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Florida editorial roundup

January 23, 2019

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Jan. 22

Miami Herald on lawmakers’ roles in honoring a state constitutional amendment voters approved in 2014 to buy and conserve environmentally sensitive land:

Seven months after a Tallahassee judge’s ruling, Florida voters are still waiting to have their wish fulfilled to buy and conserve environmentally sensitive land through Amendment 1. But state lawmakers have subverted the people’s will, spending millions on just about anything but fragile lands.

In his short time in office, Gov. Ron DeSantis has shown that he understands just how vital the Everglades are to the state. We urge him to bring that same enlightened sensibility to how Amendment 1 funds are spent. Florida’s environmental future is at stake.

It’s been so long since Amendment 1 was added to the state Constitution, that a recap is in order: In 2014, voters overwhelmingly approved the amendment to buy and preserve Florida land that was in peril. Amendment 1 mandated that 33 percent of revenue from real-estate documentary stamps would go to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

Currently, there is $900 million in that kitty, which has drawn legislators’ attention.

The amendment’s intent was crystal clear. But state lawmakers didn’t care and diverted millions from the fund to plug other financial holes in their budget and on administrative costs.

Environmentalists rightly cried foul, then sued.

In June, Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled in their favor and slapped down sticky-fingered legislators. Dodson ruled that state lawmakers failed — no, bamboozled — voters by not complying with the constitutional amendment’s true intent. The state, under Gov. Rick Scott, appealed, of course. The thinking seems to have been: What do voters know, anyway?

They know when they’re being cheated. The solution is deceptively simple: ... buy land to conserve Florida’s precious assets. There’s the value added of ensuring clean water... and protecting fish and wildlife.

They can start by fully funding Florida Forever, the state’s premier conservation and recreation lands acquisition program. The state has undercut its funding since 2008 and, therefore, undermined efforts to save land in perpetuity. In Miami-Dade County, for instance, those funds allow its Environmentally Endangered Land program to protect significant properties from development. ... But, environmentalists say, the county program is pretty much tapped out.

In other parts of the state, the Florida Forever wish list includes parcels in the Apalachicola River area, Lake Wales Ridge Ecosystem and Panther Glades.

Since the passage of the amendment, legislators each year have directed at least $200 million to the Everglades, $64 million to a reservoir in the Everglades Agricultural Area, $50 million to natural springs and $5 million to Lake Apopka. In the budget year that begins July 1, $100 million from the trust fund will go toward the Florida Forever, a crippling underfunding.

This is a far cry from what voters approved. Florida’s more environmentally aware governor should insist that Amendment 1′s true intent be honored.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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Jan. 18

Tampa Bay Times on a boy’s death under state supervision and Florida’s child welfare system:

Jordan Belliveau was his name, a human being in his own right. But the 2-year-old’s death under state supervision puts ... another new face on the same old story. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who took office this month, may not be responsible for this tragedy, but his administration has the obligation now to put the child welfare system on an entirely new track. That begins with holding those involved accountable, putting new resources into child protective services and rethinking the approach for dealing with children in dangerous family environments.

A report released Jan. 16 by the Department of Children and Families details the abuse, missteps and indifference in Jordan’s case that have become all too familiar in the decades of avoidable deaths of Florida’s most vulnerable children. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Christopher O’Donnell reported, child welfare agencies missed warning signs, failed to make home visits and said nothing when a mother lied in court about completing mandatory counseling classes to get her child back from foster care, according to the review. Child protective investigators “failed to identify the active danger threats occurring within the household that were significant, immediate and clearly observable,” the review found, noting that the latest investigation into unsafe family conditions was still open when police say Charisse Stinson killed her son, whose body was found in September in a wooded area in Largo.

