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Florida editorial roundup

May 15, 2019

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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May 14

The Ocala StarBanner on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ veto of a plastic straw ban:

Astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first words exiting Apollo 11 back in 1969 are among the planet’s better-known one-liners: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

And that’s a little like the feeling we got following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ veto of the poster-boy bill for legislative preemption — the plastic straw ban.

It’s easy to regard its downfall as lightly as its upstart. Yes, it’s only about a drinking straw. But, from where we sit, it’s a straw that may have broke the back of legislative silliness.

DeSantis made a statement. The bill did not languish on his desk behind bills on prison reform or private school vouchers. If you’re a regular reader of this page, you know we editorialized for more of the former and less of the latter. But politics is a game of compromise. Given the ironclad majority of the Republican Party in recent years and its indifference to the electorate, that in itself is a step in the right direction.

DeSantis folded up the bill like a paper airplane and launched it back to the Legislature within hours of receiving it. In doing so he acknowledged the pettiness and overreach of the bill. He sided with environmentalists, yes. But to a larger degree he sided with counties, municipalities and the Florida Constitution, in which home rule is clearly defined.

He told reporters this:

“A number of Florida municipalities, including Sanibel, Fort Myers Beach and Miami Beach, have enacted ordinances prohibiting single-use plastic straws. ... These measures have not, as far as I can tell, frustrated any state policy or harmed the state’s interests. In fact, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has encouraged Florida residents, schools and businesses to reduce plastic straw use.

“Under these circumstances, the state should simply allow local communities to address this issue through the political process. Citizens who oppose plastic straw ordinances can seek recourse by electing people who share their views.”

Opponents of the bill, primarily hospitality associations, argued that the bill would be “confusing and burdensome” — with different laws in different locations throughout the state.

A blog post from the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association read: “Every business should be free to serve its customers in the lawful manner in which it sees fit. ... Some companies decide that providing disposable items such as straws does not fit with their culture and identity. Others may take a different approach, and there is space for both in Florida.”

Really? Confusing? If, for instance, Daytona Beach passes such an ordinance, will restaurant management teams affected need to bring in attorneys to outline the concept of paper straws? Will bus staff be burdened by putting paper straws in the holders rather than plastic?

Apparently their costs may go up in a very small way, but we doubt it’ll kill the profit on a $10 Pina Colada, or we’ll see customers boycotting their establishments with signs reading “Paper straws suck.”

Maybe this all seems much ado about nothing. But DeSantis’ little veto represents a paradigm shift in abetting legislative shiftlessness.

Keep that pencil sharp.

Online:

https://www.ocala.com

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May 14

The Tampa Bay Times on Russians hacking into election systems in two Florida counties in 2016:

So now it turns out the FBI says Russians hacked into election systems in 2016 in two Florida counties. And Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday he has been told the names of the two counties. But he can’t tell Floridians because it’s some sort of national secret. That’s ridiculous, and it’s this kind of failure to be candid with voters that undermines public confidence in government and in the integrity of elections.

DeSantis revealed at a news conference that he met with officials from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security last week in Tallahassee to discuss the hacking. He said he was told the names of two counties where the local supervisor of elections office had “experienced intrusion” into the voter data base before the 2016 election. But he said “they” asked him to sign a nondisclosure agreement and not release the names of the counties to the public. That’s unacceptable and an insult to Floridians. The governor should ask whoever “they” are to release the information or let him release it.

Remember, it was DeSantis who reacted so strongly following the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report that indicated the FBI believed Russians hacked into “at least one” Florida county’s election system. The revelation was reinforced by Sen. Marco Rubio’s confirmation that Russian hackers were “in a position” to change voter roll information. The governor promised to get answers, and he apparently did. Yet Floridians remain in the dark.

DeSantis’ news conference also raised other questions that need answers. For example, he said he was told by federal officials that an elections security task force that included state officials was told in 2016 that county elections systems were hacked by Russians. Yet he doesn’t believe then-Gov. Rick Scott or the head of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement knew it. But curiously, DeSantis has not talked about the issue with Scott, who defeated incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in November after criticizing Nelson for asserting during the campaign that hackers had breached a voter registration system. Somebody is engaging in revisionist history, and DeSantis ought to find out who and why. Hint: It was never Nelson, who has been vindicated several times over by the Mueller Report, Rubio’s recent comments and now the secret meeting between the feds and the new governor.

