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A roundup of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers

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A roundup of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:

Tampa Bay Times — Less is better from the Florida Legislature

It’s not over until it’s over. But with any luck, the 2016 legislative session will be best remembered for the bad ideas state lawmakers are killing rather than for the good public policy they are approving. With two weeks left before the scheduled adjournment, let’s hope the dead are not miraculously brought back to life and that the trend continues.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, has killed several bills, including the National Rifle Association’s wrongheaded efforts to allow concealed weapons on college campuses and let 1.5 million gun owners with concealed weapons permits to openly carry their guns virtually anywhere. The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman also refused to hear legislation that allowed stronger action against illegal immigrants. This is not an ideal tactic, but it is in the legislative tradition and in line with the sensible values that seem lost in the gun-mad and xenophobic culture in the House.

An effort to make it more difficult for the public to hold the government accountable for failing to produce public records also appears dead. The Senate approved reasonable adjustments to legislation that would have eliminated the requirement that judges award legal fees in cases where governments illegally withhold public records. But the House appears unwilling to take up the issue at all — which is just fine to leave existing law in place.

The Senate has virtually killed a bill to allow fracking, the practice of blasting water and chemicals under ground in order to release trapped oil deposits. Imagine how chipping away at Florida’s brittle topography would harm the state’s drinking water supply. And the House sided with public safety and law enforcement by rejecting a measure that would have made self-defense claims virtually impossible to challenge in deadly “stand your ground” cases.

Bradenton Herald — Restoring fairness and common sense to the federal budget

With $19 trillion in national debt, is balancing the budget without raising taxes even possible anymore? You bet it is.

By reducing spending on the key drivers of the deficit and debt, and reprioritizing annual spending so it goes toward more important uses, The Heritage Foundation’s Blueprint for Balance turns deficits into surpluses. And it does this while cutting taxes by more than $1 trillion over the 10-year budget window.

Our blueprint shows Congress how to secure programs such as Medicare and Social Security for younger and future generations. It eliminates corporate welfare programs and cuts down on wasteful spending. And it devolves areas that are outside the proper scope of the federal government to the private, state or local level.

And yet the blueprint isn’t just about cutting the budget. It reprioritizes certain spending toward higher-value uses. Importantly, Heritage would make provisions to fully fund national defense capabilities to protect Americans and the nation’s allies from security threats. It would also expand on a successful school-choice program in the nation’s capital, so more low-income students may attend safer, higher-performing private schools of their choice.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Educate lawmakers on police shootings

In retrospect, it probably was unrealistic to believe the Florida Legislature would pass a bill this year mandating state police investigations of all officer-involved deaths — especially when key legislators aren’t even aware there’s a problem.

Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, is sponsoring SB 810, which would require that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate any time an officer’s use of force results in someone’s death. It’s a needed response to issues raised last year in The News-Journal’s series “Shots Fired,” which revealed that more than two-thirds of law agencies in the state investigate their own officers’ shootings of civilians (throughout Volusia County and Flagler counties, though, the FDLE is called in to investigate all such shootings). There aren’t even standards for compiling data.

Before “Shots Fired” attempted to quantify such incidents, no one had any idea how often police in Florida used deadly force.

Thompson’s bill (and its companion in the House, HB 933, sponsored by Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park) would give a more complete picture of the circumstances surrounding police use of force. Having an outside agency review all officer-involved deaths also would bolster public confidence in the integrity of the investigations.

The Florida Times-Union — Cheers to an unsung hero

Congratulations to Brian Tate of Communities in Schools of Jacksonville for winning a pretty cool national honor.

Tate, a longtime CIS site coordinator at Arlington Middle School, was recently named a 2016 “Unsung Hero” award winner by the national office of Communities in Schools.

Tate was one of just three site coordinators across the nation to receive the award, and he clearly deserves it. Tate works directly with academically at-risk youths at Arlington Middle. Last year, 99 percent of his 170 students passed their classes in reading and language arts.

