A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers
Tampa Bay Times — Dangers of privatizing work-release
Finally, residents in a Largo neighborhood can sleep a little easier. Florida’s decision Friday to close a work-release center run by Goodwill Industries-Suncoast took longer than it should have taken. But it came less than 24 hours after Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri provided evidence that little had changed there despite nine months of high-profile scrutiny and legislative action. The entire episode should give state Republican leaders pause about the continued push to put more corrections operations in private hands and how those facilities operate. Public safety, including rehabilitation for soon-to-be-released prisoners, is more important than saving a few dollars.
Effective work-release centers are vital to rehabilitating inmates by providing an intermediate step to freedom. But management at Largo Residential Re-Entry Center on U.S. 19 failed to grasp that its job also included minimizing risk for the community. It wasn’t until last year’s murder of two men by an inmate and the sexual assault of a teenager by another that residents’ complaints received a hard look. The picture up close was no prettier.
An investigation by the Tampa Bay Times’ Curtis Krueger and Kameel Stanley published last Sunday showed a more complete picture of how lax operations had become even in the months after the murders and rape. As recently as January, state auditors found inmates regularly left the facility for work but never showed up at the job. Sexual activity among inmates was a recurring problem, sometimes with center staff. Nearly half of the inmates did not receive the substance abuse treatment they needed. And just two months ago, the facility manager left the center unsupervised and failed to discipline a prisoner who had been caught stealing. Yet none of that stopped the Department of Corrections from renewing the center’s contract on May 31 for another five years.
The Bradenton Herald — Manatee County must brace for a tsunami of property insurance rate hikes
Several tidal waves of property insurance rate hikes will be coming ashore soon, sure to swamp Manatee County home and commercial real estate owners in the most perilous of locations.
Not only is Citizens Property Insurance Corp. proposing to raise premiums — again — the National Flood Insurance Program is poised to dramatically increase rates on low-lying properties and scale back on subsidized premiums.
Living in Florida, especially in flood-prone neighborhoods, will be far more expensive. The impact on the state’s economy will be detrimental as potential new residents and businesses opt for cheaper places to live and operate.
As expected, Citizens will continue to increase premiums and shed policies as the state-owned insurer of last resort works to become more “actuarily sound” and downsizes by hundreds of thousands of policies to reduce risk. While that makes sense from a business perspective, the subsequent blow to the economy makes this strategy less sound.
Citizens decided Wednesday to boost premiums in 2014 by an average of 6.2 percent on homes, 8 percent on condominiums and 9.1 percent on commercial properties. Though state insurance regulators must approve, the rubber stamp awaits. Manatee County property owners account for some 27,500 Citizens policies for both residential and commercial buildings.
Daytona Beach News-Journal — Farm bill deserved defeat; now it’s time for reform
Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives, often mocked for being a do-nothing chamber, did something. It rejected the nearly $1 trillion farm bill, sending waves of surprise through Washington, D.C.
By rejecting the farm bill, the House did something of value. House members sent a message to leaders in both parties that reform-minded legislators still have sway.
The lawmakers voted down the bloat of the leviathan-sized farm bill. They expressed a healthy wish to reform farm subsidies and get the food stamp program back under control.
These lawmakers, like their constituents, are tired of the annual scramble to fill the farm bill with goodies for various segments of the farming industry, from large corporations to rich “farmers” who own land but have other careers.
The farm bill subsidizes agribusiness and food industries that don’t need it — especially at a time when commodity prices are going up. So the House rejected the latest farm bill. The 10-year, $940 billion legislation was supposed to pass and merge with a similar bill that passed the Senate.
But more than 60 Republicans joined with most Democrats to shoot down the bill. The Democrats and the GOP had different motives, of course. Yet the effect of the failure should be a learning moment for both parties and the White House.
The bill had been supported by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and his leadership team — well, most of them. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the chairman of the House Budget Committee, voted against the bill. So did a number of Republicans from rural, farm-rich districts.
