Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

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 — Florida needs better ways to clean polluted water

January’s record rains sent the water level in Lake Okeechobee skyrocketing, forcing the Army Corps of Engineers to open the floodgates, sending billions of gallons of dirty water down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and wreaking environmental damage on both Florida coasts. But as the Tampa Bay Times’ Leonora LaPeter Anton and Craig Pittman explained in an exhaustive account this month, the problem is not a freak of nature but a reality decades in the making. And without an ambitious solution, there is no way to stop it from happening again.

The winter rains this year expose how history, Florida’s agricultural economy and the state’s rapid growth combine in an explosive environmental mix in South Florida’s Everglades basin. When rains push Lake Okeechobee toward its peak, the government sends water into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee. State water managers also have pumped water back into the lake during periods of heavy rain to protect farming communities south of the lake from flooding. Earlier this year, during South Florida’s wettest January since record-keeping began in 1932, water was pumped back into the lake for four days straight.

These actions by the state and corps protect millions of people south and east of the lake — but they also send billions of gallons of tainted water to estuaries on the coasts. As the water snakes its way past miles of farmland, businesses and residential development, it collects more pollution. Add to that the runoff from subdivisions and cattle ranches north of the lake. The end result is a tide of dirty water that kills sea life and damages tourism and property values from Fort Myers to Port St. Lucie.

Florida needs a more effective and efficient way to clean the polluted water, restore the state’s natural southerly flow and make more water available for public use instead of herding it to the sea. Gov. Rick Scott and the South Florida Water Management District rejected a solid idea — a plan crafted by former Gov. Charlie Crist to buy nearly 47,000 acres in the Everglades from U.S. Sugar Corp. That could have helped to move the water south and put a timetable on curbing farming in the basin.

Bradenton Herald — Ware’s Creek flood-control project near finish line. Really

The monumental nuisance still frustrates some residents living along Ware’s Creek — those few remaining who must endure the final work on the $57.8 million flood mitigation project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ problem-plagued project should be complete in less than a month.

Given the time span of this project, “should” would be the operative word in the previous sentence. At a time of unbounded optimism, this final phase had been expected to be finished in May 2014. Almost two years later, here we are. Hope springs eternal.

The idea of cleaning up the formerly mud- and debris-clogged waterway dates back decades. The all-too-numerous delays underscore the absolute frustration over this monumental undertaking. Once local officials agreed to pursue the project, securing federal funding took years.

The most bizarre tale during the project: Who can forget the pig carcasses dumped into the creek, attracting a horde of vultures? After butchering some wild hogs for a 2012 holiday barbecue, the remains of about eight or so got tossed into the water. Ick. The foolish culprit fessed up and cleaned up what was left.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal —Another crisis for Indian River Lagoon          

“They’re ba-aack.” It’s a famous line from a scary movie that appropriately describes the horror going on in the Indian River Lagoon system — and provides an urgent reminder of the comprehensive efforts required to save a fragile ecosystem.

The same species of algae that plagued the lagoon in 2011 and 2012, causing massive blooms that killed more than 47,000 acres of sea grass and was blamed for the deaths of hundreds of dolphins, manatees and pelicans, has returned. The News-Journal’s Dinah Voyles Pulver reported that longtime boaters and fishermen say the murky waters in Mosquito Lagoon are the worst they’ve ever seen.

Subsequently, last weekend thousands of dead fish appeared in the Indian River Lagoon in Brevard County, primarily in the Banana River but also in the southern end of Mosquito Lagoon. The images of dead fish blanketing the surface of the water are chilling; the smell that permeates the air is sickening.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission determined the fish died as a result of low dissolved oxygen in the water. Oxygen depletion is a common occurrence during algae blooms.

The Florida Times-Union —Cheers: Applause for local humanitarians

Let’s have a round of applause for several leading local figures named as OneJax’s Humanitarian Awards winners for 2016.

They will be honored April 14 during an awards dinner at the Prime Osborn Convention Center.

The category winners are:

Gold Medallion for Lifetime Achievement: Alton W. Yates (aerospace research and noted civil rights trailblazer).

President’s Citation: Hope McMath (executive director of the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens).

Silver Medallions: Michael Boylan (president and CEO of WJCT, Jacksonville’s public broadcasting outlet); Harry Frisch (founder of Beaver Street Fisheries); Kevin T. Gay (Operation New Hope founder and CEO); and Susan Greene (a former longtime teacher who has done tremendous work as a local children’s rights activist and community volunteer).

