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Florida editorial roundup

September 19, 2018

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Sept. 18

The Gainesville Sun on public schools:

The University of Florida’s rise in the national rankings didn’t happen by accident.

UF moved up to No. 8 among public universities in the recent U.S. News and World Report rankings, after last year cracking the top 10 for the first time by placing ninth.

UF has worked for decades on efforts to rank among the country’s top universities. It got a huge boost in recent years with additional state funding, which helped such efforts as a hiring push that is starting to reduce its student-faculty ratio.

Unfortunately Florida’s public schools haven’t fared as well when it comes to funding or rankings. While U.S. News placed Florida’s higher education system in the top spot in the country in rankings earlier this year, Florida’s pre-K through grade 12 education system was ranked just 40th among states.

For all Floridians to have the best chance to succeed, the state must have stronger public schools to match the rising reputations of its colleges and universities. Not only will that better prepare Florida students for UF and other state universities with increasingly difficult academic standards, it will help UF recruit more top-notch faculty.

UF’s strategic development plan is based on the premise that conditions in the city it calls home help attract people to the university. Employees moving here and other residents want high-quality local schools, yet Alachua County Public Schools — like other public schools in Florida — lack adequate support from the state.

Thankfully Alachua County voters have taken it upon themselves to better fund our schools. They approved the one mill initiative three times to help fill in funding gaps, and this fall will be considering measures to pay for school facilities improvements as well as early childhood education and other programs for children.

But the Florida Legislature needs to do better than the 47 cents per student increase in K-12 funding that it passed this year. State lawmakers have been focused in recent years on passing testing requirements and other mandates that have a debatable effect on the quality of schools, while making it harder to attract and retain teachers.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has a plan for a $1 billion funding boost for schools. The money would raise teacher pay to a minimum $50,000 starting salary and increase spending on such things as early childhood education and vocational programs.

Republican gubernatorial candidate and former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis has provided scant details of his education plans. But his campaign has been critical of Gillum’s proposal to increase the corporate tax rate to 7.75 percent from 5.5 percent to generate the $1 billion.

Quality corporations, like top universities, benefit from a better educated populace. A first-rate education system from pre-K to Ph.D. will attract and create the businesses needed to diversify Florida’s economy.

UF is getting closer to being a top five public university thanks to renewed state support. Florida’s public schools need the same kind of commitment to rise in quality and the rankings.

Online: https://www.gainesville.com

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Sept. 18

The Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville on the Second Amendment:

The ongoing debate over guns in America has led some to vociferously call for abolishing the Second Amendment.

That’s just not wise thinking.

There are common-sense restrictions on guns that fall within the scope of the Second Amendment.

So there’s no need to even consider abolishing it.

Nevertheless, calls for abolishing the Second Amendment are coming from such respected figures like retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

And a new poll shows that about 20 percent of Americans favor repealing the Second Amendment.

In reality, that probably shouldn’t be a surprising statistic.

There are actually Americans, after all, who regularly support restrictions on speech that would not be allowed under the First Amendment.

So, of course, there will always be a fringe minority out there yapping for scrapping the Second Amendment.

Or the Third Amendment.

Or the Fourth Amendment.

Or the ...

You get the point.

Fortunately, the anti-Second Amendment extremists have little support in Washington; even blue-state Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California have made clear they support gun ownership for self-defense and hunting.

What’s even more striking is that noted, liberal-leaning Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe has also dismissed the campaign to abolish the Second Amendment.

In a piece for The Washington Post, Tribe wrote that the Second Amendment isn’t the problem; in fact, Tribe declared, repealing the Second Amendment would not limit a single gun or enact a single regulation.

The fact is abolishing the Second Amendment isn’t necessary because the Supreme Court has already set some reasonable parameters.

In the Supreme Court’s historic 2008 Heller decision that underlined an individual’s right to bear arms, the court also noted that right wasn’t unlimited — and that certain classes of “dangerous and unusual” weapons could be limited.

The court has also allowed limits on assault weapons, large magazines and the number of weapons that can be stockpiled.

That’s why instead of abolishing the Second Amendment, the focus should be on reducing the ability of Americans to use military-style weapons to kill innocent fellow citizens.

The focus should also be on restricting the ability of mentally ill people — and those with histories of domestic violence — to have easy access to firearms; clearly more safeguards must be built in to immediately “red-flag” such Americans whenever they try to purchase weapons.

There is certainly widespread support for that kind of proactive approach.

