Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

A roundup of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

A roundup of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:

Tampa Bay Times — The sheriffs’ smart answer to open carry bills

The Florida Sheriffs Association has offered a reasonable answer to one of the National Rifle Association’s main arguments for terrible legislation that would allow gun owners with concealed weapons permits to openly carry their guns. The sheriffs have come up with a fair way to address the concern that those gun owners could be prosecuted for inadvertently showing their weapons in public. If that’s the real reason for the open carry bills, this should head them off. But don’t hold your breath.

The Sheriffs Association’s compromise would require those with concealed weapons permits to intentionally and deliberately violate the concealed carry law before they can be arrested. Under the proposal, officers who suspect someone is guilty of violating concealed carry laws would have to allow the permit holder to explain the situation. A reasonable explanation would likely not lead to an arrest. Permit holders who are ultimately charged and found not guilty of the offense would have their records expunged.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the proposal addresses gun activists’ concerns with current law, namely a 2011 provision that already makes it illegal to prosecute permit holders whose weapons are briefly visible. Proponents of open carry argue that the word “briefly” introduced a time element into the law that has been exploited by law enforcement. The sheriffs’ proposal does not specify a time frame in which a permit holder’s gun might accidentally be visible.

While Florida law already protects gun owners, the Sheriffs Association said its proposal would remove ambiguity.

Bradenton Herald — A hearty welcome to Bradenton’s next police chief, Melanie Bevan

Congratulations to St. Petersburg Assistant Police Chief Melanie Bevan, soon to become Bradenton’s police chief. The 49-year-old has spent her entire 29-year law enforcement career with St. Petersburg Police Department, rising through the ranks and earning the confidence and trust of Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston.

During Tuesday’s standing-room-only news conference at City Hall, a beaming Bevan expressed gratitude and excitement at this opportunity.

In introducing his next police chief, Poston praised Bevan’s leadership skills, professionalism, integrity, high standards and “great sense of humor.” The latter of which she proved in joking with the mayor during the event (read her remark below).

Among 118 applicants and nine finalists, Bevan bested quite a crowd of quality candidates. She holds a doctorate in education in organizational leadership, a master’s in public administration and a bachelor’s in criminal justice.

Current Chief Michael Radzilowski set a high bar for Bevan during his 13 years as the city’s top cop, slashing the crime rate and boosting community relations. He’s earned the community’s thanks for a job well done.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Clear backlog of untested evidence

For many victims of sexual assault, the forensic exam — even when performed by the most caring and skilled of providers — can be nearly as terrifying as the attack itself. Clothes are carefully collected and bagged. Fingernails are scraped for potential skin cells. Examiners look for signs of trauma and collect samples in search of physical evidence, including hair, saliva and semen — a process that can be terrifying, humiliating and intrusive.

Victims submit to these tests, often because they want their attackers caught and punished. They want justice. What must it feel like, then, to be one of the victims represented by more than 13,000 rape kits that remain untested in evidence rooms of police departments and state labs across Florida?

The backlog is shameful, though there are many contributing factors, a December report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found. In 20 percent of the cases, a defendant pleaded guilty. Eighteen percent of the kits came from “non-reporting victims” — who decide, for some reason, not to file police reports. Another 41 percent come from victims who file reports, but later “do not participate” in the investigation. Advocates say these victims are sometimes actively discouraged from pursuing a case by police, or fear they won’t be believed because of their own criminal history. In 31 percent of the backlogged cases, prosecutors have decided not to proceed.

Some local numbers are particularly alarming. The Daytona Beach Police Department reported 140 unsubmitted kits, all of which it says should be tested. DeLand has 28; Holly Hill, 14. The Volusia County Sheriffs Office (which provides law enforcement to Deltona) reports 199, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, 15.

The Florida Times-Union —Readers suggest the main issues for presidential candidates

Coverage of the presidential primaries is concentrating on the horse race. Who might be the next president?

