A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Time to move forward on Rays deal
A new and improved agreement negotiated by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the Tampa Bay Rays to let the franchise look at stadium sites in both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties focuses on the right priorities. It would enable the city to move forward with redeveloping the Tropicana Field site with or without a new stadium. It would free the Rays to look for a new home while providing an incentive for the team to stay put. And it would provide a clear path to resolve the stadium issue within three years and end the paralysis that prevents St. Petersburg, the region and the franchise from making long-term decisions.
The most attractive portion of the deal that the St. Petersburg City Council will consider Thursday is the new approach to redeveloping the Trop site’s 85 acres. Under the stadium lease that expires in 2027, the city and the Rays evenly split any proceeds from development of the site. That gave some council members heartburn that the Rays could get a windfall and still leave for Tampa, but waiting for years to pursue development would hurt St. Petersburg taxpayers.
A new provision sought by Kriseman fairly addresses that issue. The city would develop a master plan for the site, and the Rays would pay up to $100,000 for half of the cost. Any money from redevelopment would be placed into an escrow account, and the Rays would get their half of the money if they stayed. If the Rays left, the city would keep all of the money. That arrangement would free the city to immediately start envisioning a future for the site with or without a stadium, and it could provide the team with a powerful economic incentive to stay.
More importantly, the changes could dramatically affect the financing of a new stadium on the Trop site and ease the burden on taxpayers. No longer would the cost of a new stadium, which could reach $500 million, have to be covered only by public money and money from the Rays. The deal would enable the city to start working with developers on a plan for the Trop site that could include a new stadium, and the developers could kick in part of the stadium cost. Or a developer could team up with the Rays to transform the site and contribute part of the money for a stadium. The agreement would open up new possibilities rather than limit them.
Let this be the end to the expensive legal battle that Florida’s Senate has been waging over redistricting maps. The chamber confessed to political designs in its initial boundaries in violation of anti-gerrymandering amendments voters placed in the Constitution. Then the Senate’s redrawn maps failed to meet those requirements after a special legislative session as voting rights organizations sued and won.
Then Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the chamber’s majority leader and chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee, submitted his own map to the judge officiating the case. But the court ruled Galvano’s plan failed to meet those same constitutional tests that districts be compact and don’t favor an incumbent or political party.
Instead, Circuit Judge George Reynolds selected the boundaries drawn by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, the leading plaintiffs in the lawsuit. His decision cited Galvano’s “conflicting roles” in drawing his maps, which did not face Senate or House votes.
Galvano suggested a Senate appeal of the decision to the Florida Supreme Court might be in the offing, but enough is enough.
This week, the chamber randomly renumbered all 40 Senate districts to comply with the Reynolds ruling. The 20-even and 20-odd numbered districts will all be up for election in 2016, but even numbers will have to face election again in 2018.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Manatees emerge from ‘intensive care’
A manatee suffers when it has been hit by a boat, or forced to stay too long in frigid waters. A manatee can die when its lungs, eyes and skin are assailed by toxic algae, or when the sea grass it depends on for sustenance is killed off by dirty water.
But does a manatee hurt if the label assigned to it in a far-distant office changes? That threat is much more esoteric. And in the long run, it’s not the label that matters — so much as the determination to protect Florida’s gentle sea cows and ensure their continued resurgence.
There’s no doubt that manatees are rebounding. At one point, manatees were considered to be on the brink of extinction. That prompted federal wildlife officials to label them as “endangered,” which (along with the state’s own classification of threat) led to increased protections, such as slow-speed zones in many Florida waterways favored by manatees, habitat studies and strict rules about harassing the animals.
And there are measurable results. In 2006-2007, scientists counted about 3,000 manatees in Florida waters. The most recent aerial survey in February tallied more than twice that number, with a smaller population in Puerto Rico.
That improvement, and a request from the Pacific Legal Foundation, has prompted federal officials to consider whether it’s time to claim a measure of victory in the fight to save the manatee. According to plans reported by The News-Journal’s Dinah Voyles Pulver, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aims to reclassify manatees from “endangered” to “threatened” — which would downgrade the official urgency of their plight. As Jim Valade, Florida manatee recovery coordinator for the Wildlife Service, put it, manatees are no longer in “intensive care.”
The Florida Times-Union — Curry’s pension plan looks like the best option available
It is clear that Lenny Curry is the right mayor to lead Jacksonville out of its pension crisis.
After an hourlong meeting with the Times-Union editorial board, Curry displayed an understanding of finances and political strategy.
