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Florida editorial roundup

By The Associated PressJune 5, 2019

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


June 4

The Ledger of Lakeland on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspensions of locally elected officials:

Five months into his term Gov. Ron DeSantis so far has suspended eight locally elected officials from their posts over charges of incompetence, malfeasance, criminal behavior or other alleged misdeeds.

According to the governor’s office’s website, the list includes a sheriff and an elections supervisor from separate counties in South Florida, a schools superintendent and court clerk from different counties in the Panhandle, the mayor and vice mayor of a city in neighboring Pasco County, a board member of the mosquito control district in eastern Flagler County and Fort Meade City Commissioner Maurice Nelson Campbell.

The Florida Constitution says the governor may suspend county-level officials for “malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony.”

Looking at the eight cases involved, most of us likely would agree DeSantis acted appropriately in many of them.

Still, a pair of them raises the question of whether or not there is a role for the voters.

Undoubtedly, DeSantis felt the need to act in the cases of former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who bungled the response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in February 2018, and former Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, who bungled last year’s election tally in her county.

Yet it could be argued whether the voters should have the opportunity to toss them out, since unlike the other suspensions they neither were accused of nor covered up any crimes.

With city officials, the Constitution is clearer.

If a municipal official is “indicted for crime,” the governor has authority to suspend him or her “until acquitted.”

DeSantis suspended Campbell in February after she was arrested on a felony charge of aggravated stalking. The Sheriff’s Office reported that a woman claimed Campbell targeted her with profanity-laced threats, including physical harm, after suspecting she was fooling around with Campbell’s husband.

Last week The Ledger’s Suzie Schottelkotte reported that Campbell, who has served on the City Commission since 2007, reached a deal with prosecutors to plead no contest to four misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct. She was sentenced to two years of probation and paid nearly $1,000 in court costs.

Meanwhile, as The Ledger reported last week, Fort Meade officials are concerned about Campbell’s lingering absence and its effect on conducting city business. The commission will weigh its options at its June 11 meeting.

For the good of the city, Campbell, now that the criminal case has ended with a conviction, should resign, and the city should subsequently let voters pick her successor via a special election.

Campbell could have fought the charges in court, and if acquitted, returned to her post and left it to voters to decide whether the allegation was serious enough to implement a recall election, which Fort Meade allows, or to reject her at the next election. Yet her decision indicates prosecutors had a strong case, since they seemingly used her suspension as leverage. One condition of the plea deal was Campbell pledging to not seek to be reinstated to the City Commission.

Accordingly, Campbell’s options obviously are limited by her agreement with prosecutors. Thus, while it is a sad end to her long tenure on the board, the longer Campbell delays only extends the disservice to her constituents and to her fellow commissioners.




June 2

The Palm Beach Post on the National Flood Insurance Program:

Hurricane season is upon us. It would be a terrible time for the federally backed insurance that allows millions to live near the vulnerable coastlines to go out of service. But that’s almost what happened.

On Thursday, Congress finally gave a temporary reprieve to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which had been set to expire at midnight Friday. More than 2 million of the program’s policies are in Florida.

Earlier, the House and Senate had broadly approved a short-term extension to keep the program running through Sept. 30, but — true to the dysfunction that defines so much about Washington these days — the bill then stalled, in tandem with the much-delayed $19.1 billion disaster relief bill for the hurricane-ravaged Florida Panhandle and Puerto Rico. A handful of conservative House Republicans twice held up the desperately awaited legislation, nearly leaving property owners in the lurch when it comes to writing new policies.

But on Thursday, with the flood-insurance program on the brink, Congress extended it for two weeks (while the disaster bill stayed in limbo). When lawmakers return to work from recess on Monday, they’re expected to pass yet another temporary extension — the 12th in two years.

That’s ridiculous — but no less ridiculous than the ways in which this program rewards terrible behavior. By making flood insurance unrealistically cheap, it encourages property owners to build in areas where flooding can be expected — and then to rebuild in exactly the same place after disaster has struck.

As we’ve pointed out before, more than 30,000 properties have flooded an average of five times each and been rebuilt each time through the NFIP. Some of these properties have been flooded more than 30 times.

This, at a time when climate change is making hurricanes stronger, and coastal development nevertheless continues apace. Almost 7 million homes are at risk from storm surge along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts alone, with $1.6 trillion in potential reconstruction costs at stake, the analytics company CoreLogic estimated last year.

And because of rising sea levels, high-risk coastal plains may expand by 55 percent by 2100, exposing much more property to damage, a FEMA study estimates.

Put it all together, and the NFIP is in mind-boggling debt: $24 billion. This shortfall would be $40 billion, except that the Trump administration forgave $16 billion in 2017, adding that much more to the federal deficit. The debt forgiveness was supposed to be paired with reforms, but — in an all-too-familiar scenario — the reforms never came.

