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

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

Tampa Bay Times — Don’t retreat on school food improvements

Changing a generation’s food habits takes longer than a few years, and returning school lunchrooms to their old ways certainly won’t help.

Nonetheless, just four years after passing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the U.S. House is pushing to lower the quality of food served in public schools. Under the regulations, championed by first lady Michelle Obama, schools have been required to offer vegetables, fruits and whole grains in place of foods heavy in fat, sugar and sodium. It’s part of a nationwide effort to battle high rates of childhood obesity; about 17 percent, or 12.5 million, children in the United States are considered obese.

Nine out of 10 schools are reporting that the guidelines are being met, but House Republicans apparently are listening to critics who complain the standards are too strict and cause a financial burden. And there have been anecdotal news reports that more children are throwing food away. The House’s proposed solution, tucked into an agricultural spending bill: Give schools that lost money for six straight months a one-year reprieve from the new standards, including higher standards that are scheduled for the future. By serving less healthful options they could boost sales, the argument goes.

But government should make policy based on research, not anecdotes. A report released this year by the Harvard School of Public Health shows students are consuming healthier fare and that food waste is actually down. Students threw out about 40 percent of fruits both before and after the standards. But discarding of vegetables is down from 75 percent to 60 percent. Any parent of a picky eater would know that’s progress.

The Bradenton Herald — Novel economic development idea: tear down Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Does the old saw “if you build it, they will come” apply when chasing rainbows and hoping to find a chest of gold?

That was our initial take on the very idea of tearing down the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and building a taller one to allow gigantic cruise ships entry into Tampa Bay.

That idea would have more appeal if the state’s also talking about improving infrastructure to allow access for the new generation of huge container ships — to Port Manatee.

The new Tampa Bay Cruise Port Pre-Feasibility Study focuses on just passenger ships, this a preliminary report commissioned by the state.

The mind-numbing cost of ripping out the Skyway and building a new one: an estimated $2 billion.

Or, the study outlines, the state could raise the deck of the bridge, at the veritable bargain price of $1.5 billion. A third option, replacing a bridge section, would cost the same.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Port Orange needs leaders, not conflict

What the heck is going on in Port Orange?

The city that once ran like a Swiss watch lately resembles a cartoon timepiece with its springs and wheels exploding out the sides.

The recent nine-day resignation horror show provides sobering evidence that something is fundamentally broken in City Hall.

From June 23-July 1, a bookkeeping error cost Port Orange more than $400,000, and then five of its top administrators resigned in rapid succession for various reasons.

That’s left the bedroom community tainted and the city administration woefully uncertain of its future.

Things are so bad that after City Manager Greg Kisela became the city’s fourth senior resignation six days ago, Port Orange Mayor Allen Green described his exit as “only the tip of the iceberg,” and predicted more abdications to come.

Green blamed the departures on the City Council’s heavy-handed departmental oversight, and unbearably muscular citizen activism.

Before the situation spirals further out of control, elected officials need to stop the hemorrhaging of their administrative talent and restore the town’s image and administrative stability.

The Florida Times-Union — State agency making big changes to protect kids

The agency tasked with protecting Florida’s children has new support from Tallahassee.

The Legislature passed and the governor signed sweeping legislation that provides more funding for investigators and more protections for child safety.

At the same time, the Florida Department of Children and Families has responded by reforming procedures, looking for best practices and producing more transparency with a website that shows details on all child deaths in the state.

DCF officials note that most of the deaths came without any DCF involvement and that many of these deaths are difficult to prevent. For instance, most child deaths are sleep-related among infants. The No. 2 cause is drowning.

TOO MANY DROWNINGS

“We do have the highest rate of drownings in the country for kids under 4,” said Mike Carroll, interim secretary of DCF. “Some of that is due to weather, geography, the proximity to water. However, having a child drowning death rate of 300 times the national average, I don’t care what the geography is, we need to do better.”

Nevertheless, the deaths that receive the most publicity are those involving abuse or neglect in which DCF has been involved.

Important flaws in the state agency’s procedures were revealed by reporting in The Miami Herald and validated by a recent Miami-Dade grand jury.

The Gainesville Sun – Banning big snakes

Pythons are a big problem in Florida. Really big.

Earlier this year, a nearly 18-foot-long Burmese python was captured in the Florida Everglades. It wasn’t even a record — a python measuring 18 feet 8 inches long was found in Miami-Dade County in May 2013.

Native to Southeast Asia, the Burmese python has become established in the Everglades. The snakes disrupt the ecosystem by eating and outcompeting native wildlife.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took the overdue step of banning the importation and sale of Burmese, Indian, Northern African and Southern African pythons as well as the yellow anaconda.

Now the wildlife service is considering adding five more snake species to the list. The agency is currently taking public comment on whether to ban the boa constrictor, the reticulated python and three more types of anacondas.

A boa constrictor found in the Ocala National Forest in 2012 raised concerns that the species could be established there. Boa constrictors have already become established in Puerto Rico.

