A roundup of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Firm but flexible rules for painkillers
The federal government issued largely sensible guidelines last week for prescribing pain medication that are designed to prevent opioid overdoses and abuse. There is clearly a need for a national standard to help doctors better manage drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin, the abuse of which helped fuel a nationwide pill mill epidemic that resulted in drug addictions and deaths. Physicians should consult the new rules, but they ultimately should consider each patient individually to avoid unfairly restricting access to pain medication for people truly in need of relief.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new voluntary guidelines to aid clinicians as they seek to determine how to care for patients with chronic pain in outpatient settings. The guidelines do not apply to people receiving cancer treatment, palliative care or end-of-life care. The government’s 12 recommendations are aimed at adults with pain that lasts more than three months or past the time of normal tissue healing.
In its guidelines, the CDC encourages doctors to consider non-opioid therapy such as aspirin, physical therapy or psychological therapy before prescribing opioids, which can be highly addictive and have adverse side effects. When opioids are used, the CDC recommends that doctors prescribe the lowest effective dosage to minimize the potential for overdose and addiction. In many cases, a three-day supply of pain medications will be sufficient, the CDC said. A prescription lasting longer than seven days should be rare. The government also wants doctors to make sure the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks and to closely monitor patients for signs of abuse and opportunities to taper off prescriptions.
The guidelines come in the wake of a nationwide epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths. In 2012, health care providers wrote an astounding 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medications, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills, according to the CDC. From 1999 to 2014, more than 165,000 people died from an overdose related to opioid pain medication.
Bradenton Herald — Senators, do your job, act on Judge Merrick Garland
President Obama effectively took the issue of qualifications off the table when he picked Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. In any other year, Judge Garland’s nomination would be a sure-fire bet to win quick Senate approval.
Judge Garland is a sitting appeals court judge with a much admired record and a history of bipartisan support who has managed to win Senate approval for the bench while drawing virtually no criticism. Over the years, Republicans have praised his record and suitability for the bench.
Their support has been based on his undeniably formidable résumé: high-ranking Justice Department lawyer; supervisor of the prosecutorial teams that convicted Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing and the Unabomber; and a sterling record on the bench, with a reputation as a judicial moderate.
His current position is one of the most prominent on the federal bench: chief judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In short, he’s had an extraordinarily distinguished legal career, tailor-made for a seat on the nation’s highest judicial tribunal.
Daytona Beach News-Journal — Keep Florida in the Sunshine
Sunshine Week — a recognition of Floridians’ rights to keep tabs on their government — draws to a close today. And there should be a lot to celebrate. Florida was one of the first states to pass sweeping open-government legislation mandating access to government records and requiring that public business be accomplished openly. Meeting those mandates has become easier with the advent of electronic record storage and Internet access.
But every year, it seems Florida slips a little backward. Lawmakers have carved out more than 1,100 exemptions to open government laws, according to the First Amendment Foundation. Some of them are justified. Many are not. More are filed every legislative session; in the session that just ended, the foundation was tracking 74 new or extended exemptions, 22 of which passed. Fourteen of those were new exemptions.
Individually, most of them might seem innocuous. But as lawmakers chip away at access, year after year, they narrow the public’s right to keep tabs on their government. These changes might be an inconvenience to media agencies and those who do business with government, but they can be absolutely chilling to private citizens who don’t have the resources or training to fight City Hall.
Fortunately, open-government advocates won the biggest fight this year, when they succeeded in killing legislation that would have put people fighting for access to public records at risk of big legal bills.
Florida Times-Union — Cheers: GE Aviation volunteers do good deeds
Cheers to GE Aviation of Jacksonville and the United Way of Northeast Florida for teaming up — again — to volunteer.
More than 150 GE volunteers, working in tandem with the United Way, recently took part in 14 projects as part of the annual GE Community Days initiative.
The volunteer projects included:
Beautification work at Sandalwood High School, Ramon Elementary School and properties owned by the Clara White Mission.
Sorting food for distribution at Farm Share.
Performing repairs on the home of an elderly Nassau County resident.
It marked the sixth straight year that GE Aviation and the United Way have collaborated to carry out the GE Community Days event. Over that time, the partnership has completed more than 100 projects.
