A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Florida should boost legal aid for poor
Floridians deserve access to legal representation regardless of their income. The state Constitution guarantees lawyers for criminal defendants who cannot afford a lawyer. But poor civil litigants are on their own. Legal aid societies have long filled the gap, but sharp decreases in funding threaten the groups’ ability to serve the indigent. The Legislature should step in and revisit funding for legal aid societies. And the next governor should make sure the allocation makes it into his budget. Anything less shortchanges the poor and denies basic protections to members of society who need it most.
A struggling economy and cuts in local and state government funding have decimated the budgets of legal aid societies around the state. Some are contemplating closure. Others are cutting staff, hours and services. The cutbacks come as demand increases for the type of services legal aid provides, which include representation in civil matters ranging from divorce and immigration issues to senior benefits and landlord/tenant disputes. In a recent Tampa Bay area case, legal aid lawyers defended a veteran who was about to lose his home to foreclosure. The lawyers stopped the sale and helped the veteran into a loan modification program.
The Tampa Bay Times‘ Anna M. Phillips reported that Florida is one of only three states in the country that does not provide money for legal aid groups. Since 2002, the Legislature has approved a few million dollars for legal aid in its annual budget. Every year since he took office, Gov. Rick Scott has vetoed the appropriation. Florida’s legal aid societies also are suffering because contributions from a Florida Bar Foundation program have diminished due to historically low interest rates on short-term deposits. In the past, the foundation donated to legal aid any interest accrued on such deposits made with the foundation by lawyers on behalf of clients.
Some of Florida’s legal aid societies are in worse shape than others. Bay Area Legal Services, for example, has lost nine lawyers and about $1 million. But it also gets money from federal grants. Legal aid groups in cities without outside grants are faring far worse, and the indigent will ultimately pay the price. The Legislature should find away to provide funding for the state’s approximately 30 legal aid groups and push the next governor to pay more than lip service to programs that help the poor.
The Bradenton Herald — Finally, a Manatee County water park-aquatic center in offing
No sooner had a great idea popped up on the public radar than exuberance arose. The water park project proposal earned a swift green light from Manatee County commissioners this week.
We’ve long wondered why a water park didn’t exist here, but now one’s in the works on 20 acres of the county’s Tom Bennett Park in East Manatee.
With our great weather, bustling tourism industry and prime regional position, the combo water park-aquatic center should become a major attraction.
The $20 million proposal could feature a roller coaster that soaks riders, a gigantic wave pool with a fake tropical beach, water and thrill slides, tube rides and sand volleyball courts set among a dense tropical jungle atmosphere.
When Anna Maria Island beachgoers tire of sand, here would be another water option. Hot, sweaty athletes could walk of the fields of the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch and find cool respite. Parents weary of nagging children would find relief at this park.
Small wonder commissioners wholeheartedly endorsed the park in a unanimous vote. It’s a no-brainer idea.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Attack area blight with a vengeance
You could slap a different color of paint on it and rename it the “New” 4M Food Mart. But the convenience store on North Ridgewood Avenue in Daytona continued to be a thorn in the community’s side and a symbol of that corridor’s struggles.
Thankfully, it finally is gone — the only change that was going to make a difference.
Several more such moves are necessary to improve not only Ridgewood, but other blighted areas of Volusia County.
For years the 4M Food Mart had been a magnet for transients and crime. As The News-Journal’s Lyda Longa recently reported, just in the last 14 months federal, state and local law enforcement agencies had raided the store four times for dealing in stolen property, running an unlicensed pawn shop and, twice, for Electronic Benefits Transfer card fraud. The building also had numerous violations of city codes.
The 4M was by no means unique. That section of Ridgewood Avenue has far too many similarly seedy elements that draw sketchy people and discourage new investment.
The Florida Times-Union — Jacksonville should study Nashville’s success in lowering murders
As Jacksonville seeks to deal with a surge in murders this year, we should examine two peer cities, Nashville and Indianapolis
From the standpoint of consolidation, you could say that Jacksonville is Nashville’s little brother.
Nashville was largely the model used for combining city and county governments in the late 1960s.
And it is this combination of city and county that makes comparisons so difficult.
So when people look at city murder rates, they usually are making deceptive comparisons.
A densely urban city like Miami has 35 square miles while the urban, suburban and rural areas of Jacksonville spread across 840 square miles.
In fact, the FBI, in producing its crime statistics, warns about comparisons.
There are too many variables.
The only way to accurately compare Jacksonville is with county-to-county comparisons, which often are difficult to find.
The Gainesville Sun – Fighting the flu
The only problem with the program to provide flu immunizations to Alachua County public school students is that more families aren’t taking advantage of it.
For the sixth year, local students will be able to get the FluMist immunization at school for free. Consent forms have been sent home and need to be returned by Sept. 30.