Curry and his team have crafted the least painful way to resolve this wall blocking Jacksonville’s future.
Here in a nutshell is what his plan would do:
The current half-cent percent sales tax would remain rather than end in 2030.
Revenue would reduce the city’s unfunded pension liability, which is stifling the city’s progress.
It would improve cash flow and free money for important public safety and quality of life needs.
It would maintain benefits for current employees,’
It would create a new plan with competitive benefits and salaries for new hires. New generations would be less likely to build new unfunded liabilities.
Florida Today – Tolerate corruption or prosecute?
Corruption doesn’t make news here every day, but its cost continues to inflate our housing payments, restaurant bills and fees for driving on Florida roads.
Today, five state senators in Tallahassee will decide if this is the year the Legislature finally acts to curb the “corruption tax.” That’s the term prosecutors use to describe the additional hundreds of millions of dollars Floridians pay every year to absorb the hidden costs of bid-rigging, bribery, fraud and waste. We urge senators to vote “yes” to prosecute and deter more corruption.
The rip-off continues in part because of two surprising holes in Florida law, according to a statewide grand jury that studied the issue. To close those, USA Today Network news sites including this one have championed a bill that includes two of the grand jury’s simplest recommendations:
End the unusual burden on Florida prosecutors that they prove defendants acted with corrupt thoughts or intent. It’s not enough for state attorneys to prove officials and their co-conspirators tampered with bids or took bribes. They must prove beyond reasonable doubt what defendants were thinking— which all but requires confessions.
Add government contractors for the first time to the list of those subject to our statutes on bribery, bid tampering and misuse of public funds. The bill applies to contractors who take over major government functions and applies only to illegal actions directly related to that government business.
The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers
Alachua County Public Schools are making admirable progress in raising graduation rates.
They’ll need to keep improving to approach Superintendent Owen Roberts’ five-year goal of a 100 percent graduation rate.
Cheer: The county’s public schools, for continuing to boost their graduation rates. The graduation rate for the district’s seven high schools was 87.9 percent in 2015, up from 84.2 percent in 2014, according to figures released this week.
Six of the seven high schools saw increases, with the Professional Academies Magnet at Loften High School seeing the only decrease. Santa Fe High School experienced the most dramatic gain, to 84.8 percent from 71.1 percent, and Hawthorne High School also had a significant increase, to 74.5 percent from 67.7 percent.
The overall county graduation rate, which includes two independently run charter schools that have dropout programs and mainly serve out-of-county students, rose to 74.3 percent from 72.2 percent. The state’s overall graduation rate increased to 77.8 percent.
Local schools are heading in the right direction, but there is more work to be done. Thankfully Roberts is introducing efforts to help high-risk students such as the new system of care program.
Jeer: Gov. Rick Scott, for praising GOP presidential contender Donald Trump.
The Lakeland Ledger — The timing was right
Recently proponents of the Central Polk Parkway were to gather in Haines City to discuss whether there was any way to breathe life into the 40-mile toll road, after a lack of money prompted state transportation officials to put it on life support last month. After spending roughly $38 million on the development of the expressway since 2008, the Florida Department of Transportation has concluded that the project faces a $1 billion funding gap because tolls would not generate sufficient revenue. The state now believes funding should be redirected toward more pressing projects, especially if they ease congestion on U.S. 27.
State Rep. John Wood, a Winter Haven Republican, wanted to convene a working group to explore if it’s feasible to create an expressway authority to take on the project, and raise money for it. One possible model could be found in a plan floated by a consultant hired by the County Commission back in 2007: an authority comprised of local interests that would issue bonds to build the roadway.
The money dilemma engulfing the Central Polk Parkway, the failure of the My Ride/My Roads tax referendum in 2014 and the inability of Congress to raise the gas tax all, in their own way, demonstrate the County Commission’s wisdom in reinstating transportation impact fees last year.
Those fees took effect on Jan. 1 after nearly six years in limbo. They are assessed on new development to pay for its effect. Polk County collects them to help expand services for transportation, education, law enforcement, emergency medical treatment, libraries and parks. New roads, though, are the primary benefits derived from the charges.
Last April The Ledger reported that the county, in its effort to jump-start a construction industry withering because of the recession, had left some $37 million on the table by suspending the fees in 2010. The bulk of that — $31.3 million — would have paid for new roads. Now, construction is chugging ahead again, and so the time is right to restart the fees.