Florida Today – Legislature’s ‘education train’ kept on rolling
The Florida Legislature finished on time with the House and Senate working remarkably well together.
It agreed on an $82 billion budget that increased education funding by one percent. It returned $400 million in tax cuts, far short of the $1 billion Gov. Rick Scott wanted. It denied Gov. Scott his $250 million request for incentive funding to offer corporations to lure them to Florida. And it still failed to fund Amendment One in the way 75 percent of voters demanded.
Controversial bills on social issues received a lot of media attention and social media buzz. The bills on abortion, alimony, cohabitation, medical marijuana, death penalties and pastor protection all passed.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, eyeing a run for agriculture commissioner, secured passage of his priority – an agriculture-friendly water policy bill. Senate President Andy Gardiner was finally able to achieve his goal of expanding scholarships for disabled students and job opportunities for workers with disabilities.
Gun-related bills on open carry and campus-carry passed in the House but got held up in the Senate. A computer coding bill that would have allowed coding classes to count toward foreign language requirements went nowhere in the House. Mandatory recess, film incentives, Uber regulations and the red-light camera repeal all came up short.
Gainesville Sun – Vets charity must restore trust
Our nation can certainly talk the talk about honoring military veterans and the sacrifices they have made in defense of our nation. But walk the walk? Well, not so much.
While our collective hearts might be in the right place, we sometimes fail to actually do that to a significant and shameful degree. Last week we got another look at scandalous behavior from so-called advocates for veterans.
The board of the Jacksonville-based Wounded Warrior Project opted to fire Chief Executive Officer Steven Nardizzi and Chief Operating Officer Al Giordano after reviewing the pair’s lavish spending habits.
Initially founded in 2003 by John Melia, a former Marine helicopter pilot who was injured in Somalia in 1992, the Wounded Warrior Project sought to boost morale of combat-injured troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. The charity provided backpacks filled with items like sweatsuits, underwear, toiletries, CDs and playing cards to troops returning from the Middle East. The Wounded Warrior Project certainly had an impact. But it wasn’t until Nardizzi took over from Melia in 2010 that the group took off.
Lakeland Ledger — Lakeland gator should stay
Florida has been the place where weird and wild animals have made their home — and not necessarily by choice. Sometimes people want them for pets, and their folly, when it ends, creates havoc for the rest of us.
The Everglades, for instance, is almost overrun by Burmese pythons that were dumped by owners because they became too much to handle, literally. So plagued by the serpents was South Florida that state game officials instituted a hunting season three years ago. The most recent season, conducted last month, ended with 106 certified kills.
This week the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offered a new wrinkle in its battle against the lionfish. The dreaded glutton that’s consuming fish populations in Florida waters is native to the western Pacific Ocean, yet became a pest here decades ago after aquarium owners dumped them in the Atlantic. It survived against the odds and is now a major nuisance. To thin the population, state officials are promoting a contest to catch the biggest one.
Last month the Miami New Times reported that the FWC has handled nearly 300 calls for escaped exotic animals over the past decade — monkeys and chimps, poisonous snakes (who could forget about the 5-foot-long king cobra that was found behind a clothes dryer in an Ocoee neighborhood last fall after a month on the loose?), South American lizards and rodents, even an elephant.
A concrete plan for a new Miami Beach Convention Center headquarter hotel, approved on Tuesday by a majority of voters, but not the 60 percent needed to proceed, may not be road kill after all.
A day after its defeat at the polls, Miami Beach commissioners voted to direct city administrators to come back in April with a new, third plan to place on November’s presidential ballot, where thousands more voters obviously will cast ballots, with far more voices weighing in.
Now, all that’s needed is a plan to replace the proposed 800-room, 288-foot-high hotel across the street from City Hall, on leased public land and privately financed by developer Portman Holdings. Although the Editorial Board supported the plan, it did give credence to opponents’ complaints about some of the overreaching promises made.
Some concerned residents took issue mainly with the ill-conceived main entrance and height of the hotel in mid-Miami Beach and exactly when and how the city would reap the $24 million promised.