How are the candidates dealing with the issues important to the voters?

It’s a big deal since a new poll shows that Americans have little confidence that the federal government will make progress on the major problems facing the nation. And there is no significant difference between Republicans and Democrats on this; the lack of faith is bipartisan.

In fact 6 of 10 respondents have little or no confidence in the federal government, according to the poll conducted for The Associated Press by the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Terrorism and health care are the issues most often mentioned to pollsters.

So we asked members of our Email Group how they evaluated the campaign so far. Is it relevant?

Florida Today – Killing the Sunshine Law before our very eyes

Florida voters have the right to know what actions their elected officials are taking when crafting or implementing laws that affect them. It says so in Section 24 of the state Constitution.

Government officials—local and state—collect revenue and spend it. Lots of it. The state budget is hovering around $79 billion this year. Shouldn’t those who paid into the state coffers be able to see how it’s being collected and spent?

Most of Florida’s 20 million residents don’t closely follow what their elected representatives do, but thanks to principled political leaders who instituted and supported Government in the Sunshine, they can if they want to.

Believing that sunshine is the best disinfectant against secrecy, quid pro quo and backroom deals, official actions of government entities are required to be conducted in the open with records kept for the public to see.

The Florida Sunshine Law is actually a series of laws intended to guarantee that the public has access to the public records of the various levels of government in the state.

The Florida Open Meetings Law — Section 286 of the Florida statutes — governs the extent to which public meetings are open to the public. The Florida Public Records Law — Section 119 — governs the inspection and copying of public records. Anybody can make a public records request and government agencies are required to comply.

The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers

The University of Florida is spending millions to lure outside faculty to improve its reputation, but balks at properly paying the faculty already here.

Jeer: UF trustees, for rejecting a magistrate’s recommendation for a faculty raise.

Trustees approved a raise this week for union-represented faculty members, but it is less than half of what their union sought and the magistrate recommended. It’s hard to buy UF pleading poor when, as the union’s presentation noted, raises for administrators are significantly outpacing both faculty raises and inflation.

As the magistrate suggested, UF’s effort to become a top-10 public university should have it paying faculty on par with institutions currently outpacing it. UF faculty salaries rank near the bottom when compared when schools such as the University of California at Berkeley, University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Certainly the 2.5 percent raise approved by trustees is more than many Americans are getting as their wages stagnate. But the UF administration’s hard-line position comes as it spending $5 million on new hires in its quest for preeminence and getting millions more in additional state money for meeting performance goals.

Officials shouldn’t forget the role of current faculty, not just new hires, in creating a top-level university.

Cheer: The nine community members who received the Fifth Annual Spirit of Gainesville awards, for their contributions in making our community a better place.

The Lakeland Ledger — Let’s cure the chronic underfunding of mental health services

On March 1, the Peace River Center will break ground on a new Lakeland facility. The 20-bed, estimated $2.7 million crisis-treatment center will complement Peace River’s existing 30-bed unit in Bartow. Thus, by the end of this year, the number of beds available for the poor souls, including children, needing immediate evaluation and help for a mental health meltdown will jump by two-thirds.

This development is bittersweet. The good thing is that more troubled people in our community will have access to the quality care that Peace River provides. The sad thing is that it is needed at all.

The other sad thing is that CEO Bill Gardam’s staff, and those working in mental health and substance abuse treatment centers around the state, must soldier on with inadequate resources.

According to the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, or CFBHN, the nonprofit group contracted by the state to manage clinics serving the mentally ill and drug-addicted in a 14-county region that encompasses Polk County, an estimated 3.4 million people in Florida have “behavioral health” issues. That refers to either mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse, or both.

That equates to one of every six Floridians. Yet, the Kaiser Family Foundation, a healthcare policy research group, notes that Florida ranks 49th in per-person spending on mental health services. For 2012, the most recent data Kaiser had for Florida, the state spent $37 per resident for such treatment.