Miami Herald — New tests, new scores same old problem
We still are not completely convinced that the State Board of Education did Florida’s public-school students any favors by finally locking in passing scores for the controversial assessment tests that had a rocky rollout last year. The flawed implementation could result in flawed grades, unrepresentative of students’ true abilities and unnecessarily damaging a school’s overall grade.
The Florida Standards Assessments scores are set to be released next month, nine months after students statewide took the test. That means that they won’t reflect the work done during this current school year, for good or for ill. And for struggling schools that have finally been making strides academically, the higher standards could deal them an unwarranted setback.
Students faced not mere computer glitches during testing, but complete meltdowns. Students couldn’t log in. If they could, the computers were sluggish. Testing was suspended. Students with no computers in their homes, and used to taking tests of the pencil-and-paper variety, likely were at a disadvantage. And these were the tests that were road-tested in Utah for Florida students.
Last year, the Editorial Board urged state education officials to give public schools a one-year moratorium, given the assessment tests’ less-than-stellar introduction. School superintendents across the state encouraged them to take this approach. But the state barged ahead, high stakes be damned, this week setting new “cut scores” for the assessments.
The saving grace of their tone-deaf move is that they chose less-onerous standards that likely will result in fewer failing schools. When it releases the school grades for 2014-15 on Feb. 9, the department estimates that 189 schools could receive F grades.
The Orlando Sentinel — Tribe’s case for gambling agreement
A gambling compact reached last month between Gov. Rick Scott and the Seminole Tribe would allow the tribe to add craps and roulette to slots and blackjack at its seven Florida casinos. In return, the tribe would pay at least $3.1 billion to the state over seven years. The compact also could lead to Miami-Dade and Broward race tracks with slots adding blackjack, and enable a Palm Beach track and a new facility in Miami to offer slots. Recently, we spoke with Seminole Gaming CEO James Allen, who made his case for legislators to approve the compact. Excerpts follow. A longer transcript is at OrlandoSentinel.com/opinion.
Q: What’s the strongest argument for legislators to approve the Seminole Tribe’s renegotiated compact with Florida?
A: No. 1 … if the compact is not renewed, and [blackjack and other banked card games] are removed [from Seminole casinos], we would be in a situation of laying off a minimum of 3,500 people. … That would be a very significant [negative] impact [on Florida’s economy]. No. 2, more importantly, we are committed [if the renewed compact is approved] to a capital expenditure and expansions of primarily nongaming amenities, specifically hotel rooms, to the tune of somewhere between $1.8 billion to $2 billion. This creates another 15,000 jobs, of which roughly 4,200 to 4,500 jobs are permanent. So it’s really a swing of 7,000 to 8,000 jobs on a permanent basis. And you’ve got another 9,000 to 10,000 construction jobs over a roughly 30-month to 36-month period. The last item is … a $3 billion guarantee … [W]e cannot find anywhere worldwide where there’s a been a $3 billion guarantee of revenue share … We think that’s something that’s positive for the state of Florida. And I probably would add one other item. … [The compact] gives a clear road map as far as what gaming will be, whether this thing’s approved or some other version of it, for the future. And frankly, I think that’s something that the state of Florida has been looking for some time.…
Q: Why is the tribe willing to triple its guaranteed payout to Florida to $3.1 billion over seven years?
A: … When we look at the certainty that this provides for the tribe for the next 20 years, that has great value. We believe that the business is performing in a positive way.… [B]y adding the additional hotel rooms, we think it gives us the ability to market to other areas outside of what we’re doing now … whether that be Central and South America, whether that be Europe, to a certain extent Asia. But more importantly, there’s an amazing market domestically, from Atlanta all the way up to Boston and over to Chicago, that we haven’t really been able to penetrate, because frankly our hotels have been running at over 98 percent occupancy since day one, and this additional capital will give us the ability to expand that room base which then we’ll market and expand not just for the purpose of gaming, but really for the purpose of an integrated resort in the state of Florida.
Ocala StarBanner — Modest measures on gun violence
Keeping criminals from getting guns is a far cry from taking away the Second Amendment rights of responsible gun owners.
Yet if you listen to some of the GOP presidential contenders, one might think President Barack Obama was sending in federal agents to confiscate guns from legal owners.
Instead, Obama announced modest measures Tuesday to reduce gun violence in absence of congressional action. In fact, the president is doing exactly what some gun-rights advocates say they want: Enforcing current gun laws rather than creating new ones.
Obama’s executive order will ensure background checks cover more of the dealers selling firearms at gun shows, flea markets and websites. Those “engaged in the business” of selling guns should no longer be able to decline to register as licensed dealers and avoid conducting background checks.
