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Florida editorial roundup

July 12, 2018

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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July 10

The Gainesville Sun says algae blooms are part of Gov. Rick Scott’s legacy:

Gov. Rick Scott is facing an environmental crisis of his own making.

Scott issued an emergency order Monday in response to the toxic algae bloom covering most of Lake Okeechobee. Such declarations won’t undo years of environmental degradation allowed in Florida under Scott and other Republican officials.

Their current solution is typical, requiring hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to be spent cleaning up a mess that elected officials helped create. Repairing the dike around Lake Okeechobee and building a new reservoir might prevent water releases from further contaminating the river systems around the lake, but such steps fail to address the pollution fueling algae blooms.

Scott and the GOP-controlled Legislature have made it easier to pollute Florida’s natural environment during his two terms in office. They’ve slashed the budgets of water managers, eliminated an agency that regulated growth, cut enforcement of environmental regulations and spent money slated for land conservation on other uses.

Scott is a climate-change denier whose agencies were forbidden to use the words climate change much less do anything about it. A recent report in the Tampa Bay Times suggests that climate change makes algae blooms such as the one in Lake Okeechobee and a long-running red tide along Florida’s west coast more likely to occur.

Climate change is causing water to warm and tends to produce more rain, leading to more runoff into water bodies. Warming water — combined with runoff from agricultural operations, septic tanks and other sources — can cause algae blooms that used to be smaller and more sporadic to be bigger and longer lasting.

The bloom in Lake Okeechobee was estimated earlier this month to cover 90 percent of the 740-acre lake, with its green color able to be seen from space. Algae blooms are also happening to the east and west of the lake in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee river systems, a problem that also occurred two years ago after water releases from the lake.

The algae can kill animals, can cause respiratory problems and other health issues in humans, and has been linked to diseases such Alzheimer’s and ALS. It also causes economic damage to businesses that rely on tourism and outdoor activities such as boating and fishing.

Scott has blamed the federal government rather than take responsibility for his administration’s role in the environmental crisis. His emergency order — which requires steps such as expanded water testing and clean-up grants — is way too little, way too late.

Scott is now running for the U.S. Senate and Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam is running for governor. Both have been hostile to meaningful environmental regulations, instead favoring voluntary measures to control pollution from agricultural operations such as the sugar cane growers in the Everglades area.

Voters need to keep their environmental records in mind when casting ballots in the upcoming elections. From the polluted and depleted springs in our region to the algae blooms to the south, voters can see for themselves what happens when elected officials fail to protect the environment.

Online: http://www.gainesville.com/

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July 6

The Ledger of Lakeland on a new aimed at dealing with robocallers and telemarketers:

Each year Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services releases Florida residents’ top gripes about business’ bad behavior.

And typically leading the list — by a long shot, with nearly half of overall complaints in 2016 and 2017, for example — are the telemarketers and robocallers who violate the state’s “Do Not Call” law. It’s also a major problem for Floridians on a national scale. The Federal Trade Commission, which regulates the national Do Not Call List, reported that in 2017 Florida residents filed 588,000 of the 3.5 million complaints it received for unwanted telephonic solicitation.

But recently, Florida residents got some much-needed help in this regard — thanks to lawmakers from Polk County’s delegation: state Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican who represents the southern half of Polk County, and state Rep. Sam Killebrew, R-Winter Haven.

The pair sponsored a new state law, which recently took effect , that empowers telephone companies to proactively block calls from numbers of suspected robocallers or “spoof” callers, or those who utilize a fake number to disguise the real number from which they are calling.

In a recent meeting with The Ledger’s editorial board, Grimsley told us her advocacy was based on personal experience. She had to deal with “Elizabeth,” an aggressive and annoying prerecorded telemarketer who made repeated calls to Grimsley in an effort to sell her a vacation package.

Federal and state laws already prohibit much of this activity. For instance, consumers who enroll on the federal or state do-not-call lists are supposed to be shielded from such calls, except under certain circumstances, which can include having a prior relationship with the company or if the call comes from a charity, pollster, or political campaign.

Yet, as a House staff analysis of the new law noted, “Many robocalls and spoofed calls are made without regard to the laws in place to prevent them.” One reason is that these callers, many of which are scammers or identity thieves, utilize new technology to circumvent the lists.

Grimsley shared with us that another key reason for that is the phone companies themselves weren’t permitted to block such calls, except when people were members of the do-not-call registry.