The local FluMist program, hailed as a statewide model, had its greatest level of participation in the last school year. Yet only about half of elementary-school students participated. While more were immunized by private health-care providers, the overall figure likely fell short of a 70 percent goal needed to protect the wider community.
The community also relies on all residents following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that those at least six months old get a flu vaccine with limited exceptions.
The dangers of the flu were illustrated last fall and winter when UF Health Shands Hospital saw at least a dozen flu-related deaths. Eleven of the 12 hadn’t been vaccinated against the flu.
The Lakeland Ledger — An Industry Battle: Keeping Citrus Alive
Do you love orange juice? If so, do you ever think about the process it goes through
to get to your table each morning — growing, picking, selling, serving? We might not care about that, just as we don’t question how the chicken or broccoli or potatoes end up on the dinner table each night. But we should, and here’s why:
Polk County produces the most boxes of citrus each year — 24.6 million boxes in the 2012-13 season, the most recent figure available. New numbers will be released Thursday.
It’s also No. 1 in citrus acreage.
76,000 people make a living off citrus in Florida. Being No. 1 in two big categories, Polk County employs many of those workers.
Citrus is grown on 525,000 acres in 29 counties down the heart of Florida. Three other counties — Citrus, Palm Beach and Pinellas — also contribute small amounts.
The commercial citrus industry has an estimated $9 billion annual economic impact to the state.
The Miami Herald — Crime in Florida’s prisons
There’s little to be gained in stating the obvious: Florida’s prison system is rife with dysfunction, and the disconnect between the brutality meted out by rogue guards and the Department of Corrections’ leaders has been too wide for too long.
DOC Secretary Michael Crews finally acknowledged that his department has been slow to impose discipline fairly or adequately enough. He’s right, and now he must take sustained and committed action to assure that inmates are not be brutalized, tortured and killed at the hands of corrections officers who, ultimately, work on behalf of Floridians.
On Friday, Mr. Crews announced that seven employees were dismissed — five for battery on an inmate, another for DUI and the last for operating a motor vehicle without the proper license. The day before, he announced in a release the arrests of six prison guards charged with gassing an inmate with toxic chemicals, then kicking, pummeling and slamming him against the floor while his hands were cuffed behind his back. The beat-down occurred at the Northwest Florida Reception Center in Chipley.
Crews said the six were fired. Even though they have not had their day in court, the firing is not premature. They were caught on surveillance video handing out their violent brand of discipline. The beaten inmate, Jeremiah Tatum, survived. Too many others throughout Florida’s system, as revealed by Herald reporter Julie Brown, have not.
Those deaths have been labeled suspicious, the push to get to the bottom of them almost nonexistent until now. The video of the “Chipley Six” made their indiscretions impossible to ignore.
The Orlando Sentinel — Drones: Spur technology, protect privacy
Imagine a quiet Sunday afternoon at the beach interrupted by a hovering drone armed with a camera. Sound far-fetched? In Florida, Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein is one of a growing number of local officials who don’t think so. They wonder if laws are keeping pace with quadcopter technology.
So, too, are officials at a Walt Disney Co. subsidiary who have filed a patent application to use drones for aerial displays. Right now, the commercial use of drones is mostly barred, even for the seemingly innocent purpose of letting Tinker Bell fly around Cinderella Castle.
The challenge facing the Federal Aviation Administration is to modify and loosen broad restrictions on drone technology, while protecting concerns over individual privacy. It’s an admittedly tall order, but current regulations are inconsistent and need an update.
Right now, you’re permitted to fly drones for fun, so long as the quadcopter doesn’t fly higher than 400 feet and stays clear of airports and populated areas. Taking photos for personal use is OK, too, but the commercial use of drones is pretty much prohibited at any altitude.
What’s consistent is the fear that drones could obliterate privacy. Such fears prompted the Florida Legislature to pass a smart bill from Republican Sen. Joe Negron of Stuart limiting drone use by law enforcement.
The Ocala StarBanner — Obama’s new war on terror
Early in his address to the nation about the threat posed by Islamic State terrorists, President Barack Obama spoke an obvious truth: “We can’t erase every trace of evil from the world.” But just a few beats later, he came close to contradicting himself. “We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL,” he vowed.
So … the president hopes to erase every trace of this particular evil. That’s a tall order.
As much as we agree that the Islamic State is a band of butchers, and as much as we would like to see them stopped in their tracks, Obama’s plan probably is doomed.
Here’s the plan he outlined Wednesday night: The United States will increase its airstrikes against the Islamic State within Iraq and expand them into Syria. Iraqi and Kurdish forces will see additional U.S. support, including almost 500 American troops sent as advisers. Counterterrorism tactics will be employed. Humanitarian aid will be extended.
No U.S. combat troops will join the fight, which is good to hear. But the president laid out no timetable or measurable goals, which makes the venture sound alarmingly open-ended. Too few specifics raise red flags that the plan has too few resources.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Ivan 10 years later
Ten years ago, Hurricane Ivan emerged over the southern Gulf of Mexico and turned north-northwestward and then northward. It would make landfall on Sept. 16 and devastate the region. It would take years for parts of Northwest Florida to recover.