The FBI will also hire 230 more examiners to process background checks and get them properly done within a three-day limit. The accused shooter in last year’s church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, improperly bought a gun due to miscommunication and incomplete record keeping delaying his check beyond that limit.
The executive actions also aim to improve the background check system, including making it easier for states to provide mental health information to the system.
Another part of the plan would direct federal agencies to conduct or sponsor research into technology that make guns safer and only able to be used by their legal owners.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Obamacare turns 3
Jan. 1 marked the third anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s implementation in Florida. So it makes sense for Floridians to ask: How is the law playing out in your state?
Not well. Roughly 1.5 million people purchased 2016 health insurance on the state’s Affordable Care Act’s online exchange, where they likely found an unpleasant surprise. Monthly premiums for their plans will be 9.15 percent higher, on average, than they were in 2015. Deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are also on the rise, and health care provider networks are narrowing. The combination of these factors helps explain why the federal government recently halved the number of people it expects to sign up for the law’s health insurance.
Yet while the outlook for the Affordable Care Act is already bleak, the data show it will likely become even worse.
That’s the result of an analysis I conducted in recent weeks. Using the latest health-insurance-exchange enrollment data and a model funded in part by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, I estimated how the Affordable Care Act will affect the health insurance market over the next decade.
In brief: Costs will continue to rise and coverage will continue to underwhelm. In fact, coverage will likely begin declining in the next few years, leaving millions more Americans uninsured than today.
The looming premium increases in Florida show next year will be a particularly rough one, but subsequent years will also be costly. I project premium increases for 2017 health insurance will average at 7.4 percent for individual plans. Family policy holders will likely pay 6.2 percent more. That trend will hold for years to come; the Affordable Care Act’s tax dollar assistance programs for insurers, known as “risk corridors” and “re-insurance,” will expire at the end of next year, leading to further growth in premiums.
The Palm Beach Post — Failing to ‘Move Over’ puts first responders at risk
Trooper Mac Mickens, a 25-year veteran with the Florida Highway Patrol, was conducting a routine traffic stop on Florida’s Turnpike when he was violently struck by a driver who failed to move over. Thankfully, Mickens survived but is recovering from serious injuries. Not all of our first-responders are as fortunate.
Most drivers seem to be aware that they must move over for emergency vehicles approaching from behind or to the side. However, some drivers still do not realize that the Move Over Act, passed in 2002, also applies to vehicles stopped on the side of the road assisting motorists.
Though it is second nature for some drivers, “Move Over” violations result in more than 100 crashes per year on Florida roadways. That is at least one every four days.
In 2015, Palm Beach County led the state in Move Over citations, with 2,171 issued of the total 19,804. In fact, more than a third of all citations issued for motorists failing to move over for stopped or emergency vehicles last year were in South Florida, with Broward and Miami-Dade counties totaling more than 4,200 citations.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles educates new and young drivers on the Move Over Act with information in the driver handbook, even including move over questions on the driver exam. Statistically, however, new and young drivers are not the most likely to violate the Move Over Act. Rather, it is older drivers who received their license and learned the rules of the road before the law went into effect who are less likely to move over or slow down when they approach emergency or service vehicles.
Panama City News-Herald — Everyone needs a good Drunkle
It is time I stop railing at politicians and start making fun of my family again. The focus groups who read my column seem to want to hear more about my Uncle Mac. Everyone but my family wants me to talk about him. When you are beguiled by the beauty of becoming a part of my family, he is that tattoo you find out about later.
At the risk of sharing too much, here are more reflections on the blackest of the herd of black sheep in my family – that great American, Uncle Mac.
I call him “Drunkle.” He drinks a lot, which, along with cigarettes, explains his whiskey voice. In fact, drinking is an integral part of his persona. He said he drank so much vodka Saturday night that he woke up Sunday speaking Russian.
Yet he’s philosophical about his drinking. He said excessive drinking was like watching soccer or opera: It is its own punishment. To this day, he is the only person I have ever seen drinking bourbon from a bell pepper.
Uncle Mac is astounded that my son drinks these craft beers that he considers syrupy, warm, stupid and expensive. He drinks only Budweiser. He says he likes his beer the same way he likes his violence: domestic.
He applied for Obamacare, and, on the form, under “main source of income,” he put down “Robbing liquor stores.” He was accepted but didn’t send in any money. He just wanted to mess with them. When he sees one of those baby-changing stations in a men’s restroom, he calls over the manager of the place and points out the design flaw.