Second, DeSantis said Tuesday the Russian hacking “is something the counties knew about” and the FBI was working with them before the election. That’s odd. Many county supervisors of elections have consistently said they do not know whose voter data base was hacked by Russians. Rubio recently told the New York Times that the local elections officials who were the target or targets were never told and only a general warning was issued. Which is it?

DeSantis and Rubio say there was no manipulation of any voter information by the hackers. They say election results were not compromised. Trust us, they are suggesting to Floridians. Everything is fine. Nothing to see here.

Blind trust is what contributed to the vulnerability of the elections system in the first place. Reality set in only as the bigger picture of Russian interference in the 2016 election became clearer, reinforced by the indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers, 13 Russians and three Russian companies. Add that to the vote counting issues in 2016 in South Florida and the scars from the 2000 presidential election recount. It’s understandable why so many voters in this state are skeptical about the fairness of elections and reluctant to take public officials at their word.

Just remember how exasperated the governor was when he did not know where Russians hacked into Florida voting data bases.

“They won’t tell us which county it was,” DeSantis responded earlier this month. “Are you kidding me?”

Now the governor knows the names of the counties and thinks they should be publicly revealed, but he just can’t because he signed a nondisclosure agreement with the federal government.

Are you kidding us?

Online:

http://www.tampabay.com/

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May 12

The Miami Herald on South Florida and biodiversity:

As Pogo famously said a generation ago, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

The cartoon opossum’s once-arresting observation almost pales in the face of the crisis we face today: One million species on the brink of extinction, according to a United Nations report released this month. More than at any other time in human history.

More than a third of marine mammals and more than 40 percent of amphibian species face serious threats of extinction, thanks to explosive human population growth, loss of natural habitats, overfishing and ongoing use of environmentally destructive pesticides.

The resulting global decline in biodiversity is already affecting us and will continue to do so in devastating ways if the problem isn’t addressed, and soon.

The value of many agricultural products, for example, rests on the work of pollinators like bees. Pesticides have contributed to severe declines in bee populations, directly threatening the estimated $15 billion worth of value bees contribute to the U.S. economy. The same math applies to humans’ impact on oceans, coastlines, waterways and wetlands. The conclusion is inescapable: We cannot continue to treat our ecosystems as we have.

Even current measures to slow the decline in global biodiversity, the report concludes, will only delay the widescale collapse of entire ecosystems and, with them, the foundations of our economy and the presumptions on which we base our society. We must do more. We will change, or we will be changed. There is no other possibility.

The report offers solutions as sweeping as the problem itself. It calls on governments to slow global warming, halt overfishing, eliminate the use of environmentally destructive pesticides and stop the encroachment of urban areas into the wild. These are sane, reasonable policy goals, and deserve Americans’ support.

Yet they are goals of national and international scope. Our ability as South Floridians to enact them on a truly meaningful level is limited.

We can and should demand commitments from elected officials at all levels. Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, appears to be on board, but we must keep the pressure on his administration to take climate change seriously.

Meanwhile, if Greater Miami alone cannot accomplish what needs to be done, it can serve as a model for other regions. We’ve shown in the past that we can develop innovative, effective solutions to problems like these.

When we needed more dry land, we devised a massive feat of engineering to drain the Everglades.

When we wanted to stabilize low-lying areas for development, we created an elaborate flood-control system.

Following the 1926 hurricane that nearly destroyed Miami, we bolstered our building code and began enforcing tough standards. Ditto after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Those efforts are no longer enough. Sea levels are rising steadily and will gain at least two feet in the next 40 years. No flood-control system — not our current 50-year-old model nor the one supported by DeSantis — will match that encroachment. No building code will answer it.

If our problems are different now than they were 100 years ago, we can take comfort in knowing that the answers can come from the same source: South Floridians’ proven ability to look a problem in the eye, come up with a solution and make it work.

Online:

https://www.miamiherald.com/