The situation is the very definition of “unsustainable.”

Last month, four former directors of FEMA, which administers the insurance program, wrote to congressional leaders urging that they make basic reforms: disclose flood risk to homebuyers; create a state-administered federal “revolving” loan program to help buy out homeowners with repeatedly flooding properties; improve flood mapping; and require communities to draw up plans for areas that repeatedly flood.

Lawmakers should listen, and follow their advice.

Congress has tried before. In 2012, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., spearheaded a bill to reset the cost of insurance premiums closer to the actual, real-life risks of properties’ vulnerability to flooding. It passed, but within two years it was reversed, under political pressure from a wide range of opponents.

The troubles with the insurance program go back to the basics. In a sensible program, the rates would be commensurate with the actual risk of flooding. A sensible program would incentivize flooded-out property owners to retreat to safer land, rather than encourage rebuilding in the same risky spot. A sensible program wouldn’t insure second homes or investment properties, lest all American taxpayers get saddled with paying for other people’s luxuries.

But the NFIP breaks every rule of what a sensible program ought to do.

Fixing it won’t be easy. Too abrupt a change could shatter the economies of many beachside communities as insurance that now costs a few hundred dollars soars into the thousands. But gradual reforms are long overdue, along with steps to soften the blows for people with smaller incomes.

Waters promises to seek long-term reforms before September. Unlikely as it seems in this bitter era of hyper-partisanship, she has allies across the aisle from other coastline states, such as U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. Here is the rare federal program that lawmakers from both parties agree is in desperate need of an overhaul.

So for now, the National Flood Insurance Program survives. Yet without real reform, extending the NFIP past September is not only the definition of “unsustainable,” it’s the definition of “insanity.”




May 31

The Tampa Bay Times on Medicaid expansion and its effects on women and minority residents:

The practical consequences of the Florida Legislature’s partisan opposition to expanding Medicaid are coming into sharper focus, and women of child-bearing age and minority residents are suffering the most. It’s a stubborn Republican position that is not family friendly and does not reflect Florida’s diversity, and voters should demand better. Now they have even more facts to reinforce their argument.

A study recently released by the Georgetown University Center of Children and Families reflects the stark difference between Florida and the three dozen states that have embraced Medicaid expansion. In the states that have accepted Medicaid expansion, the average uninsured rate for women ages 18 to 44 is 9 percent. In Florida, the uninsured rate for these women is 19 percent. That gap alone should embarrass every state legislator, regardless of party affiliation.

Here’s another sobering revelation from the study. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Justine Griffin recently reported, states that expanded Medicaid saw a 50 percent greater reduction in infant mortality compared with states such as Florida that did not expand Medicaid. In the 1990s, the late Gov. Lawton Chiles made reducing infant mortality a top priority. It hasn’t been much of an issue in Tallahassee since.

The link between better health care for women of child-bearing age and healthier babies has long been established. The Georgetown report cites studies showing better access for prenatal care for poor women in Medicaid expansion states and more opportunities to reduce risk factors such as heart disease and diabetes prior to pregnancy. Maternal mortality rates also have dropped in Medicaid expansion states. Whether greater access to health care for low-income residents produces concrete benefits should not be a question.

The failure to enact Medicaid expansion also disproportionately affects minority residents. The Georgetown report notes the Journal of the American Medical Association says “African-American women are nearly three times as likely to die of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth compared with white women.” The uninsured rate among nonelderly black residents is 8 percent in Medicaid expansion states but 14 percent in states that do not have Medicaid expansion. This should be a top 2020 election issue for all voters, but particularly for voters in low-income minority neighborhoods.

To be fair, Florida’s uninsured rate for women of child-bearing age declined by 10 percentage points between 2013 and 2017. But 13 other states had larger declines, and every one of those states are Medicaid expansion states. Imagine if state legislators did the right thing and embraced Medicaid expansion that would cover an additional 800,000 Floridians and would cost the state just a $1 for every $9 paid by the federal government.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Six years ago, the Florida Senate voted 38-1 to accept Medicaid expansion money to subsidize private insurance for low-income residents. Then-Gov. Rick Scott was amenable, but the Republican House leadership refused to budge. That intransigence has cost the state tens of billions in federal dollars.

Still the standoff continues in Tallahassee, with the Democrats’ arguments for supporting Medicaid expansion falling on deaf ears. Instead of embracing Medicaid expansion, House Republicans passed new work requirements for current Medicaid recipients that the Senate fortunately did not take up. Attorney General Ashley Moody has kept Florida as a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit that seeks to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act, which includes Medicaid expansion. The Legislature voted to deregulate new hospital construction and expansions, which will not make health care more affordable or accessible for poor people.

As the Georgetown study reaffirms, Floridians are paying the price for this state’s failure to embrace Medicaid expansion. Other states continue to see the light. When will Florida?



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