In a recent poll, 85 percent even voiced support for letting the police take guns away from people deemed dangerous — and at least five states have such laws in place.

Gun advocates like to criticize the 1994 ban on assault weapons for its emphasis on cosmetic features; they deride it as a naive and unrealistic law designed by people who know nothing about guns.

For example, the 1994 law defined assault weapons based on such features as pistol grips.

In an opinion piece, Palm Beach County criminologist Thomas Gabor said such poor standards of definition have undermined attempts to strictly regulate assault weapons because “the gun industry can easily make cosmetic modifications to skirt the regulation.”

Gabor has proposed a more realistic definition of assault weapons that takes an objective, scientific approach based on lethality — as well as relevant factors like caliber, muzzle velocity, rate of fire, capacity and design flexibility.

That’s a reasonable idea.

And it’s a far more palatable idea than the harebrained suggestion that it’s time for America to abolish the Second Amendment.

Online: http://www.jacksonville.com

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Sept. 16

The Palm Beach Post on Gov. Rick Scott’s environmental record:

With a horrific red tide killing marine life and tourism on Florida’s southwest coast, and with toxic green algae bringing misery to the Treasure Coast and Fort Myers area on a now-annual basis, it’s understandable that Gov. Rick Scott would want to run away from his environmental record.

Voters shouldn’t let him.

From the moment the health-care multimillionaire swept into office on 2010′s Tea Party anti-tax, anti-regulation wave, he began slashing the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD), cutting budgets, skilled staff and inspections.

The SFWMD, which had a $1.4 billion budget in 2007, is now an $814 million agency. Scott’s administration cut $700 million out of all the state’s water management districts after his first year and crippled their ability to levy taxes. His justification — giving average property owners tax relief — is a sick joke; the state’s 15 biggest industries, like Florida Power & Light and the Walt Disney Co., got to pocket a combined $1.2 million annually, but homeowners save less than $3 per $100,000.

What got slashed? The state’s network for water monitoring shrank from 350 monitoring sites to 115, according to Florida International University’s Southeast Environmental Research Center. Enforcement of anti-pollution regulations slowed to a crawl. The DEP pursued almost 1,600 enforcement cases in 2010, but a mere 220 in 2017, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

In 2012, Scott repealed a law requiring septic-tank inspections. Now, only 1 percent of Florida’s 2.6 million septic tanks get inspected, and scientists say that pollution from leaking septic tanks adds fuel to toxic algae blooms.

The result: nitrogen and phosphorus loads are on the rise in Lake Okeechobee. Combined with agricultural run-off, this is the root of the toxic blue-green algae — and almost certainly a contributor to the unusual endurance of the red tide, the worst of which is occurring near Fort Myers at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River, one of the exit points of Lake O’s waters.

Yet Scott is trying to fool voters into thinking that Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democrat whom Scott is trying to unseat on Nov. 6, is to blame for the algae blooms. A Scott ad released Friday contends Nelson has done “nothing” for “Lake O.” It’s supposedly Nelson’s fault that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hasn’t limited water discharges or fixed the Herbert Hoover Dike.

This is nonsensical double-talk. The dike’s condition and the rate of discharges have nothing to do with the pollutants in the water in Lake Okeechobee. Letting all that phosphorus and nitrogen into the water to begin with — that’s the problem. And that’s on Scott.

The same Scott, by the way, who didn’t buy an available 153,200 acres of U.S. Sugar land, which would have given that water someplace else to go. Backing off that deal, in 2015, was a blow to Everglades restoration.

The list goes on. In 2011, Scott abolished the Department of Community Affairs, which protected the state from bad development and gave the environment a vote in land-use decisions. He slashed funding for land conservation under the Forever Florida program, and later joined enthusiastically in the Florida Legislature’s nickel-and-diming of Amendment 1, the wildly popular ballot measure that is supposed to be generating hundreds of millions of dollars each year for environmental protection.

Most egregiously, the governor of the state most endangered by sea-level rise allegedly barred the very mention of climate change (although the climate denier denies that, too).

In sum, Scott “has regularly put the wishes of corporate polluters above the needs of Florida’s environment and families,” states Kevin Curtis, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Coalition Action Fund.

“He’s sided with a fringe group of climate change deniers, defunded popular and bipartisan conservation programs, and undermined the enforcement of air, water and climate protections.”

This governor should not escape judgment for these past eight years. And any Floridian who cares about the environment — or simply gags from the stench of the algae blooms — should demand answers for such a putrid environmental record.

Online: https://www.mypalmbeachpost.com

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