Florida Today – Medical marijuana back as more careful Amendment 2

Two years ago, the medical marijuana constitutional amendment was on the ballot. Even though a majority of Florida voters supported it — 58 percent — it failed to meet the 60 percent threshold needed for passage.

There was a strong and well-financed opposition that relied on doomsday scenarios and scare tactics. Others who opposed the measure did so by saying the change should be done by the Legislature in statute, not by citizens in the Florida Constitution.

During that time, the Legislature — opposed to full-fledged decriminalization of marijuana for medical purposes—passed a very limited form of non-euphoric marijuana use for children with epilepsy or chronic seizures.

The legislation passed in the spring of 2014 but has been delayed by state agency rule-making and legal challenges by nurseries that want to grow the plants and dispense the medical marijuana. The bill limited the number of dispensing organizations of the low-THC cannabis to five.

The Gainesville Sun –Cheers and jeers

There is already a document protecting political activity in public places — it’s called the U.S. Constitution — but a new city policy on the issue is welcome nonetheless.

Cheer: Gainesville city officials, for adopting a policy ensuring petitions can be gathered at public events.

The policy comes after a controversy over police removing Jim Funk and other petitioners from the Gainesville Downtown Festival and Art Show last fall. Funk was collecting signatures for statewide solar energy and medical marijuana ballot initiatives.

The First Amendment and legal precedent in cases involving similar activities mean officials really have no right to remove petitioners from an event on city streets. But the policy will ensure city staff, police and others taking part in these events are well aware such activities are protected.

Jeer: U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat whose district currently includes parts of Alachua County, for a wide range of allegations that have led both the Justice Department and House ethics committee to investigate.

The Lakeland Ledger —Movement toward justice on stale rape cases

Three months ago The Ledger reported how Winter Haven Police Chief Charlie Bird had second thoughts to testing warehoused rape kits after this newspaper noted that at least 55 sexual assault cases in Bird’s jurisdiction remained unsolved despite the availability of potential evidence. Bird’s shift toward testing the kits eventually led to the arrest of Rodrecius Hamilton, a veteran criminal whose DNA sample matched one taken from a 2009 rape victim.

Hamilton’s arrest energized Bird to look again at the rest of the cases on sitting in his evidence room. He pledged to send all of those untested rape kits to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for analysis. It’s unclear whether any of those have netted new suspects. But Bird’s attitude, which set him apart from many in law enforcement around Florida, was likely noticed in Tallahassee, where this week rape victims and their loved ones received hope that they won’t be disregarded.

After months of news reports and editorials about the sheer number of lingering rape kits held by police departments and sheriff’s offices — more than 13,000 statewide, according to a recent audit, and nearly 900 in Polk County — and why they remained untested, Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation that won’t allow future cases to grow stale.

Now, under the new mandate, law enforcement agencies have 30 days to forward the kit to a state crime lab, which, in turn, has 120 days to process it. Until Scott endorsed this bill local law enforcement agencies were not required to submit these kits to FDLE for analysis. Whether they did was determined instead by internal policies. Thus, the department’s attitude, the volume of cases and the limited resources at state crime labs meant a victim had no assurance of when or if FDLE would even get to that particular rape kit.

Miami Herald —Cruz plan to target Muslims off base

Terrorists, indeed, are a menace to society. And so is Ted Cruz. Both tend toward incendiary devices to make their point.

This week, the world saw yet again sickening carnage in a European city, four months after Muslim terrorists claimed responsibility for the November massacre in Paris. Once again, in Brussels, people going about mundane activities — catching a flight, commuting to work — were the victims of suicide bombers’ who lacked any hint of human decency.

These extremists did not even have to board a plane. Arriving at the airport in a taxi, they just rolled suitcases packed with explosives into the terminal and detonated two blasts of terror. About an hour later, there was another explosion, at a Brussels subway station. In all, 31 people were killed, and 270 others were injured in the attacks.

The Islamic State issued a statement which threatened to launch new attacks and promised that countries taking part in the coalition fighting the extremists will suffer “dark days.”

And, of course, there’s the handwringing, the questions asking Brussels ignored Turkey’s warning in 2015 that one of the bombers had been designated a “foreign terrorist fighter.” After all, European security officials feared for weeks that a a large-scale attack would occur. Yet, any efforts to thwart it were hampered by what Belgian officials acknowledge were indefensible lapses to act on the alarm that Turkey sounded.