Miami Herald —New day and new president at UM

It begins today for Julio Frenk.

You might not recognize his name — yet. But you will soon enough.

Dr. Frenk will be officially installed Friday as the University of Miami’s sixth president during an inauguration ceremony at the BankUnited Center on campus. He will now chart the future of the 90-year-old private Coral Gables institution.

Dr. Frenk, 62, assumed one of Miami-Dade’s most influential and prestigious leadership positions in August. For decades, those who have led the University of Miami have been among this county’s most prominent citizens in terms of improving the intellectual and cultural well-being of the community. That will no doubt be true for Dr. Frenk, as well.

Dr. Frenk recently met with the Miami Herald Editorial Board to outline an ambitious agenda that builds on the success of his immediate predecessor, Donna Shalala, who raised $3 billion and enhanced the school’s profile as a national academic and research institution. He is well aware that he becomes a voice and a representative for the entire community, working with other major institutions of higher learning in South Florida to promote its academic standing.

The UM Board of Trustees, chaired by Stuart Miller, selected Dr. Frenk from among many prominent candidates because he possesses a wealth of talents. His stellar résumé includes a medical degree, as well as a dual Ph.D. He is a world authority on public health and has served as dean of the Harvard School of Public Health from 2009-2015, as well as minister of health in Mexico, where he was born. Dr. Frenk is the son of German-Jewish immigrants who escaped Nazi persecution and today can be celebrated as UM’s first Hispanic president — a perfect fit for a community that prides itself on its diversity.

Orlando Sentinel —Vote activist: Latinos vital in 2016 race

A record 27.3 million Latinos in America will be eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election, according to a report released this month by the Pew Research Center. Their share among Americans eligible to vote has more than doubled since 1986, from 5 percent to 11.4 percent. That makes them an increasingly coveted demographic for both the Democratic and Republican parties. Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota — a national nonprofit promoting increased civic participation in the Latino community — told the Sentinel Editorial Board and El Sentinel in a joint interview that he believes Latinos will determine who moves into the White House next year. An excerpt of that interview follows. A longer transcript, and a full video recording of the interview, are at OrlandoSentinel.com/opinion.

Q: Are you expecting Latino voters to have a big impact on the outcome of the 2016 election?

A: I’m convinced that we will. … I think in 2012 it was very clear that the Latino vote was the decisive vote to decide the presidential election. And I don’t have any doubt that in 2016, it’s going to be the same. There are key states [including Florida] that without the Latino vote, presidential candidates would not be able to get to the White House. …

Q: Which do you consider to be those key states? Is Florida one of them?

A: Definitely. Florida is one of the states that is going to be a decisive state in who gets to become the president of this country, along with Colorado and Nevada. There might be a few others, but I think those [three] states specifically are going to be decisive.

Ocala StarBanner —Keep certificate of need program

Since 1973, Florida has required hospitals, nursing homes and hospices that seek to erect a new facility or add beds to an existing one to demonstrate that the markets they serve exhibit sufficient demand for what they propose. If they successfully make that case, state healthcare regulators grant them a certificate of need, or CON.

The CON process can be cumbersome, costly, time-consuming and, as some assert, anti-competitive. Such criticism in the Legislature is driving a bill that would repeal the CON requirement, and it appears headed toward a full House vote with significant momentum.

We believe overturning the system would be a mistake.

Congress mandated the CON process nationwide four decades ago. That federal requirement was repealed in 1987, and 14 states did away with the CON altogether. Eight more have axed it for adding hospital beds.

CON critics argue that the system is politically biased toward existing providers and unfairly bars new entrants into the healthcare market, which inflates costs. The staff analysis of Rep. Chris Sprowles’ bill quotes a 2004 study by the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice that concluded, “CON programs are not successful in containing health care costs, and that they pose serious anticompetitive risks that usually outweigh their purported economic benefits.” The report also cites another study, from 1998, that indicated non-CON states boasted 13 percent more hospital beds per 100,000 people than their CON-requiring peers.