This new law changes that, and should help reduce such activity, she added.

What’s noteworthy about this new law is that it builds on the work of the industry.

According to the House analysis, the Federal Communications Commission in 2016 urged the telecommunications industry to help address this problem, and from that emerged the Robocall Strike Force. One task force recommendation entailed the creation of a “Do Not Originate” list, a compilation of phone numbers known to be illegitimate. Last November the FCC adopted the recommendation, which also helped form the basis of Florida’s new law.

Under the new statute, telecom providers can now block calls if the customer requests so after recognizing a number is for inbound calls only, if the number is not a valid phone number (such as consisting of just one repeated digit), or if the number has not been allocated to a provider or has been allocated but has not been used or assigned to a customer.

As the government acknowledges, no law is perfect. So it’s possible the scammers and the irritating “Elizabeths” will still find a way through this electronic wall. But we appreciate the work of Grimsley, Killebrew and the rest of the Legislature to help reduce consumers’ frustration level and protect them from the fraudsters.

Online: http://www.theledger.com/

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July 8

The Florida Times-Union says voters should prepare for confusing amendments this fall:

The Florida Constitution should only be amended in important cases in which the Legislature is incapable or unwilling to act.

Florida provides several methods for placing constitutional amendment proposals on the ballot. One involves citizen initiatives. Another involves the Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years.

Two previous commissions had mixed success. In 1978 voters rejected all eight ballot proposals of the commission. In 1998 voters approved eight of nine proposals.

But this third commission proved to be just as dysfunctional as the Legislature. It has eight proposals for the voters; six of the eight involve multiple issues.

That’s right, voters in November will see several examples in which two to four proposals are lumped together in one vote. This ought to be unconstitutional. Sadly, we may need an amendment to force future commissions to limit proposals to one issue at a time.

And it’s an outrage that some of the ballot language is misleading and vague.

Let’s take proposal 6003:

Voters will see this title: “Amendment 8: School board term limits and duties; public schools.”

That sounds innocent enough; sure, as innocent as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

. The first issue would create eight-year term limits for school boards. Voters generally approve of term limits, but this ought to be a home rule issue for individual counties. Some sparsely populated rural counties may prefer no term limits or longer limits.

. The second issue involves misleading ballot language that allows the state to operate and control charter schools, not the local school board. But it’s not stated that way.

. The third issue would require promotion of civic literacy. This is not even needed. The Legislature already has a requirement for civil literacy education and it’s fully willing and able to amend it. But this appears to be a device to sneak through the charter school amendment.

Some have called for voting down all of the multiple issue amendments. That certainly would be better than voting for all of them.

However, there is one group of amendments that is not controversial and deserves passage. It would remove an outdated alien land law provision from the constitution, remove high speed rail language from the constitution and clarify applicability of a repealed criminal statute.

Voters won’t be taking up the amendments till the November general election. But along with the eight proposals (20 issues in all), there are five other constitutional matters on the ballot for a total of 13. That means long lines on Election Day will be long as voters try to sort out this mess. We recommend voters consider early voting or requesting write-in ballots so they can take their time.

One matter that deserved to be on the ballot involved a Constitutional Amendment that passed in 1998 with 64 percent of the vote. If the winner of a primary has no opposition in the general election, then all qualified voters, regardless of party, can vote in the primary. The primary in effect is the general election.

But Republicans and Democrats gamed the system by encouraging write-in candidates to file, which the Florida Supreme Court decided meant that the primary was closed, leaving the general election to a race between a strong candidate and a token write-in. Never mind no write-in candidate has ever won an election in Florida, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Democrats in South Florida and Republicans in North Florida like having elections all to themselves. Yet the numbers of NPA voters (No Party Affiliation) are growing. In some counties, NPA voters represent the second-largest political group.

This proposal was shockingly voted down by the Constitution Revision Commission, probably because many of the members owed their allegiance to political appointments. Ten of those who voted against it were appointed by the governor and five the speaker of the House, said local attorney Hank Coxe, a member of the commission.

This means that there should be a citizens’ initiative to close the write-in loophole.

A poll conducted by the Florida Chamber of Commerce showed that just four of the 13 constitutional proposals have the 60 percent support needed to pass. The stealth charter school item with a ballot title focusing in term limits, unfortunately, is one of them.

Online: http://www.jacksonville.com/

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