Orlando Sentinel —Defending downlisting of manatees

West Indian manatees, an iconic species in Florida, would be “downlisted” from endangered to threatened under a proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Last month, we published an interview with Katie Tripp of the Maitland-based Save the Manatee Club, which opposes the change. More recently, we interviewed Christina A. Martin of the Pacific Legal Foundation, which petitioned the agency on behalf of Gulf Coast residents and businesses to downlist manatees. An excerpt of our interview with Martin follows. The full transcript is at OrlandoSentinel.com/opinion.

Q: Manatee advocates say their numbers have risen but their habitats are at risk. Why isn’t that compelling to you?

A: Nine years ago, estimating 3,300 West Indian manatees, the federal government’s own experts determined that the species was not in danger of becoming extinct in the next 100 years and thus should be reclassified from “endangered” to “threatened.” The government ignored its experts’ advice and the requirements of the law and did nothing until we filed a petition and pressured it to follow the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. Today there are at least 6,250 manatees in Florida alone. Manatee activists fear that their habitat may one day be threatened, but many layers of regulation protect Florida waters, including local, state, and federal regulations. The vast majority of these regulations will be unaffected by changing the manatee’s status under the ESA.

Q: Advocates say manatees are vulnerable because they rely on artificial warm-water sites. Isn’t this a problem?

A: We should be happy when human action benefits nature. Although federal regulation is threatening to shut down some power plants, which could affect manatees in Florida’s winter months, the Supreme Court has hit pause on the government’s plans and may scrap them altogether. But even if the rule ultimately does impact Florida’s power plants, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already considered this possibility and didn’t consider the risk substantial enough to warrant maintaining “endangered” status. Researchers have identified options for replacing warm-water discharges from power plants, and modern innovations will likely create new options.

Ocala StarBanner —Building a defense against hacking

In the final year of his presidency, Barack Obama continues to make cybersecurity a priority. The budget proposal he submitted to Congress for the fiscal year beginning in October contains $19 billion to shore up computer defenses, a 35 percent increase over current spending.

The theft last year of personal data on some 22 million Americans, through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, underscored what long had been regarded as an urgent need. The proposed spending increase includes $3.1 billion to transform government computer systems, some of which are running on shockingly antiquated software, to boost protections against hackers.

In addition, Obama has set up a task force to study and make recommendations on improving the nation’s online defenses. The bipartisan Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity will be led by the well-qualified Tom Donilon, Obama’s former national security adviser. During his stint at the White House, he helped shape counterterrorism strategy, playing a key role in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.

The commission, to be made up of about a dozen members, will address ways of bolstering cybersecurity in both the public and private sectors. Its vice chairman is former IBM chief executive officer Sam Palmisano, who is well versed in the challenges facing U.S. companies.

Pensacola News-Journal — Appleyard to bring stories to life

I remember distinctly the first time I heard John Appleyard tell a story.

I was new to the city and this stately gentleman found his way to my office in the bowels of the former PNJ building, with an invitation to attend a luncheon lecture he was giving on how Palafox got its name.

I wasn’t overly intrigued by the topic, I’ll be honest. But Mr. Appleyard was among the first people to welcome me to Pensacola and it was only polite to attend.

I joined a table of retirees at The Wright Place, and over a chicken salad sandwich these old friends caught each other up on the news of the day and their families. The room was loud and full of excitement until Mr. Appleyard, seated at a comfortable chair next to a lectern, picked up the microphone and the room grew silent.

The Palm Beach Post —America worth believing in, despite its failures

An open letter to American Muslims:

In April 1944, a Cpl. Rupert Trimmingham wrote the editor of Yank, a U.S. Army magazine, about what happened when he and eight fellow soldiers, traveling by train, had an overnight layover in a small Louisiana town. They went to get coffee, but no restaurant would serve African-American soldiers except the one at the depot. And it required that they go into the kitchen.

“But that’s not all,” wrote Trimmingham. That morning at 11:30, “about two dozen German prisoners of war, with two American guards, came to the station. They entered the lunchroom, sat at the tables, had their meals served, talked, smoked, in fact, had quite a swell time. I stood on the outside looking on, and I could not help but ask myself these questions: Are these men sworn enemies of this country? . Are we not American soldiers, sworn to fight for and die if need be for this country? Then why are they treated better than we are? Why are we pushed around like cattle? . Why does the Government allow such things to go on?”

I invoke Trimmingham’s letter because it embodies a dilemma with which I suspect you are too familiar: the question of how – and whether – to love a country that often fails to love you back.