At the time of Jordan’s death, the family was under court-ordered protective supervision, the review noted. In addition to that case, there was also an active abuse investigation because of ongoing domestic violence issues between Stinson and Jordan’s father, Jordan Belliveau Sr. The parents were granted visits with Jordan, and case workers urged the couple to enter counseling programs and move to a new home free of violence and gang influences. But Stinson and Belliveau Sr. were often uncooperative, authorities said. Reports of domestic violence and other incidents continued to raise concerns.

There were plenty of red flags for the safety net to catch. But because of poor communication and follow-up, decisions were made without welfare workers knowing that Stinson had been thrown out of her counseling program for nonattendance. Officials involved in the case traded inaccurate information, and front-line investigators and case managers didn’t collaborate, leading to “an absence of shared ownership” in Jordan’s fate. “On the surface, the local system of care appears to be cohesive,” the report found. Below the surface, it found “a siloed approach to decision-making,” as the many partners in the system — law enforcement, social workers, lawyers and judges — “fail to work together to ensure the best decisions are being made.”

“This case highlights the fractured system of care in Circuit 6, Pinellas County, with each of the various parts of the system operating independently of one another,” the review found, “without regard or respect as to the role their parts play in the overall child welfare system.”

In response to the report, the new DCF Secretary Chad Poppell ordered a comprehensive review of the foster care system in Pinellas. “This report should be a call to action for the entire child welfare system,” Poppell said in a statement, “and I intend to treat it as one.” DeSantis, in a statement, also vowed that “those responsible will be held accountable.” But any broad review cannot be limited to this case. As the DCF report found, there is a systemic problem with having so many moving parts, as members of child protection teams answer to different bosses at different agencies, public and private alike. And adding to the difficulty of ensuring a child’s safety is the over-emphasis in Florida on reuniting families.

The child welfare system faces many challenges in getting it right, from dealing with dysfunctional families to inadequate funding to a public-private sharing of responsibility that makes it too hard to establish accountability. But the circumstances leading to Jordan’s death are far too common, and many are fixable. ...

Online: http://www.tampabay.com/

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Jan. 23

The Florida Times-Union on African-American U.S. Congresswoman Lucy McBath of Georgia, whose son was fatally shot by a white man in Jacksonville in 2012:

For Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, Jacksonville was the site of great grief — and of justice.

Her 17-year-old son was brutally gunned down in a convenience store parking lot by Michael Dunn, a white South Floridian who looked at Jordan’s skin color and youth, heard his loud music and assumed the teen to be a dangerous gangster.

Dunn’s first trial ended in a mistrial; the second trial ended in a life sentence without parole.

In the aftermath of her son’s murder, McBath turned her pain into activism for common-sense gun controls before deciding to run for Congress in a suburban Atlanta district. And last November, McBath won that congressional seat, defeating a well-known and heavily funded incumbent in the process.

McBath’s remarkable story is described in the book “Standing Our Ground: The Triumph of Faith Over Gun Violence” with Rosemarie Robotham.

McBath recounted how Jordan had moved from Atlanta to Jacksonville to live with his father, Ron; McBath was dealing with serious cancer issues and realized her teen son could use the male influence of his father. And the move was working out well.

“By all accounts Jordan was thriving in Jacksonville,” McBath wrote...

McBath wrote movingly of the difficult dilemma inherent in raising a black son to be proud yet also wary of people who would immediately view him as a threat.

...

McBath’s book includes numerous footnoted facts and statistics about guns.

A few examples:

— The United States has more than 300 million guns, 5 percent of the world’s population and 50 percent of its guns.

— An overwhelming 90 percent of Americans support laws preventing mentally ill people from buying firearms — and 75 percent of NRA members support universal background checks.

...

McBath’s account of going through the two trials of her son’s murderer is both compelling and heartrending.

“We had pushed back against gun violence and cried out that a black boy’s life has value,” McBath wrote. “And in the state of Florida, where the Stand Your Ground doctrine had been inaugurated, an almost all-white jury had delivered on the American promise of justice for all.”

Online: https://www.jacksonville.com/

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