The Lakeland Ledger — U.S. Supreme Court: Modern Struggle For Privacy

In the June 25 landmark ruling that protects cellphone data from unauthorized searches, the U.S. Supreme Court built a strong bridge — from America’s 18th-century struggle for independence to today’s struggle for privacy.

That the decision was unanimous — on a court normally divided between conservatives and liberals — lends even more power to the message it sent to law enforcement and the federal government.

While the ruling dealt directly with cellphones, the court’s rationale could easily be extended to laptop and tablet computers, and perhaps to information held by third parties such as phone companies — the crux of the controversy involving the National Security Agency.

In essence, the court made it clear that Americans — even if under arrest — deserve protection in all but the most extreme cases from warrantless government intrusion, in their homes and on their cellphones.

At a time when the boundaries between public and private information are constantly being tested — and crossed — Americans needed that reassurance.

The ruling pertained to two cases, in California and Massachusetts, in which criminal suspects were convicted, in part, after information obtained through warrantless searches of their cellphones tied them to drug and gang activity.

The Miami Herald — New laws on the books

Almost 160 new state laws kicked in last week. Some actually do some good. Others will be great as long as state agencies — with a sad habit of ducking for cover when the going gets rough — follow their mandates. Still others don’t help at all.

And what should be to the shame of Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators, Medicaid expansion, which would help at least 1 million Floridians again was a non-starter. These elected leaders didn’t even pretend that it was a priority.

Still, the news was not all bad, first, because it’s an election year and, second, because shaming works wonders. As a result, children brought to this country by parents who are undocumented now can pay in-state tuition — markedly lower than that charged students from outside Florida. This quest had to travel an unreasonably rocky road over the years.

This time around, enough lawmakers who had been against the proposal — and Mr. Scott — decided that they were ardent supporters, and the bill passed. Not without needless last-minute feints and blocks, of course, but a majority of lawmakers ended up on the right side. The last thing this state can afford is to punish smart, motivated students because their parents reside here illegally. Given how long this item has been stalled, “it’s an election year” likely was the impetus to push in-state tuition over the finish line.

As for shaming, it took almost 500 children in the files of the Department of Children & Families, the agony of their deaths at the hands of abusive, neglectful caretakers disclosed day after day in the Miami Herald and blame laid squarely at the doorstep of a dysfunctional DCF, for many lawmakers — too many — to finally come around. When they did, however, saving the lives of children in troubled circumstances was established as DCF’s priority; child-protection workers are to be better qualified and better trained; and “transparency and accountability” is the new mantra.

The Orlando Sentinel — Past time to end state’s same-sex marriage ban

Almost six years ago, after Florida voters amended the state’s constitution to rule out same-sex marriage, a speaker at an Orlando protest told the crowd, “Time is on our side, and our rights will not be denied.” What might have come off as Panglossian in 2008 is now looking prophetic in 2014.

The days are numbered for state bans on gay marriage. They’ve been falling like dominoes across the country, as judge after judge has reached the inescapable conclusion that this form of prohibition amounts to unconstitutional government-sanctioned discrimination.

This past week a state judge in Miami heard arguments in one of several current cases challenging Florida’s ban. We don’t see how she could — or should — come to a different conclusion than all the other judges.

We agree with Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the four city commissioners who voted to take the side of the couples challenging the ban. Orlando’s friend-of-the-court brief spelled out numerous benefits — “legal, economic, social and mental health” — that same-sex partners and their families are unfairly denied.

The avalanche of court decisions striking down gay-marriage bans was set off a year ago by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the majority opinion, wrote, “The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages …”

The Ocala StarBanner — Freedom’s day

The following was first published in 2010 by the Kalamazoo Gazette in Michigan.

Among the delegates to the American Colonies’ Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia on that hot, steamy July 4 day in 1776 were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who went on to become the second and third presidents, respectively.

And in one of the most incredible coincidences in our nation’s political history, Adams and Jefferson — the only American presidents to have signed the Declaration of Independence — died on the same day exactly 50 years later, Jefferson at Monticello, Virginia, and Adams at Quincy, Massachusetts.

Interestingly, James Monroe was the third and last president to die on the Fourth of July in 1831.

The foregoing historical trivia, however fascinating, is only part of the greatest political observance in our country’s history. Jefferson and Adams were among 56 men who laid their lives on the line by signing that precious document.

Benjamin Franklin, a member of the committee which drafted the Declaration, put it bluntly at the signing. He warned his colleagues, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

The Pensacola News-Journal — America got off to a great start

Bismarck once said of our country, “There is a special Providence for fools, drunkards in the United States of America.” The great Winston Churchhill was quoted as saying “Americans will always do the right thing – after exhausting all the alternatives.”

Other foreign leaders throughout the centuries have also expressed exasperation at how God and history always seem to smile disproportionately on this great Republic.

The secret to our success is simple. We got off to a great start.