Orlando Sentinel — Give nod to new airport terminal
Today, a day after the Florida presidential primary, a significant vote of a different kind looms — at least for Central Florida. Members of the authority that oversees Orlando International Airport are scheduled to decide whether to go ahead and budget for a new south terminal, a project on the drawing board since this year’s Democratic front-runner for the White House, Hillary Clinton, was first lady.
OIA is likely in May to cross the threshold for passenger volume that the authority established last year to trigger the $1.8 billion project. It’s high time to move forward, despite self-serving objections from the airlines.
In 2015, a record 38.8 million passengers went through OIA, and the airport is on pace to handle 41 million this year. The total for 2015 included a 7.4 percent increase in domestic passengers, and a more dramatic 17.6 percent jump in international passengers.
The airport’s north terminal was originally designed to accommodate 24 million passengers a year. While improvements have expanded its capacity, OIA officials have warned that the north terminal could become gridlocked when it reaches 45 million passengers. For an area whose economy depends on attracting visitors, the prospect of passengers backing up at airline curbs, security checkpoints or luggage carousels is ominous.
Ocala StarBanner —Court nominee deserves hearing
With his choice of a nominee to the Supreme Court on Wednesday, President Obama gave Republican senators a golden opportunity to act in solidarity with the American people — a majority of whom want Washington to get over itself and move forward with filling the vacancy on the bench.
Obama nominated Merrick B. Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. A former prosecutor with the Justice Department, Garland was appointed to the appeals court by President Clinton in the 1990s, enduring a lengthy Senate approval process.
He is so well qualified that no less an authority than GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch commended him. Even so, today’s Republican leadership is locked in obstruction mode.
A nominee can’t join the high court without the consent of the Senate, which is under Republican control. Top senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, continue to insist that the nomination should be left up to the next president — not Obama.
Pensacola News-Journal — Don’t block Garland vote
Poor Merrick Garland. By virtually all accounts a remarkably well-qualified federal judge, Garland has the dubious distinction of being President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court at a time when the Republican leader of the Senate promises he’ll never allow confirmation hearings or a vote on any Obama pick, no matter who it is. Many GOP senators, in fact, say they won’t even give Garland the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting when he makes the rounds on Capitol Hill.
So when Garland stood in the White House Rose Garden on Wednesday to accept what he called the greatest honor in his life, that was probably the high point of the process. Instantly, he became a symbol of the dysfunction and partisan rancor that has degraded Congress and helped create some of the ugliest election-year rhetoric in modern memory.
Last month’s death of Justice Antonin Scalia, long the anchor of the court’s conservative wing, gave Obama the chance to appoint a justice who could change the ideological balance of the court for years. So the stakes are even higher than usual. On the day Scalia’s death was disclosed, top Senate Republicans promised to block any confirmation vote on an Obama nominee and run out the clock in hopes a GOP president could pick the new justice next year. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his allies disingenuously insist they’re simply letting voters have a say.
Palm Beach Post — Good deal? Counties get short end of juvie detention costs
They did it on the cheap — at the expense of the counties they had been stiffing over juvenile detention costs — but Florida lawmakers finally ended a decade of dispute last week by approving a 50-50 split of juvenile detention costs between the state and 38 counties.
The resolution whistles past the power play lawmakers pulled, however, by avoiding the overcharges that had 22 of the counties in court seeking more than $100 million the courts agreed the counties were owed — including an estimated $9 million in Palm Beach County.
Gov. Rick Scott’s office says he will sign SB 1322, which largely resolves the problem created in 2004 when the cost-dodging Legislature required counties to finance the detention of juveniles awaiting court disposition of their cases, with the state paying for post-disposition detention.
That’s when the counties became the primary revenue source for the state Department of Juvenile Justice’s (DJJ) juvenile detention facilities. With DJJ soon conveniently over-calculating the counties’ share at 75 percent with no statutory basis, and billing in advance for estimated costs, legal challenges naturally followed.
Panama City News-Herald — Obamacare’s tax-time torment
“Where is my 1095-A? This is what it must be like dealing with a government agency in a third world country.”
That was the lament on Twitter of just one poor citizen this week trying to get his tax records in order. Nationwide, hard-working Americans are struggling to meet the April 18 IRS filing deadline. Standing in the way: the bumbling Obamacare bureaucracy.
