A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Get to bottom of VA delays in care
The Department of Veterans Affairs should move quickly to restore public confidence in the wake of disturbing reports that patients have died because of delays in getting treatment at the nation’s veterans hospitals. The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs did the right thing last week by sending a strong message to Secretary Eric Shinseki that the bureaucracy has long been immovable and that he has not shown the urgency in airing the facts that this situation demands. While the calls for President Barack Obama to fire him are premature, the coming weeks will show whether Shinseki is best suited to clean up this mess.
The House committee voted unanimously Thursday to subpoena all emails and other correspondence between top VA officials related to a waiting list at the agency’s Phoenix medical center, where up to 40 patients reportedly died awaiting medical treatment. It shouldn’t take a subpoena to get VA officials to be candid and open about how they do their jobs. The committee wants to know whether there was an effort by the VA to falsify its performance in treating patients in a timely manner. Earlier this month, Shinseki placed three officials at the Phoenix facility on leave, and on Thursday the VA announced it would undertake a national audit to ensure that patients had adequate access to care.
These steps are helpful, but it will take follow-through by the administration and Congress to get an accurate picture of the quality of a health care system that treats 6.5 million veterans in nearly 1,300 medical facilities. Phoenix is not the only problem; similar allegations about patient backlogs have been leveled at VA medical centers in Georgia, South Carolina and Colorado. None of the reported deaths have occurred in the Tampa Bay area.
Florida Republican Rep. Jeff Miller, who chairs the House committee, has not joined the calls by the American Legion and some in Congress for Shinseki to be replaced. Now’s the time for action, not distraction; the focus should be on examining how the VA handled its caseload and whether records were falsified or destroyed to cover up persistent management problems.
The Bradenton Herald — A bright future for Manatee County’s soaring tourism trade
Manatee County continues a years-long upward trajectory in tourism, setting a new record high for 2013. That’s not too surprising considering all the new attractions and events popping up around the county — with more to come.
The Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau celebrated National Tourism Week on Wednesday by announcing very good economic news. Some 2.8 million visitors came to Manatee County last year, an increase of 1.5 percent over 2012.
That figure translates into an economic impact of $909 million, up 7.6 percent over 2012, with tourism job growth, too.
Those visitors spent $403 million at Manatee hotels and resorts, an increase of 10.6 percent. That revenue is buoyed by the fact that visitors are staying here longer, on average 7.2 nights versus the statewide mark of about four nights.
This is a boon to the county fund dedicated to tourism development, the so-called bed tax paid on resort and vacation home stays of less than six months. By state law, that money can only be spent on that goal.
The county raked in $8.7 million during the 2012-2013, figures from the Manatee County Tax Collector show. This fiscal year looks even more stellar with double-digit percentage increases in resort tax collections every month from October through March over the previous period.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Inexcusable delay on springs
For decades, Florida’s unofficial policy toward its troubled springs has embodied one word: Wait.
Wait — for the state to start measuring the levels of pollution and unhealthy nutrients in the once-pure spring flows.
Wait — for environmental officials to set minimum flow rates for springs, and craft rules to restore the most troubled.
Wait — for state and local leaders to establish common-sense protections that acknowledge springs’ crucial role in Florida’s overall hydrological welfare. Springs are the focal point of many of the state’s most popular parks — such as Volusia County’s own Blue Spring and DeLeon Springs — but the considerable economic benefit provided by those attractions pales next to springs’ real significance as a crucial harbinger of the health of the huge underground aquifer that provides the state’s drinking water.
Before this year’s legislative session, Gov. Rick Scott acknowledged as much, asking lawmakers for $55 million in increased spring-protection funding. And early in the session, key senators said they’d like to get started on measures to clean up already-polluted springs and restrict the damage that’s being done across the state.
But those efforts — cold-shouldered in the House — trickled down to one word.
The Florida Times-Union — Ron Littlepage: Mayoral race won’t lack for candidates
Mousing around the news of the day … click.
Another name has entered the mayoral race speculation game.
Jim Bailey, publisher of the Financial News & Daily Record, has told at least one politico that he’s “110 percent” certain that he is going to challenge Mayor Alvin Brown’s re-election bid.
Bailey, who serves as a member of the Downtown Investment Authority, filed to run for mayor in 2011 but dropped out of the race before the election.
Republican heavyweights had been hoping to have only one Republican challenger to Brown, a Democrat, to avoid repeating the nastiness that damaged Republican candidates in 2011.
Some of the party’s big money donors have decided that chosen candidate should be Lenny Curry, who recently resigned as chair of the state Republican Party and said he was considering a mayoral bid.
You can throw that one Republican candidate scenario out the window.
City Councilman Bill Bishop, a Republican, is already in the race, and Bailey, also a Republican, would be joining him.