It is reasonable to think that mandating a CON makes health care more expensive. But what applies to other goods does not necessarily apply to managing a hospital and the services it provides.

Pensacola News-Journal — Bugs and your billfold

Bugs are on the march in Florida. A tiny psyllid threatens to bring down the entire Florida orange industry. The ambrosia beetle is spreading disease in avocado groves.

Public scientists have long fought pests that could wreak similar havoc in the Panhandle, but until now the University of Florida hasn’t had an entomologist in Jay. It’s always done the work from Quincy and Gainesville.

The same weather that makes Florida such a great place to grow fruits and vegetables and to raise cattle also makes it an ideal breeding ground for bugs. The planned arrival of the first entomologist in Jay and a new addition to the Quincy entomology team this year will give the region point men (or point women) on pests.

Unchecked, bugs can destroy an economy along with a crop. Farmers who lose crops don’t buy tractors, cars, or equipment. They don’t spend as much at the grocery store or buy their kids as many clothes, books, and toys. They don’t eat out as much. And they don’t pay as much in taxes.

So you can see the connection between bugs and your billfold. And you can understand why some agricultural economists estimate that there’s a 20-fold return on every dollar invested in agricultural research.

If we want this research to have a public service focus, it needs public funding. That happens when you and your legislators support it. In the 2015 session, the Legislature approved the funding that will pay for the entomologists and other agricultural scientists whom UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences will dispatch to the Panhandle this year.

The Palm Beach Post — What happened when Khrushchev came to Iowa

To understand why Hillary Clinton may still clinch the Democratic nomination, both in Iowa and nationwide, it’s worth talking to Liz Garst, 64, the business manager for her family’s farming and community banking business in Coon Rapids.

She is the granddaughter of Roswell Garst, the farmer who, about six decades ago, received Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev on his farm in one of the weirdest events in Iowa history.

Liz Garst, 8 at the time, was a tomboy. She reluctantly put on a frilly white dress for the occasion and submitted to hugs and kisses from Khrushchev and his wife, Nina. “I liked her,” Garst says now. “She smelled nice and didn’t hug me too tightly.”

Garst also remembers how her grandfather started throwing corn cobs at the throng of reporters that arrived with the Soviet leader that day in September 1959. He thought the journalists were preventing him from showing the farm to Khrushchev. They fought back, and the Soviet first secretary joined in the fun.

“My grandmother was furiously angry,” Garst remembers as we sip coffee in her kitchen. ” ‘Don’t you ever throw corn silage at reporters! Don’t throw anything at anybody! It’s not polite,’” she recalls her grandmother screaming at team Garst.

The Panama City News-Herald — We need to define citizenship

Back in the 1970s, Dr Pepper sought to lure us in by suggesting its consumers could be part of a soft-drink clique. “I’m a Pepper; he’s a Pepper; she’s a Pepper — wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?” the actor David Naughton sang in the jingle featured in TV commercials.

Substitute the word “birther” for Pepper and you would have a contemporary political clique.

The birther issue, which has dogged us since Barack Obama broke out eight years ago, has returned, this time to dog the Republicans. And it likely won’t go away soon.

Although born in Hawaii to an American, Obama’s birth claim was scrutinized for years because his father was Kenyan. Chief among those skeptics was Donald Trump, now the GOP’s front-running presidential candidate. Ironically, we might have Trump to thank for Obama himself finally putting the issue to rest (for the great majority of us). While the question had largely faded from public consciousness, Trump revived it during national TV appearances in March 2011. A few weeks later, and two days after Trump publicly called for Obama to do so, the president shared his birth certificate.

“I am really honored and I am really proud, that I was able to do something that nobody else could do,” Trump bragged to reporters.

