who came to the Senate floor to “stand with Rand” on the issue of National Security Agency surveillance.

Two days later, the senator from Kentucky and the representative from Gainesville came together again for a guest column in the Tampa Bay Times.

“While we believe U.S. intelligence should keep a close watch on suspected terrorists, the U.S. Constitution should not be trampled in the process,” they wrote.

It makes sense for Yoho to pair with Paul, a Republican presidential candidate, to bring attention to the issue of NSA surveillance. Both are libertarian-leaning Republicans who have bucked their parties on national security matters.

Yet while they are right in much of their criticism of the NSA’s bulk collection of phone data, they’re wrong to oppose a bipartisan measure reining in the program.

It has been about two years since Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA was collecting data on the phone calls of innocent Americans.

Earlier this month, a federal court ruled that the program was an illegal use of the USA Patriot Act.

Now as the Patriot Act’s counterterrorism measures is about to expire, Congress has been working on an extension that prevents the abuses of the NSA program.

The measure, known as the USA Freedom Act, would keep data with phone companies and require the government to get a court order to obtain records.

The measure passed the House with rare bipartisan support on a 338-88 vote, but Yoho was among those voting against it. An aide explained that Yoho didn’t feel the measure went far enough.

The Pensacola News-Journal — News flash: Happiness is good

“We’ve been together for over 11 years but we haven’t married because it would mess up her Tricare.”

He loved her too much to marry her. Many a romance novel worked with that premise to keep two people apart. Usually they followed through with finding some way to bring them together.

Those stories were based on the idea that people were married and together or unmarried and apart. It was the religious and societal norm – what was done. All along folks knew everybody didn’t always pair up that way, no matter what they told their children. Some were married and apart, some were unmarried and together. This couple were happily unmarried.

Happiness is a good thing even if so many oppose it or insist it only happen under their terms. Ultimately, we decide how we want to find happiness and my path may not be your path, nor yours mine.

It’s interesting to ponder how the path was shaped. Due to military service the widowed lady was entitled to government care which would end if she remarried. He figured he couldn’t match what marrying her would cost her, so he didn’t. True love.

Our government was intending to do right by our veterans so they set up a means to care for their loved ones with the stipulation that they never love and marry anyone else. Well, actually just that they never remarry. Therefore, they kept a couple from marrying. Quite possibly, they have kept several million couples from marrying, all out of the very best of intentions.

“I want to marry her but she doesn’t want to give up her Social Security benefits even though I make way more than she gets every month.”

The Palm Beach Post — New thinking needed to combat county’s IV drug scourge

It’s been encouraging to see prescription drug overdose deaths falling with the decline of pill mills and doctor shopping. But all the signs are there that a serious and growing intravenous drug-use problem is taking its place, bringing death and disease to otherwise young and healthy people.

By accident or design, Palm Beach County has rapidly become a national destination for drug treatment. But as one drug counselor recently quipped, “Depending on who you ask, we’re the nation’s capital for rehab, or we’re the nation’s capital for relapse.” Relapse is part and parcel of treatment, since between 40 and 60 percent of people in treatment fail. So let’s not kid ourselves: if we’re a treatment destination, Palm Beach County is also prone to be a drug abuse destination.

It’s incumbent upon public health officials and local charitable foundation leaders to recognize this now, and step up to fight the scourge of IV drug use before it claims more lives through overdoses and the spread of HIV and hepatitis.

That’s going to require some different thinking.

On the bright side, a new sober homes bill that passed the House and Senate should help professionalize the region’s burgeoning drug treatment industry. Gov. Rick Scott should sign it enthusiastically.

The Panama City News-Herald — A beach’s shifting sands

Sand pumped from offshore is used to rebuild a stretch of beach, and experts in such matters deem the result one of the best they’ve seen. Nothing controversial about that, right?

Wrong.

Beach restoration in Northwest Florida inspires endless grumbling and finger-pointing, even when it appears to work well.

The beach in this instance is 1.7 miles of shoreline in the Destin area. About 650,000 cubic yards of sand were added, at a cost of $8 million, and last week the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association recognized it as one of 2015’s Best Restored Beaches. The ASBPA said the Destin project provided substantial ecological and economic benefits.

But the organization also acknowledged the project was dogged by “controversy, misinformation (and) litigation.”

Some homeowners fought the beach restoration in court. In the end, no sand was placed in front of disputed parcels.

Jim Trifilio, coastal management coordinator for Okaloosa County’s Tourist Development Department, told the Northwest Florida Daily News’ Wendy Victora some of the new sand ends up on the critics’ property anyway.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Hurricane season means no prediction guaranteed

With Monday’s official start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, here’s a quick lesson about predictions: You can’t place your faith in every one of them.