And I wouldn’t be surprised if others are giving the race serious thought.
The Gainesville Sun – Homeless challenges
All those who helped establish a one-stop homeless center deserve credit now it has finally opened, but the real work has just started.
The center, located at a former prison on Northeast 39th Avenue, opened Monday with just bare-bones services. The homeless have access to drinking water, restrooms and free bus passes to help them get to the center.
The last item shows one of the major problems facing the center. Its location avoids the NIMBYism that kept past sites from being established, but it is isolated from the downtown plaza where homeless individuals now congregate and sleep.
There will be other obstacles to getting the homeless from downtown and tent encampments to the new center. As homeless advocate Arupa Freeman wrote in an April 28 column in The Sun, a culture of mistrust between local officials and the homeless as well as inadequate funding and staff for the center also pose challenges.
Due to delays getting insurance, the center likely won’t start offering meals until June 1. Teresa Lowe, director of the coalition running the center, said the group is still seeking charities and church groups to provide the prepared meals being served before a group is hired to run the kitchen.
The Lakeland Ledger — Self-Defense: Time For A Gun
Throughout the 237 years since the United States’ Declaration of Independence, a gun has been a part of day-to-day life for many.
Farmers and ranchers long have kept a gun ready to protect their farmyard animals or herds from predatory wild animals, and to hunt. If personal protection was needed, one’s gun could be put to that use as well.
Luis A. Pena., 27, of Winter Haven found no other way to protect himself and his family members than his gun April 7. An aggressive intruder broke into their house and charged toward him “with his hands out like a bear.” Pena shot and killed Mitchell Glenn Large, 40, of Winter Haven with his handgun.
Self-sufficiency — and self-defense, including with a gun — is a respected way of life in the United States. Indeed, the right of gun ownership is recognized in the nation’s most important governmental document, the Constitution.
The Miami Herald — Remember the goal
In bad soccer, players are unable to control the ball properly, and the match degenerates into a tiresome succession of bruising tackling battles to possess a 50-50 ball — anyone’s ball. The current debate over where to locate a Major League Soccer stadium in Miami threatens to turn into something similar.
That shouldn’t happen, so let’s clear the air.
First, Miami and soccer are a perfect match. As retired soccer great David Beckham told the Miami Herald Editorial Board in a meeting last week, MLS has had to make the case in other cities that it could indeed be a success. In Miami, he said, the question is not “why” MLS would choose Miami, but “where” the arena would be.
That goes to the heart of the issue. Three sites are in play, and one of them, near the ballpark in Little Havana, has been all but ruled out by Mr. Beckham’s team. “Spiritually tainted,” said Simon Fuller, Mr. Beckham’s business partner. An apt phrase, given the continuing heartburn over the Marlins’ costly deal — costly, at least, for the Miami and Miami-Dade County.
Further, he said, the ballpark’s footprint would make the smaller soccer stadium look insignificant, transportation is a problem and opportunities for development that would make the location more enticing for fans are scant.
The Orlando Sentinel — Hate Congress? Too bad. You have very few choices
Are you a Republican who is sick of Democrats Alan Grayson and Corrine Brown?
Well, tough toenails. They’re both getting re-elected.
Are you a Democrat who’s sick of Republicans John Mica or Daniel Webster?
Well, boohoo. Neither is going anywhere.
That’s not me talking. That’s The Washington Post — which ran a statistical analysis that concluded the odds of any local congressional seats changing parties were about 3 percent.
Horses with those kind of odds don’t always finish the race.
It’s like betting on the Jamaican bobsled team … in the Summer Olympics.
Most pundits and analysts say the same thing: Orlando-area incumbents are going to coast to re-election.
Why? Well, money plays a big part. Incumbents are flush with it.
Voter apathy and media indifference also play a role.
But the biggest reason incumbents so often cruise to easy re-election is gerrymandering — meaning the politicians slice, dice and stack the districts to get predetermined results.
See, the state is pretty politically diverse. The districts are not.
The Ocala StarBanner — Springs failure
Before the 2014 legislative session started, there was bold talk of finally passing legislation that would begin in earnest the long, slow process of saving Florida’s spectacular but damaged springs. In the end, however, the Legislature couldn’t even pass a watered-down springs bill.
The state Senate unanimously passed the bill, but the House failed to even discuss it before the legislative session ended last week.
That said, environmental advocates should temper their disappointment. The Senate bill that was voted on was a shell of the original proposal, which would have created protection zones around the state’s most significant springs and dedicated about $365 million a year from an existing real-estate tax to projects to reduce pollution in those areas.
The measure was gutted as the session progressed. Regulatory measures were delayed years or even decades. The recurring funding was removed, replaced with one-time money that was whittled down to $30 million.