Now, as he races ahead of the field for the 2016 Republican nomination, Trump has a new target: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who, despite Trump’s overwhelming lead in national polls, actually leads the billionaire developer in Iowa, the first state to vote.

Cruz was born in Canada under circumstances that mirrored Obama’s: his mother was an American (born in Delaware) and his father was Cuban. Trump, though not a candidate at the time, first challenged Cruz’s citizenship last March, just after the Texan declared for the presidential race.

Cruz, according to media reports, renounced his Canadian citizenship in June 2014.

South Florida Sun Sentinel – Iowa gives voters first chance to be heard

Finally.

For the last seven or eight months — it only seems like an eternity — we’ve been hearing the complaints, arguments, spiels and policy positions from the presidential candidates.

We’ve seen endless polls and projections. We’ve watched the debates. We’ve heard debates about the debate moderators. We’ve seen opinions on whether Canadian-born Ted Cruz is eligible to be president of the United States, whether Hillary Clinton will survive her email problems and whether Bernie Sanders stands a chance.

Today, at last, the people will start to get their say. Actually, only the people of Iowa will have their say as they head to the caucuses this evening. But how they line up could give the rest of the nation a snapshot of what to expect between now and the November general election.

A word of warning: Don’t bet the household that the winners in Iowa will become the Democratic and Republican nominees this fall.

You see, Iowa is different in a lot of ways.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Economic development is a must-win

It’s still pretty foggy in Chamber/EDC land, although the haze is starting to lift.

What we know is that there was a power struggle and that, as is almost always the case, a group won and a group lost.

As of this moment, the EDC does not exist – that’s a state of being normally not associated with “winning.”

Yet, we would submit that lens is not the best for viewing this situation.

“Winning” in this arena should be defined as this: creating a new economic development structure that delivers to this community the results it deserves.

The 90-million-ton elephant in the room during this two weeks of drama has been the Blueprint 2020 money designated for economic development. Meetings start at the end of February to set up the structure for how those $90 million dollars will be utilized.

Chamber Board Chair Kathy Bell makes it clear that the Chamber is in no way angling to become the county’s new economic development organization (EDO), which would be the administrator of the area’s economic develop strategy and activity. That means, by default, that the city and county will almost certainly take over that function.

Here is our fear: That efforts to effectively utilize Blueprint 2020 money will overwhelm the area’s overall economic strategy. Put another way: this market needs an overarching economic development strategy even bigger than Blueprint 2020. We need a strategy and structure worthy of the immense investment Leon County taxpayers made when they approved the extension of the sales tax. We need dramatic change to reverse our past record in this area.

The Tampa Tribune — A devious fracking bill

It is troubling to see the Florida Legislature plow ahead with a bill that would rob local governments of any control over fracking in their communities.

Supporters say the measure is aimed at regulating fracking and would require the state Department of Environmental Protection to study what impacts fracking and related excavation processes would have, particularly on water sources.

That sounds reasonable, but this industry-driven bill is primarily aimed at ensuring local governments don’t get in the way of the drilling industry’s plans.

The House passed its fracking bill this week while a similar Senate bill also is progressing.

It doesn’t matter to lawmakers that 64 local governments have passed resolutions opposing fracking, and have good reason to be cautious about the practice in Florida.

In the process, a mixture of water, sand and caustic chemicals is pumped deep into the ground to fracture shale rocks and release natural gas.

We are not necessarily opposed to fracking. It has, as we have said, produced an abundant supply of energy and increased oil to near-record highs. It also is helping make the country energy-sufficient. In addition, natural gas burns cleaner than oil.

But none of that changes the fact that this is a messy undertaking that could be particularly damaging in Florida, with its porous limestone below the surface and underground aquifers that supply most of the state’s drinking water.

Yet House lawmakers dismissed the objections of local governments, physicians and others in adopting legislation that would prevent cities and counties from adopting fracking bans or any regulations that would “impose a moratorium on, effectively prohibit, or inordinately burden” mining activities.

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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