Here is the National Weather Service’s report:
“At 51 minutes after midnight on 16 September 2004, the northern eyewall of powerful Hurricane Ivan moved onto land near Gulf Shores, Alabama as a Category 3 hurricane. Ivan made landfall at approximately 1:50 AM CDT (ie. when the center of Ivan’s eye crossed land). Bringing with it 120 mph sustained surface winds and a historic storm surge, the magnitude and extent of the damage and destruction over Baldwin County Alabama and Escambia and Santa Rosa counties of Northwest Florida exceeded that of both Hurricane Frederic (September 1979) and Hurricane Opal (October 1995).
“Hurricane Ivan caused a total of 8 deaths in the western Florida Panhandle (7 in Escambia County and 1 in Santa Rosa County.) Damage is estimated to have been near $14 billion.”
We polled some coworkers, their spouses and others to share their experience before and after the storm and how it affected them personally and professionally.
Their one-word responses and follow-up comments were as widespread as Ivan’s damage:
The Palm Beach Post — Flood insurance a necessity in flood-prone Florida
In case anyone forgot, the latest bout of tropical drenching should have provided a convincing reminder: Flooding is normal for this part of Florida, especially at this time of year.
Whether it’s flash flooding after heavy rain, a storm surge at high tide or a rare failure of the region’s elaborate drainage system, occasional high water is a fact of life here. It’s the flip side of tropical sunshine and palm trees, the price of living in Florida’s most rain-prone county.
The Panama City News-Herald — You have to have a phone
Recently, a group of fifth graders informed us about “the way things are.”
You have to have a phone, they said, and it can’t be a flip phone or a phone with a keyboard.
If you have one of those phones they will make fun of you.
Why is that?
Because they are mean.
Yes, they certainly can be mean.
This week Apple unveiled its newest iPhones and a new digital watch. The phones will be available later this month; the watch will be available next year.
As Americans, there is a certain level of pride that some of us take in the success of Apple, Google, Amazon and other technology companies. It’s heartening to know that these devices and websites that are changing the world were designed by American companies even if they were mostly manufactured in China. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, has been loudly talking about changing that trend, and his company is doing more manufacturing inside the United States.
We hope other device makers follow Apple’s lead.
Some people don’t give these companies enough credit for the things they have accomplished in the last 15 or so years. Our phones have become pocket computers, our shopping can be done at home, and almost all of the world’s information is available to us in an instant.
The Tallahassee Democrat – The faculty’s role
When it’s time for your local fast-food place — or almost any other workplace — to name a new boss, the employees don’t get a vote.
A university is different.
For more than 2,000 years, since Plato and his followers studied and listened to lectures together, the academy has been a place where breakthroughs are made and knowledge is shared. Great universities are not offices where professors punch a clock and feed their students facts through rote learning. The university is not there to crank out more burgers or, as Florida State religion Professor Joseph Hellweg said last week, to be “diploma factories for servile workers.”
Rather, the university is a place where freedom and innovation are valued and where the final “product” is not just a more productive but also a more thoughtful citizenry.
That’s why members of the faculty are important stakeholders in the university.
That’s why they have been given an important role as Florida State University goes about choosing a new present.
That’s why the fact that many members feel they are being ignored has caused such friction in this current search.
The Tampa Tribune — Al Lang deal deserving of support
There’s much to like about the deal St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and developer Bill Edwards have struck over the future management of historic Al Lang Stadium.
Not only would it pump $1.5 million into much-needed improvements for the aging stadium, it might set the stage for turning the city-owned facility into a first-class venue for professional soccer and other events.
Barring any last-minute surprises, City Council members should approve the deal when they meet next week.
As we’ve said before, Al Lang has no viable future as a baseball venue. Edwards is agreeing to honor Al Lang’s storied spring-training past while making good use of the prime downtown facility that plays host to the soccer team he owns, the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Edwards is engaged in a legal dispute over the management of Al Lang and has justifiably complained about its condition, which deteriorated after the Tampa Bay Rays left for a new facility in Charlotte County. The city spent $250,000 to improve the playing surface this year, but Edwards has also complained about mold, broken seats and flooding.
The facility is managed by the nonprofit St. Petersburg Baseball Commission, which also manages the Walter Fuller sports complex in west St. Petersburg.
To end the legal dispute, the city would give Edwards management of Al Lang for four years, and he would drop his pursuit of managing Walter Fuller. He would also fund the Al Lang improvements in return for keeping the profits from concession sales when the Rowdies play and other events are held there. As part of the deal, at least 10 events other than soccer games must be held at the stadium. The St. Pete Grand Prix and the Saturday morning market, which use the Al Lang parking lots, would not be affected by the deal.