Keep in mind that this happened at a time when the state has a more than a $1 billion surplus. Lawmakers made a big show of cutting fees to save automobile owners a grand total of about $25 per vehicle, but failed to protect our springs and by extension the drinking water supply.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Please consider helping our neighbors
A college student home for the weekend. A retired couple with time on their hands. People out of work. A man who works part-time at night but wants to help a few hours during the day. A man who used two vacation days from work to volunteer.
They are the face of volunteers helping our neighborhoods recover from the April 29 flood and its aftermath. We appreciate their work handing out cleaning kits, water and other supplies. Their commitment to community is inspiring.
But they can’t do it alone. If you were lucky enough to not be affected by the flood directly or indirectly, please consider helping, if only for a few hours.
LaDonna Spivey, volunteer coordinator with the local chapter of the Red Cross, said the volunteers truly represent Northwest Florida.
“We have had a fabulous turnout from the community: All races and ages. You name it,” she said last week as the two-county area braced for more rain.
Within the first three days after flooding began, 50 people showed up to volunteer.
“They just walked in and said ‘Put me to work,'” Spivey recalled.
A week into the flood, there were 10 Red Cross volunteers from Okaloosa and Walton counties and 80 from outside Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties. Some of those were from other states. It speaks well of their commitment. That community spirit should be shared by each of us.
The Palm Beach Post — Don’t veto state money for new community college campus
Amid uncertainty, Palm Beach State College is moving ahead with a much-needed new campus in Loxahatchee Groves. The land has been bought, approvals from the town given, and despite a lawsuit and opposition from some nearby residents, engineers are drawing up plans and preparing to install roads and pipes.
Meanwhile, a giant question mark looms in Tallahassee.
The Panama City News-Herald — Sound decisions and furious weather
Florida weather often requires sunscreen and an umbrella on the same day.
Everyone who lives in The Panhandle long enough has a story about being caught in a downpour without an umbrella and a story about laughing as some work themselves into a frenzy over predictions of a dangerous monster squall that turned into a mouse.
If you have ever been surprised by the weather imagine what it must be like for a school superintendent.
Their decisions before, during or after a weather event affect hundreds of people and are scrutinized by parents, employees, members of the media and people who just plain like to scrutinize.
Just like every Floridian has a story about the weather every superintendent has a story about the time they closed school because of a serious weather report only to wake up the next morning to clear skies and the sarcastic chirping of mockingbirds and scrutinizers.
However, if you want to enjoy the sunshine that comes from being the superintendent you have to put up with stormy days like the one facing the region last week.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Promoting healthy babies
Throughout April, the Tallahassee Democrat in print and online brought to this community stories capturing the hope, anxiety and despair of families struggling to raise healthy babies. The reports took you from South City, which has the largest population of at-risk births in the county, to mothers who delivered premature babies only to see them now living a healthy life.
But the many stories we have reported over the last five years can’t possibly address all of the factors and incidents that involve infant deaths in Leon County, nor can they solve all of the issues such as lack of access to pre- and post-natal health care. What these stories can do is educate this community about a very important problem with which we continue to struggle, and highlight examples of the progress that is being made through the dedication of support agencies, the medical field and concerned residents such as Elder E.L. Franklin, all of whom are stepping up to find solutions and give mothers a better chance of having a successful birth and raising healthy babies.
But it doesn’t stop there. This issue must be recognized and embraced by this entire community to make sure that, in Leon County, every child is given a fighting chance. The burden doesn’t fall on women alone. Men must step up and be the best role models they can be for their children. That starts with the relationship between the man and the woman before a child is born.
The Tampa Tribune — A major red flag on proposed toll road
The Florida Department of Transportation is correctly casting doubt about the viability of a private consortium’s proposal to build an elevated toll road across south Pasco County for a simple reason: The project isn’t what it was cracked up to be.
Consortium principals have touted that the project would be privately built, privately operated and privately maintained — that public money would be not needed. But as the Tribune’s Laura Kinsler reported this week, Secretary Ananth Prasad said he discovered during a recent meeting that the group would, indeed, need public money, leading him to say the project as submitted may not be doable.
Prasad left a bit of wiggle room by not flatly rejecting the proposal; he plans to revisit the matter with the principals soon. But the final decision should be easy if the circumstances don’t change. No public money should be used.
It was the developers who solicited the state, saying they could build, operate and maintain the elevated facility without public subsidies, and they should be held to that. And taxpayers need to be protected.
Of course, if it turns out public money won’t be needed, that doesn’t mean the consortium should be given the green light. There are major questions about the need, long-term feasibility, the impact to neighborhoods and the proposed length of the project — 33 miles, linking U.S. 19 and U.S. 301.