By now, you have probably seen the latest hurricane predictions from various government weather agencies, the Weather Channel, and the forecasters at Colorado State University, Phil Klotzbach and William Gray.

Combining all the atmospheric conditions and historical data and tossing in a good dose of el Niño and cooler Atlantic waters, there seems to be a general consensus that this will be one of the quietest hurricane seasons in decades.

A normal hurricane season has 12 named storms, including six hurricanes, three of which are major. The prediction from most forecasters, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, calls for about half that amount this year.

Which can be very misleading. All it takes is one hurricane, no matter what forecasters say. They can come at various points in the season. Hurricane Andrew was a Category 5 storm in what was an otherwise slow 1992 hurricane season. It hit in August.

The last hurricane to hit South Florida, Wilma, came in late October 2005. Florida has since gone a record nine seasons without a hurricane strike.

If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about the fallacy of predictions, consider the news that the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, for the first time, has enough cash and assets on hand to pay off everything it could owe if the big one hits.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Tallahassee retired general celebrated by Japanese PM

When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed a joint session of Congress in Washington last month, he paid glowing tribute to a Tallahasseean — retired Marine Lt. Gen. Lawrence (Larry) Snowden.

Snowden, who lives here in retirement following an exemplary military career, was saluted as founder of the Joint Reunion of Honor, a remarkable annual return to Iwo Jima by U.S. and Japanese survivors of the critical World War II battle.

“In the gallery today is Lt. Gen. Lawrence Snowden,” Abe told U.S. House and Senate members. “Seventy years ago in February, he landed on the island of Iwo Jima, as a captain in command of a company. In recent years, General Snowden has (led) memorial services held jointly by Japan and the United States on Iwo Jima. He said, and I quote, ‘We didn’t and don’t go to Iwo Jima to celebrate victory, but for the solemn purpose to pay tribute to and honor those who lost their lives on both sides.’

“Next to General Snowden sits Diet Member Yoshitaka Shindo, a former member of my Cabinet. His grandfather, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, whose valor we remember even today, was commander of the Japanese garrison during the Battle of Iwo Jima. What should we call this, if not a miracle of history? Enemies that had fought each other so fiercely have become friends bonded in spirit.

“To General Snowden, I pay tribute to your efforts for reconciliation. Thank you so very much.”

Snowden, now 94, is the senior ranking survivor of Iwo Jima, a 36-day battle that killed more than 25,000 and wounded another 20,000. Its capture by the U.S. was a key to ending the war six months later.

The Tampa Tribune — City puts reasonable limits on bicycle speeds on the Riverwalk

Bicyclists whizzing by at a too-fast speed can be a real buzz kill for pedestrians out for a leisurely stroll on Tampa’s hugely popular Riverwalk.

In addition to spoiling the moment, inconsiderate cyclists pose a danger to adults and children who are understandably focused on the sights along the river rather than their own safety.

After hearing complaints from Riverwalk users, the city has posted signs that advise bicyclists to limit their speed to 5 mph, slightly faster than the typical pace for a pedestrian. This is a reasonable attempt to forge a peaceful coexistence.

Now it’s up to the cyclists not to abuse the privilege of using the Riverwalk.

To be fair, the majority of the cyclists are trying to be considerate. And an uninterrupted path along the river that cuts under busy Kennedy Boulevard to link one end of downtown to the other is an irresistible draw for bicyclists in a city with few car- and truck-free routes.

But there are too many who pedal too fast and startle pedestrians with their sudden presence, forcing people taking a stroll or walking their dog to stop or alter their path. Even considerate cyclists, who ring bells or call out “on your left” as they pass, can be a nuisance when a steady stream during peak usage times interrupts the pedestrian flow.

Some places along the Riverwalk, where the path jags suddenly to the left or right, pose a greater risk to pedestrians, and some cyclists are deviating from the path to ride through the area reserved for outside seating along the back of the Convention Center.

This is a familiar conflict. Pedestrians and cyclists compete for space along Bayshore Boulevard, on the Pinellas Trail and along St. Petersburg’s waterfront. The city of Tampa created a bike lane along the outside traffic lane of Bayshore Boulevard, but many cyclists prefer to ride along the 10-foot-wide, waterfront sidewalk to avoid automobile traffic altogether. The city gets relatively few complaints from pedestrians and joggers on Bayshore, where the path is without sharp turns and a strip of grass can be used as a bypass. Still, with its heavy pedestrian traffic, Bayshore is no place for high-speed biking.

 

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.

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