Round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers

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Tampa Bay Times – Filling a gap in children’s health care 

In typical Tallahassee fashion, money is trumping children’s health care in a fight over a House bill that would close a gap in the state’s medical safety net. The bill, HB 689, would provide a health insurance bridge for children through a government-funded program when a parent loses coverage due to a job loss or doesn’t have insurance for other reasons. Providing this peace of mind to Florida families wouldn’t cost much — the highest estimate is $15 million annually — but the price tag appears to be stalling the bill’s progress. 

Florida KidCare includes a range of low-cost children’s health insurance programs that are funded through a federal-state partnership. Children up to 19 years old can qualify for government-subsidized health care coverage of one form or another if their families make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line. But due to the lag time it takes to determine a family’s KidCare eligibility, which usually occurs within 45 days, there can be a dangerous gap for uninsured children in medical need. 

The Bradenton HeraldA solid start for new Manatee County schools superintendent 

Upon being sworn in as superintendent of Manatee County schools on March 20, Rick Mills made a telling declaration about the state of the district: “We have serious challenges to face and should be further along than we are.”

The second half of that statement highlights the urgency of the district’s now seven-month struggle to come to grips with a budget catastrophe. But Mills is also rightly focused on raising student achievement, given Manatee’s poor standing at 47th among Florida’s 67 districts.

The school board and superintendent must move quickly on solving the budget mess, left in ruins after former superintendent Tim McGonegal disclosed last September that the district had failed to account for some teacher salaries, book purchases and other expenditures. Upon announcing the resulting $3.4 million deficit, he resigned.

Daytona Beach News-JournalFlorida students need relief from rising college costs

Gov. Rick Scott stands with students and their families in a battle with the leader of the Florida House over a proposed 6 percent increase in tuition for the state’s colleges and universities.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel, has been sparring with Scott over a House plan to hike tuition. Scott wants to make college more affordable. Weatherford wants to push more money into college and university coffers, continuing a long-term inflationary trend in higher education.

The Lakeland LedgerCampaign Issues – City Commission Seat 4: Find Best Solution for Landings

Five candidates are campaigning heavily for one seat in Tuesday’s special election for the Winter Haven City Commission.

One issue is driving the campaigns: The Landings.

Seat 4 is up for election because Commissioner Jamie Beckett resigned Dec. 12 to take a job with a Winter Haven flight school. Had he stayed, the job could have created a conflict of interest.

To win the race Tuesday, one candidate will need to garner more than 50 percent of the vote. If no candidate does, the top two finishers will meet in a runoff election May 7.

The Miami HeraldLet freedom tweet

If symbols matter, then surely Yoani Sánchez won the hearts of Cuban exiles everywhere when she rushed from Miami International Airport straight to the Virgin of Charity Shrine so dear to so many on both sides of the Straits of Florida.

There she sat on the sea wall on Thursday afternoon outside the Coconut Grove shrine to Cuba’s patron saint, while visiting with Catholic Archbishop Thomas Wenski. “Miami’s Malecon,” she called the wall — capturing exactly the yearning that Cuba’s first exiles experienced in the 1960s when they decided to pool their pennies to build the shrine overlooking Biscayne Bay, a view that many likened to Havana Bay and its famous sea wall. 

Orlando SentinelMake consumer-friendly deal to collect online tax

Florida may have lost billions of dollars in government revenue in recent years from unpaid sales taxes on Internet purchases — money that could have spared education, health care and other public services from deep spending cuts.

Finally, lawmakers look ready to close the loophole that allows online retailers to sell products to Floridians without charging sales taxes. This quirk in the tax code gives out-of-state companies like Amazon a pricing advantage of at least a 6 percent over brick-and-mortar retailers in Florida, who are legally bound to impose the tax.

These traditional retailers employ Floridians and invest in their communities. They deserve to be treated fairly.

The Tampa TribunePut state’s retirement risk on workers, not taxpayers

There are a lot of conflicting claims about Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford’s plan to phase out the pension for state workers.

But if you want to know what would benefit taxpayers, you need only consider that most American businesses have done exactly what Weatherford proposes: move from a pension to a 401(k)-style retirement system.

Eliminating the obligation to pay a defined lifetime retirement benefit, regardless of how the market performs, reduces risks and costs.

Jacksonville Times UnionFrank Denton: Ripple effect of good journalism

Occasionally, when someone gets mad at us, they’ll say they’re using the Times-Union to line their parrot cage, or as fish-wrapper. Around our building we use leftover copies of the paper to soak up basement puddles after heavy rains.

Whatever happens to the physical newspaper, or the ephemeral pixels on your Jacksonville.com screen, the journalism endures.

When we publish watchdog reporting or investigations, you know things tend to happen — bills are filed, programs are developed, investigations are launched, systems are changed, and people are fired or resign and sometimes go to jail. You see the headlines.

The Ocala Star BannerWrong way on election reform

In the past, Florida required absentee voters to include a witness’ signature and address on the envelope. But the requirement — which made it harder to vote but did little to prevent fraud — was eliminated in 2004.

Now, a measure moving through state Senate committees (CS SB 600) would reinstate the witness-signature requirement.

The proposed change smacks of legislative ping-pong, confusing voters and likely increasing the number of invalid ballots.

The Palm Beach PostFlorida should not require mental health screenings in schools

Side-by-side stories on The Post’s front page last Sunday presented the stark mental health dilemma for public schools. Sonja Isger reported that advocates are pressing for universal mental health screening of children to catch problems early. Allison Ross reported that students sent to mental hospitals for out-of-control behavior often don’t get the follow-up help they need. 

How cruel is it to identify children who need mental health resources that are unavailable or in critically short supply? Then again, how cruel is it to not even try to gauge the need? Florida should be building its mental health “infrastructure,” but as The Post’s Dara Kam reported March 10, Gov. Scott and the Legislature are unlikely to significantly increase spending on mental health.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.