The Panama City News-Herald — Guilty until proven innocent

The presumption of innocence is one of the most overworked phrases in the criminal justice system. For all its fame and usage the presumption of innocence is not mentioned anywhere in the U.S Constitution.

Scrupulous prosecutors are careful to affix “alleged” when talking about a suspect. Defense attorneys are eager to point out that their clients are innocent until proven guilty. The presumption of innocence is more a rule of evidence than a rule of law. A jury, or judge, must presume an accused innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. No one is entitled to the presumption of innocence before trial begins.

Although the presumption of innocence is an issue for trial, there are a growing number of situations that appear to encroach on fundamental liberty rights before an accused is adjudicated guilty.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that police can take DNA samples from people who are arrested but not yet convicted of a crime, and see if the DNA matches any samples from unsolved crimes in a national database.

South Florida Sun Sentinel – Obama does Cuba, local sex tourism and better bet on Miami Heat

Ted Cruz found out the hard way Donald Trump isn’t above insulting a candidate’s wife, or tweeting a bad picture of her next to Donald’s imported trophy wife. Cruz is furious. Funny, he didn’t seem to care when Donald was insulting Rosie, Megyn and Carly … or every other woman on earth.

Obama does Cuba. The president has been mocked for catching a ballgame while sitting next to a Castro brother, taking an official photo beneath an image of Che Guevara and remaining on the island after learning about the Brussels bombings. But a Sun Sentinel editorial nailed the real news and how the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years spoke poignantly about how the two nations shared history and blood. Obama called the U.S. and Cuba “two brothers who’ve been estranged for many years,” and nowhere did that comment resonate more than in South Florida. The value and success of now-thawing relations will not be seen the same by everyone involved, particularly among those of us who lost nearly everything to Fidel, from freedom to possessions to peace of mind. We can only hope future generations of Cuban will be helped by the history being made today.

Obama speech not enough to fix Cuba. As moving as the president’s words were, columnist Guillermo I. Martinez believes there is little chance real reform will benefit Cubans on the island any time soon. As Martinez points out, Castro was not ashamed of having the Ladies in White detained and beaten a few minutes before he was to meet with Obama. Old habits die hard to old tyrants.

Sex trafficking and tourism. In a recent Sun Sentinel news story, a defense attorney defended a local man accused of sex trafficking by saying “There is absolutely no public outcry over this type of business as it helps to support the tourism industry, which is essential to South Florida.” Letter writer Alyssa Forman of Fort Lauderdale took umbrage, responding: “Sex trafficking has burdened my heart ever since I heard the story of a 9-year-old girl who had given birth to a baby due to the industry. As an 18-year-old college student, I care deeply about ending this vulgar and horrific form of modern-day slavery.” And they say the young don’t get it. … Alyssa gets it.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Tallahasseean in Brussels reflects on history, terrorism

The metro lines reopened in Brussels for the first time on Friday. They ran on a limited schedule with a reduced number of stops. At Belgica, fewer than 20 people were waiting for the first metro. When it arrived, I was one of four passengers who boarded.

The bus I caught later in the morning was also bare. As we left the station, I watched a military truck back into the entrance of Bockstael station. If this is to be Brussels’ new normal, it feels like déjà vu. In November after the Paris attacks, when the authorities feared an imminent threat, the city went into its highest security level. The metro was closed, and armed guards and police patrolled the streets.

In both instances, I quarantined myself in my room for a few days, scouring the news for any confirmation that the world was safe again. Of course it was not, and truthfully, never was.

At some point in my childhood, around the time the Disney Channel wasn’t cool anymore, terrorism inserted itself as another staple of adolescence. You could argue that it began with 9/11, but that narrative is too simple to be true. The events of last Tuesday were a disturbing violation of the trust that I have in humankind, but I’m no more scared now than I was last November. I’m no more scared now than I was when Dylan Roof walked into one of my sister AME churches and killed nine people in the name of white supremacy.

The Tampa Tribune —A home run for the economy

Nothing seems to set our readers on edge more than the prospect of using public money to support a professional sports team.

The objection is understandable. No one likes the idea of forcing the public to subsidize wealthy team owners.

But people should remember that under the right circumstances the investment can bring the community a far bigger payoff than it does team owners.

Consider George M. Steinbrenner Field, the New York Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa.

When the Yankees began to consider moving their spring training facility from Fort Lauderdale in the early 1990s, holding talks with Osceola County officials, local leaders such as the late Hillsborough County Commissioner Phyllis Busansky, former Commissioner Joe Chillura and County Administrator Fred Karl sprang into action.

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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