The Lakeland Ledger — Bad News for Lakeland Police Dept.
Jerry Hill, state attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit, on Tuesday delivered to Lakeland Police Chief Lisa Womack a two-page letter and 55-page report summarizing a 12-week investigation into runaway sex among police officers and supervisors.
Hill was brutal in his evaluation of the Lakeland Police Department and her leadership. However, he was fair.
Not only are the residents of Lakeland outraged over the sex scandal, the news has traveled across the nation. Some are likewise outraged. Others are laughing.
Saturday, a Google News search for “Lakeland Police” produced a listing of 3,550 news reports. A sensational article by the New York Daily News leaned toward laughing.
The headline: “They’re Florida’s horniest! Cops in Lakeland police department snagged in massive sex scandal: report.”
The article began, “It’s a glimpse inside Florida’s Perv PD.” You get the idea.
Clearly, Hill was intent on Womack getting a message, too, although with a tone not of snark but of seriousness.
“I cannot ignore the fact that several of the officers involved in this matter are high-ranking officers in your department. Some of the officers were directly responsible for training other officers at LPD,” Hill said. “Perhaps this investigation sheds some light on the serious shortcomings of your department in the areas of traffic stops, search and seizure, thoroughness of investigations, preparedness for trial and complying with Florida Public Records law. Had these members of your department been more focused on the important responsibilities of law enforcement, rather than pursuing sexual encounters with a civilian analyst, the LPD might not be in the condition it is today.”
The Miami Herald — Heal thyself, DCF
Something is horribly wrong with the Florida Department of Children & Families’ investigative process. Four children have died in the past six weeks alone. Their troubled parents all were known to DCF. But all four tots died while in the custody of supposed caretakers.
In each instance, DCF had the chance to remove the child from potential danger. Instead, the agency’s overarching priority of keeping families together (too often without adequate resources or supervision) is putting kids in harm’s way. Since May, Bryan Osceola, Antwan Hope, Fernando Barahona and Ezra Raphael have paid with their lives.
DCF Secretary David Wilkins acknowledges that mistakes were made in some of those cases. But where’s the urgency to stop returning children to abusive households? Why does this keep happening?The problems lie within DCF itself. Its investigator training lacks accountability, the quality of investigators’ work and their judgment-making ability remains hampered by Mr. Wilkins’ top-down rigidity.
The community-based-care organizations (CBC) responsible for securing the services to help kids who have been removed from high-risk situations say that Mr. Wilkins has instead targeted them, threatening to terminate contracts and doing some heavy-handed meddling — a “my way or the highway” approach.
Mr. Wilkins told the Herald last week that the accusations are baseless. He will roll out a new accountability system this week, he says.
Yet he is forcing CBCs to include a “bait and switch” clause in their contracts that in effect gives him veto power over the hiring of top CBC executives. Mr. Wilkins said this provision is intended to prevent local groups from identifying one person but then introducing someone else as the top officer after the contract is signed. It’s curious that Mr. Wilkins could not cite to the Herald any instances of this happening. He should drop this useless quest for control.
The CBCs are the “boots on the ground.” Civic leaders who serve in this capacity are far better situated to gauge the needs of at-risk children in their communities and can tailor services to meet them.
Orlando Sentinel — Give businesses a boost: Expand health insurance
“Help the poor” is not an appeal that goes very far among the crew that controls the Florida Legislature these days.
But “keep Florida business competitive” is more likely to galvanize Tallahassee.
So if providing health insurance to a million Floridians without it isn’t enough to persuade lawmakers to accept $51 billion in federal funds over the next decade, how about taking the money and expanding coverage for the sake of lightening a heavy load on the state’s employers?
In a recent news conference, leaders from a pair of coalitions made up of some of the top businesses in Florida and around the country — including Walt Disney World, Lockheed Martin, WalMart and General Electric— said expanding coverage would save employers big money on the cost of insuring their own employees.