In Minnesota, an estimated 18,000 people who were on health insurance plans last year offered through MNsure, the state Obamacare health insurance exchange, still haven’t received their 1095-A form. It’s the “health insurance marketplace statement” required to file accurate tax returns and claim the premium tax credit.
Twin Cities officials blame “technical bugs” and promise they’ll be sending more of the documents out next week. But it’s small consolation to farmers in Minnesota who were required to file their taxes by March 1.
South Florida Sun Sentinel – Mr. Castro, tear down these flagpoles
Across the street from the U.S. Embassy in Havana is a forest of steel flagpoles now bare like trees in winter. The poles sprouted in 2006, after the Bush administration put an electronic billboard on the building to send ticker-style messages to the Cuban people. To block the ticker’s view, Cuba erected the giant poles and began flying about 150 big black flags. Such was the state of dialogue between our nations.
Three years later, the Obama administration turned off the ticker, and in December 2014, announced it would reach the Cuban people not only in a new way, but with a new message. No longer does America seek “regime change” in Cuba. No longer do we want to overthrow or destabilize the government. No longer do we want to patronize the Cuban people by telling them what to think.
As a result, when President Obama this week becomes the first American president to visit Cuba in 88 years, there’ll be no peeking between the flag poles. His aspirational speech to the Cuban people is expected to be televised live across the island.
Emotions about the president’s historic trip run strong in South Florida, home to so many exiles who bear the scars of the 1959 communist revolution. Remember that to flee the Castro dictatorship, a generation of people abandoned their homes and businesses, and suffered the pain of never seeing their family members again. Some also died along the way, while others have died in exile.
Tallahassee Democrat – Prescription drug prices outrageous
While there is little consensus on solutions to our nation’s health care challenges, most agree there is plenty of room for improvement. One of the most unsettling aspects of our health care system is the outrageous inflation of prescription medications. Recently, this problem has been highlighted by Martin Shkreli, the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who bought the rights to the drug Daraprim, and raised the price by 50 times, to the astronomical price of $750 a pill.
Sadly this is not just the case of one bad actor. Another example is drug manufacturer Pfizer, which in 2016 alone has raised prices on more than 100 of their prescription drugs, including those used to treat symptoms of menopause or combat seizures. Some of the prices of those drugs went up by more than 20 percent! And no, Pfizer didn’t decrease the costs of any of their drugs.
Like many Americans, I was shocked at the epidemic of unconscionable price gouging by drug manufacturers, which was revealed during Congressional testimony. I’m glad Congress decided to expose these greedy companies, but thankfully it’s not just Congress who is taking a look at what drug companies are doing. Presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle have spoken out on the issue. For example, Florida’s own Sen. Marco Rubio mentioned that drug companies raise prices because they know they can. And state legislatures across the country, both Republican and Democrat, are investigating these unethical decisions made by drug companies.
For me, this issue hits close to home. Not only am I a Certified Nursing Assistant and a student actively pursuing her nursing degree, I have first-hand experience on what prescription drugs can cost. My mother is a public school teacher who recently had cataract surgery. To prepare for her surgery, she paid $200 for two sets of prescription eye drops. Without insurance, she would have paid 10 times as much – equivalent to a whole month’s paycheck.
Tampa Tribune — A dangerous gamble in North Korea
The surprise isn’t so much that the ever-outrageous North Koreans would sentence a 21-year-old American college student to 15 years at hard labor for a silly prank but that so many people from this country appear willing to risk similar irrational persecution by traveling to that rogue nation.
Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, stole a propaganda poster from his hotel. After he was caught, he apologized, but neither the apology nor his tears impressed the irrational North Korean court system, which appears to serve as an unofficial propaganda ministry for the country.
In Washington, the State Department strongly recommends against all travel to North Korea because of “the risk of arrest and long-term detention” at the hands of the host government’s “inconsistent application of its criminal laws.”
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that it was “increasingly clear that the North Korean government intends to use these citizens as pawns” and that Warmbier’s arrest shows that it is hazardous to visit North Korea.
The government has called on North Korea to pardon Warmbier and let him come home.