Just to make his relatives mad, he is an Auburn University fan amid our family of all University of Alabama grads. Once, while watching the ‘Bama-Florida game, I asked him whom he was rooting for. He said, “I hope it ends up tied 0-0, with a lot of injuries.”
He always says, “I have two favorite songs. One is Elvis’ rendition of ‘Dixie,’ the other is not.”
South Florida Sun Sentinel – Memorial Healthcare CEO search improved, but board rift remains
It’s not easy to pick the leader of a public hospital system in public, we give you that.
It can be downright awkward to ask tough questions in front of an overflow crowd of doctors, nurses and community stakeholders, with the media in the front row.
And so it was Thursday night when the board of the South Broward Hospital District, four months into picking a replacement for retiring CEO Frank Sacco, finally got to see the names and resumes of 10 candidates who want to run the six-hospital public treasure known as the Memorial Healthcare System.
Unlike the board’s last meeting, when members tried to decide whom to interview without knowing the candidates’ names or particulars, this time their questions were richer, their conversation less confused.
Still, some board members rightly expressed disappointment that the Korn Ferry search firm had delivered the resumes the night before, leaving them little time to digest or do some research. Neither did the firm provide an easy matrix for comparing which candidates have been, for example, the top dog of a multi-hospital system, overseen graduate medical programs or even, who’s currently employed.
At times, the firm’s two representatives appeared taken aback by questions from board member Hobel Florido, who had Googled the outside candidates. Florido asked about a “rip-off” lawsuit involving one candidate and a New York Post story about another headlined: “Mystery of hosp honcho’s exit.”
During a break in the meeting, a Korn Ferry representative told us the firm planned to do background searches after the board decided whom to interview. After all, he said, would you authorize a background search before knowing whether someone was really interested in you?
The Tallahassee Democrat – Hayling’s sacrifices should be remembered
The valiant life of Dr. Robert Bagner Hayling, the Tallahassee-born civil rights icon and dentist who died on Dec. 20, 2015 in Fort Lauderdale at the age of 86, is one that deserves to be remembered.
I first met Hayling in November 2014, and was struck by his stoicism and humble spirit. I will always cherish the conversation I had with him concerning the efforts to preserve the old Leon County Jail as an historical site in Tallahassee.
I had long admired the courageous actions of Hayling, who was almost burned alive during a Ku Klux Klan rally in St. Augustine in 1963, amidst the leadership that earned him the moniker “Father of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Born in 1929 to a veteran FAMU professor, Hayling served four years in the U.S. Air Force before attending the Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry. He studied under the tutelage of famed civil rights attorney Z. Alexander Looby, whose home in Nashville was dynamited across the street from Hayling’s dorm room. He was then invited to come to St. Augustine, where he was asked to take the helm of the NAACP Youth Council.
Hayling encouraged the youngsters to participate in pickets, and lunch counter sit-ins, drawing sharp rebuke from NAACP secretary Roy Wilkins, who threatened to revoke the council’s charter for its “militancy.” Hayling saved Wilkins the trouble, and mailed him the charter, vowing to continue without the support of the organization’s leadership.
The Tampa Tribune — Bolin’s long-overdue execution
Oscar Ray Bolin, a sadistic serial killer who brutalized his victims and then tortured their survivors with years of legal manipulations, finally got his just due.
He was executed by lethal injection Thursday night after a four-hour delay for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear another of his numerous appeals.
It is a disgrace this remorseless monster was able to relish the limelight for nearly 30 years after murdering three young Tampa Bay area women.
There was little doubt about his guilt. But the courts continually overturned convictions because of prosecutor error, legal technicalities and such. The calculating Bolin tried to cook up grounds for appeal every step of the way.
In all, he was convicted 10 times by 10 juries, an outrageous abuse of the system.
The death penalty unquestionably should be applied with great care. We understand the need for a lengthy appeals process to affirm guilt. But Bolin’s case made a mockery of the justice system for decades.
Some of the rulings were perplexing. An appeals court once overturned a murder conviction because it held the trial judge did not properly instruct the jury on manslaughter, a lesser conviction.
The case: In January 1986, Bolin abducted 25-year-old Natalie Holley in North Tampa after she left her job at a fast-food restaurant and stabbed her at least eight times before dumping her body.
Manslaughter — for this?
Yet in a retrial, a jury convicted Bolin only of second-degree murder in Holley’s agonizing death.
His other victims were similarly brutalized.