Tate’s inspiring and selfless work is making a daily difference in the lives of so many young students.

Well done!

Florida Today – Your letter to editor didn’t run? This could be why …

If they ever film an episode of “Hoarders” based on journalists, I’ll be the one trapped by a pile of letters to the editor.

OK, at this point, it’s only a large drawerful of snail-mailed, handwritten missives, and a computer loaded with emailed ones.

But I keep them for weeks, even months, after they run — not because I am compelled to do so, but because very often, I hear from someone who swears their letter didn’t run and I want to be able to pull it out and shout “Ta-da!”

And I keep track of the comments received in letters, too:

No, we don’t run only left-leaning letters or right-leaning letters. We run the best of what we receive, provided they meet guidelines.

The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers

The bully was finally bullied back.

After months of spewing vitriol at his opponents and anyone else who disagrees with him, Donald Trump got a taste of his own medicine at Thursday’s Republican presidential debate.

But it remains to be seen if it’s too late to make a difference in upcoming primaries in states such as Florida, where Trump has a commanding lead in polls.

Jeer: Trump, whose hypocrisy and lack of substance were exposed in the debate.

The Lakeland Ledger — Simulated poverty highlights a real problem

The unexpected death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has triggered more than a hunt for the 113th person to sit on America’s highest court. Scalia’s passing also has sparked discussion of President Barack Obama’s legacy.

One inference, of course, is whether Obama can shape the future of the Supreme Court by somehow finding someone the Senate Republican majority can stomach. But talk of Obama’s legacy, as he completes his last year in office, will also contemplate the Affordable Care Act, the wars that he promised to end but really didn’t, the growth of the national debt and domestic spying by the federal government.

But here’s one more topic based on a number: 45.8 million.

That is how many Americans were on food stamps at the end of the fiscal year 2015, which concluded last Sept. 30.

Miami Herald — Good riddance to bad law, 10-20-Life

This year, criminal-justice reform has been high on the to-do list for state lawmakers. And it’s about time.

We commend Gov. Rick Scott for signing a bill that will bring a touch of humanity and common sense to the state’s courtrooms: The new law repeals Florida’s “10-20-Life” law — the guideline that now sets mandatory-minimum sentences for crimes involving guns.

On Wednesday, Gov. Scott signed Senate Bill 228 repealing the too-rigid sentencing mandate. It’s welcome recognition that the law removed judicial discretion in sentencing both hardcore offenders and young, more-naive offenders who might deserve a second chance.

A tip of the hat, too, goes to bill sponsors House Reps. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, and Neil Combee, R-Polk; and Sens. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, and Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park.

Orlando Sentinel — Advocate: Manatees still at risk

The future of one of Florida’s iconic species was in the spotlight Saturday in Orlando when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held a hearing on the agency’s proposal to “downlist” the West Indian manatee’s federal status from endangered to threatened. Threats to manatees include boat strikes, pollution and coastal development. The agency argues the manatee is no longer at risk of extinction. But a scientist with the Maitland-based Save the Manatee Club, Katie Tripp, outlined the club’s objections to the proposal in an email interview focusing on manatees in Florida. An excerpt follows. A longer version is at OrlandoSentinel.com/opinion. The deadline for submitting written comments to the agency is April 7.

Q: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say the manatee population has rebounded, and is no longer technically endangered. Why are they wrong?

A: Reclassification decisions are to be made in consideration of five factors listed in the Endangered Species Act. The first factor is, “The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range.” Given everything known about the current and anticipated status of habitat in Florida, the important work that has yet to be done to secure it, and the years of time this will take, it is clear that this is a real and significant threat that has not yet been sufficiently controlled. Even though the number of Florida manatees has grown since management efforts began, the habitat critical to their long-term survival faces increasing threats that are likely to worsen if Florida doesn’t change course with regard to natural resource protection.