Here’s why: When people without health insurance show up at hospital emergency rooms for care they can’t pay for, the cost gets shifted to others who can pay — patients with health insurance. And that marks up the cost of health coverage for businesses by 30 percent, according to one of the coalition leaders.
This isn’t rocket science. The 24 states that are accepting federal funds — provided under Obamacare to expand health insurance for the poor — will get fewer people showing up at emergency rooms who can’t pay. In those states that’ll mean less cost shifting to businesses. They’ll be more competitive — and more inclined to invest, grow and hire — than their rivals in states with higher costs, like Florida.
The Tampa Tribune — Better immigration law threatened by fantasies
Skeptical conservatives can find in the Senate’s immigration reform bill ample objections and uncertainties to justify stonewalling the legislation until it dies.
That seems to be what House Speaker John Boehner has in mind when he says he will only bring up a bill that has been pre-approved by most of his fellow House Republicans, many of whom are holding out for changes they know are impossible to pass. The Senate passed immigration reform legislation Thursday 68-32, with 14 Republicans backing the measure.
The question today is what is better, the existing immigration mess or the Senate’s serious attempt to set up a merit system for new foreign workers, secure the border and deal fairly with the 11 million or so immigrants now in the country illegally. This is not a hard question.
If Congress can’t make improvements, things will stay as they are. That’s really very much like amnesty, points out Sen. Marco Rubio, a conservative Republican from Miami who has been unafraid to take a leading role in the divisive debate.
Leaving an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the legal shadows, without hope for citizenship no matter how qualified for it they may be, is un-American. Talk of sending them home is fantasy. Having so large a population of non-citizens undermines the rule of law, erodes public confidence in Congress, and hurts the economy.
And tough talk and no action have cost the Republican Party many Hispanic voters who support conservative values.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who helped write the Senate bill, explained that “it’s hard to sell your economic agenda if they think you’re going to deport their grandmother.”
In reality, no one is either trying to deport grandmother or give her quick amnesty.
The path to becoming a U.S. citizen outlined in the bill would be 13 years long and a far cry from the blanket forgiveness critics say it is. It includes requirements to learn the English language, and Rubio was right to heighten that language hurdle.
The Ocala Star Banner — An ‘incredible value’
It is well-documented what a high-quality institution of higher learning the College of Central Florida is. For each of the past two years, it has been ranked among the top 10 percent of the nation’s 1,200-plus community colleges by the respected Aspen Institute.
Now, it turns out, it is a great bargain, too. In fact, it is one of the cheapest college experiences in the country.
The U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center this week released its list of the most affordable colleges, and CF found itself at No. 8 — in the country!
According to the DOE survey, it costs a CF student taking 12 hours a semester for two semesters — what typically defines a full-time student — $2,533 a year. That is a whopping 66 percent below the national average of $7,135.
“At CF, we know the incredible value we are providing students in our community,” CF President Jim Henningsen said in a release. “This ranking shows just what a value we are. In addition to being cost effective, we have talented faculty, relevant programs, resources such as free tutoring and a full student life experience.”
He’s right on. Ocala/Marion County is truly blessed to have a community college that offers a top-notch education at bargain-basement prices — and the college trustees just approved a new budget holding the line on tuition for the 2013-14 school year.
The Palm Beach Post — Don’t rule out incentives to lure Amazon
Spiraling toward financial ruin under John Textor’s inept management, Digital Domain enjoyed brief success in the spring of 2012 when its artists made a dead man sing. Less than half a year after Tupac Shakur’s hologram appeared during a California concert, the company declared bankruptcy.
In a two-part series that concluded last Sunday, the Post’s Jeff Ostrowski documented Digital Domain’s death spiral. What can the company tell us — from beyond the grave — about the wisdom of providing incentives to lure businesses? The question is timely as Florida and Palm Beach County consider whether to offer incentives to lure Amazon distribution centers and to keep a merged Office Depot/Office Max in Boca Raton.