Every Fourth of July, I pick up a New York Times and search through the newspaper for those immortal words “CONGRESS, July 4, 1776” blasted across the top of the page. I’ve been doing that every Fourth since high school, and I am always awestruck by the genius of Mr. Jefferson and his fellow founding fathers. After drafting the Declaration of Independence, those men fought a war for freedom against the world’s greatest empire, defeated them, gained America’s independence and drafted a constitution for the ages.

Our leaders today seem so much more limited. It is easy to grow discouraged by what goes on in the nation’s capital. One leader said it best, observing that it is easy to grow discouraged by the spectacle we have to view every day, “as politicians of both parties and from all regions show their prejudices, their passions, their error of opinions, their local interests, and their selfish views.”

That disheartening message was from a speech delivered by Benjamin Franklin on the day the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Franklin’s point then, and mine today, is that American government may not be perfect, but it remains the best of all alternatives known to mankind.

The Palm Beach Post — Controversial Minto West project must balance size, design

Big proposals for new developments almost always draw opposition, but the blowback against plans for the massive Minto West development in The Acreage has been especially fierce.

Not only have residents organized opposition rallies and decried the project in public meetings, nearby towns have passed or considered official proclamations against it. Leaders in The Acreage have gone as far as to threaten to shut down roads accessing the former Callery-Judge citrus grove where Minto West is planned.

The Panama City News-Herald — Can you keep up with 159 new laws?

The State Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott have been busy and the fruits of their labor became law Tuesday.

Florida’s police officers, agents of the Department of Children and Families, residents and tourists now have 159 new laws to discover, comprehend and follow. Much of the new legislation centered on protecting children. DCF came under fire after several media outlets revealed how often children died at the hands of their parents after and sometimes during DCF investigations.

The law now says that protecting a child from abuse is more important than keeping a family together and provides funding for 270 additional child protection investigators.
In other laws aimed at children the state created a program to pay for the driver’s education classes of foster children in the hope that they can find a job more easily when they leave foster care. And the children of immigrants will receive in-state tuition at Florida’s Universities instead of having to pay the exorbitant out-of-state rate. Also, minors can no longer buy electronic cigarettes.

Florida’s government also cracked down on violent sexual predators and made it easier for veterans to go to college and find a job. There are now increased penalties for spiny lobster poachers, human traffickers and hit-and-run drivers.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Perception

It just doesn’t seem right.

That surely had to be the reaction of many Tallahassee Democrat readers when they saw the news that Gail Stansberry-Ziffer, the wife of City Commissioner Gil Ziffer, was nearing a $100,000 settlement with the city of Tallahassee after a fall on a sidewalk. That settlement was approved at Wednesday’s commission meeting.

There is no doubt that Ms. Stansberry-Ziffer suffered one heck of a fall on June 11, 2010, on a sidewalk in SouthWood.

She broke both her leg and her hip, had surgery and was hospitalized for three weeks. Friends saw the always energetic woman using a walker at first and, even months later, a cane. There was more surgery on her knee, and there were months of physical rehabilitation. And still there is pain, with her doctors recommending more surgery.

Her medical bills have totaled about $130,000 and would climb with further surgery, though her attorney acknowledged that health insurance covered most of that.

The city owns the sidewalk on which she fell, and city staff concluded that her fall was caused by a tree root — a hazard present on sidewalks throughout SouthWood and, indeed, throughout tree-filled Tallahassee. Since Stansberry-Ziffer’s fall, the city has started a program to monitor and repair such sidewalks.

The Tampa Tribune —Don’t snuff out cigar industry

Arbitrary U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules may extinguish Tampa’s last cigar factory.

The outrageous situation could easily be remedied if the FDA would simply adopt accurate language in its proposed regulations for e-cigarettes, flavored tobacco products marketed to children, and small cigars.

No one contests the need to regulate these products, which are often promoted to children. But the regulation should not apply to infrequently smoked “premium cigars.”

The FDA, to its credit, does recognize premium cigars merit an exception from the controls aimed at mass-produced products.

But its inaccurate definition of a premium cigar would snuff out small operations such as the J.C. Newman Cigar Co. in Ybor City while leaving larger manufacturers unscathed.

Newman’s is the last cigar factory in a town that once had 150.

The manufacturers of premium cigars — both large and small — should be left alone.

These cigars are essentially a luxury item that are smoked on special occasions. They pose little health threat.

But FDA’s proposal would exempt only hand-rolled cigars and only cigars that cost $10 or more — a definition that suits large companies with foreign operations employing hundreds of people but ignores the realities of Newman’s modest Tampa operation, which has 130 employees.

The Newman factory utilizes machines that date back to the 1930s, when Tampa was indeed the Cigar City.

But the Newman cigars still are very much a carefully crafted product, with workers laying the tobacco leaf wrapper onto the machine, which bunches and wraps each cigar.

Company President Eric Newman says, “We’re making cigars on machines made in the Great Depression … These are not mass produced.”

Some of Newman’s cigars cost less than $10, but they still are a premium product. There is no justification for FDA’s capricious price level.

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.