Q: Doesn’t threatened status for manatees still provide almost the same protection as endangered status?

Ocala StarBanner — Unanimous juries in death sentences

Florida’s death penalty sentencing law is on track to get significantly better.

Just not good enough.

When the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 12 struck down Florida’s capital sentencing system because it gives juries too little weight, the Legislature was forced to amend the law in order for executions to resume in the state. Although the court’s ruling in Hurst v. Florida didn’t address the issue, bills in the House and Senate both seek to change the number of jurors required to agree on a death sentence.

It’s a long overdue overhaul. Florida is one of just three states, along with Alabama and Delaware, that do not require a jury be unanimous on recommending the death penalty. However, Florida stands alone in allowing a simple majority of jurors (seven) to issue a death sentence.

Pensacola News-Journal — Say no to ECUA tanks

How much was spent after Hurricane Ivan to shut down “Old Stinky” and build a new sewage treatment plant in Gonzalez? Millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars.

Not coincidentally, the resulting cleanup of the air quality in downtown Pensacola has led to amazing growth, from the Community Maritime Park to downtown Palafox, now one of America’s Great Downtown Streets. Can you imagine a Blue Wahoos game or a taco at Al Fresco with that pervasive stench still around?

Imagine the surprise of downtown and North and East Hill neighbors when ECUA bought the decrepit medical building at 1750 N. Palafox and launched a sneak plan to build two huge sewage storage tanks on the property, with no public notice, hearings or requests for city permits. The tanks will have to be equipped with vents which will surely emit noxious orders similar to “Old Stinky” when in use. Why spend hundreds of millions of dollars to move the Main Street plant and then decide to install these potentially stinky tanks at the northern gateway to downtown as well as the edge of Historic North Hill, a federally protected neighborhood. The zoning of C-3 is illegal as nuisance odors are prohibited.

The Palm Beach Post — If Obama wasn’t black before, he sure is now

Today’s column is for the benefit of one Dr. Benjamin Solomon Carson.

He shouldn’t need what follows, but obviously does. No other conclusion is possible after his interview with Politico a few days ago.

The subject was Barack Obama and what the Republican presidential contender sees as the inferior quality of the president’s blackness. “He’s an ‘African’ American,” Carson said. “He was, you know, raised white. I mean, like most Americans, I was proud that we broke the color barrier when he was elected, but … he didn’t grow up like I grew up…”

Carson, the son of a struggling single mother who raised him in Detroit, and sometimes relied on food stamps to do so, noted that Obama, by contrast, spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. “So, for him to claim that he identifies with the experience of black Americans, I think, is a bit of a stretch.”

Lord, have mercy.

The Panama City News-Herald — Confederate flag is not a symbol of hate

As an American, I really get bothered when my fellow Americans call for “banning” something. Many want to ban words, symbols, types of music, books, etc. Some people in this nation would love to ban everything that is “bad” for you. One such instance is the continuing call to ban the Confederate flag, which some want eliminated completely.

Some are saying the Confederate flag is a symbol for the enslavement of African-Americans. Some say the flag is meant to inspire hatred for whites and fear in blacks; to remind them of slavery. I frankly disagree with this assumption. The Confederate flag is not a symbol for slavery; it means something much more.

Granted, without slavery the agricultural economy of the Southern states would not have existed. Yes, slavery was a major part of the Confederacy and it played a major role in the economic functions of the rebellious states. However, the flag isn’t a symbol for slavery; it is a symbol to represent the South, the rebellion against the Union, and to pay respect to the many soldiers who gave their lives for the cause of the Confederacy. Their cause was not slavery. Their primary cause was to have an agricultural economy that would be overseen by the upper class of the South and not by the industrialists of the North.

In those times, prior to and subsequent to the Civil War, there was a distinct difference in the southern and northern economics. The North was becoming more industrialized, urbanized and developing into a region with metropolitan areas. The South was more of a farming-centric economy that functioned solely upon agricultural and unfortunately slave labor. The war was just as much about slavery as it was about which economic system, the industrial or the agricultural, would run the nation.

South Florida Sun Sentinel – More red flags at Broward Health

With so many moving parts, it remains difficult to diagnose exactly what’s happening at the North Broward Hospital District, which oversees the public hospital system known as Broward Health.

But amid the swirl of controversy about contracts and corruption, here’s our take on key factors that emerged this past week.

First, the good news: On a 4-3 vote, the board that oversees the system did the right thing by agreeing to hire an outside law firm to help it manage the state, federal and internal investigations that are underway. Deserved or not, a cloud hangs over the district’s legal department, which approved the contracts now in question, stands accused of obstructing a corruption investigation and has created some unease by sending representatives to employee interviews with investigators. It’s the board’s job to provide administrative oversight, not to be a rubber stamp. So kudos to board chairman David Di Pietro — as well as board members Darryl Wright, Maureen Canada and Joel Gustafson — for parting the clouds and giving taxpayers reason to believe any improprieties found will be addressed without fear or favor.

Red alert: Broward Health is bleeding red ink. Its revenues are down $29 million over last year. Its earnings are $5 million short of what’s needed to make a June 30 covenant to bond holders. Absent a turnaround in admissions and occupancy rates, it faces a financial cliff. Administrators are looking at salaries, expenses, job openings, collections and productivity. But board members need to zero in on the financials — pronto. That includes capital projects and top-line revenue growth. Meanwhile, taxpayers should be on guard because board member Christopher Ure made clear “we have the ability to increase our public support if we need to.” In other words, Ure is poised to push a tax increase.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Life-saving syringe access reforms must be passed

Harm reduction: What do you think when you hear these words? As a longtime social worker in Tallahassee, I’ve learned that every solution with the potential to promote public health and to mitigate harm should be considered.

Those of us in the mental health fields have learned that when we can engage an individual in forming realistic, individualized goals – keeping in mind that what is realistic for me may not be realistic for you – they will be more likely to comply with and benefit from the treatment plan. After all, helping people, families and communities stay safe needs to be at the forefront of any intervention.

We need to apply this common sense thinking when it comes to preventing HIV in Tallahassee and throughout Florida, which now leads the nation in new HIV cases.

The “Miami-Dade Infectious Disease Elimination Act” has been introduced in the Florida Legislature for the fourth year. SB 242, introduced by Sen. Oscar Braynon, and its companion bill, HB 81, sponsored by Rep. Katie Edwards, would create a pilot program in Miami-Dade County, run by the University of Miami, to establish sterile syringe exchanges. The bill would also make it no longer a crime to provide life-saving sterile syringes to people in Florida.

These types of programs have a decades-long track record of preventing the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. Critically, they also serve as an impetus for those struggling with substance abuse to seek other drug treatment options.

The Tampa Tribune — A reasonable Gandy solution

For decades, gridlock had transformed Gandy Boulevard into a blighted parking lot, one that wrecks the nerves of commuters and discourages commerce along the road that crosses Tampa Bay into Pinellas County.

Now, after years of considering different controversial solutions, the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority appears ready to build an elevated highway over Gandy. The project would extend the Selmon Expressway 1.6 miles from Dale Mabry Highway to the Gandy Bridge.

Residents and business owners along the road can’t be blamed for being worried about the road’s impact. But the alternative is continued hopeless congestion, a far greater threat to the neighborhood.

As the Tribune’s Elaine Silvestrini reports, the authority voted Monday to spend about $2.6 million on an updated design for the elevated road, projected to cost between $165 million to $190 million. It could be finished by 2020 if all goes smoothly.

As we said when the proposal was initially floated in 2009, the raised highway would be good for Gandy businesses as well as regional commerce. It would cut 15 minutes or more off the southern route from Hillsborough and Pinellas, which should benefit residents and businesses in both counties.

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.

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