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Florida editorial roundup

December 31, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Dec. 30

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on state’s drug testing:

Florida has had as much success defending its drug-testing policies in federal courts as the Washington Generals have had defeating the Harlem Globetrotters.

Unlike the basketball exhibition, though, nobody is paying Gov. Rick Scott to lose, nor is there any entertainment value in the exercise. Indeed, it’s the Florida taxpayer who is being forced to foot the bill for these tedious, quixotic efforts that are doomed to fail.

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta became the latest justices to strike down a 2011 law making a drug test mandatory before receiving public assistance. In keeping with legal precedents regarding such programs, the judges ruled that the state had failed to provide evidence that welfare recipients are more likely to be drug abusers than the general population; thus, the government had no grounds to institute a random, suspicionless testing program.

Scott reportedly is mulling whether to file yet another appeal in a case that already has cost taxpayers more than $400,000 in legal fees.

Scott similarly has been stymied by the courts regarding his 2011 executive order requiring all state employees to be drug tested. The 11th Circuit ruled last year that Scott could not constitutionally justify drug testing for all types of state employees without a reason, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal. The Supreme Court previously has allowed government testing only in “exceptional circumstances” where government can demonstrate “substantial special needs” (for instance, testing train engineers because on-the-job intoxication was a significant safety problem).

A federal judge in Miami forced the governor and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which represents a state workers’ union that has challenged the order, to negotiate which jobs should be eligible for testing and which should be exempt. Both sides appeared to have made progress in recent months when Scott and the ACLU agreed that employees in more than 900 types of jobs — such as accountants, economists and translators — should not be required to undergo the drug screens without reason. They are continuing to refine the list.

However, earlier this month the governor’s office opposed an effort by the ACLU to seek a judge’s final decision guaranteeing that state workers already on the exempt list are not subject to suspicionless drug testing. Scott does not want to concede that forcing those state employees to undergo urinalysis is unconstitutional, even though he already has agreed those jobs don’t have significant safety issues and therefore don’t meet the constitutional standard for testing set forth by the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the billable hours continue to mount. The employee-testing case has cost taxpayers more than $200,000 in legal fees. Perhaps ginning up business for lawyers was part of Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” campaign to create jobs and juice the state economy.

The governor should cut his losses and stop wasting public dollars on legal fights he is destined to lose.




Dec. 28

Miami Herald on state secrets:

If we don’t know about it, it doesn’t exist. That’s been the state of Florida’s philosophy on just about everything that should be in the public eye — from abuses at assisted-living facilities to Gov. Scott’s private emails dealing with public business.

So it comes as absolutely no shock that state officials have quietly, diligently — and, despite protests to the contrary — deliberately turned out the lights that illuminate what has gone wrong when a child dies in the care of the Department of Children & Families.

Child-death reviews, required by federal law and once detailed and meticulous have become vague reports full of uncritical boilerplate language, revealing little, if anything, of what went wrong. The most dogged death investigators determined to get to the bottom of each case have been purged, silenced. So have the most vocal advocates for DCF integrity who sat on the state’s Child Abuse Death Review Committee. In fact, the Committee itself is just a shadow of its former self and, according to a recent story by Herald investigative writer Carol Marbin Miller, mention of its existence has been eliminated from the state Department of Health’s website.

None of this is any coincidence. This is business as usual in a state in which secrecy and know-nothingness are the guiding principles of too many elected officials and bureaucrats. In this latest instance of sweeping bad news under the rug, it leaves children living with abusive and neglectful adults in danger — again.

During this year’s legislative session those same lawmakers, bureaucrats — even Gov. Scott — declared it a new day in how Florida cares for endangered children. What moved them off the dime — literally and figuratively was the Miami Herald’s painstaking — and painful — series that detailed the deaths of almost 500 children and young teens who over the years not only died at the hands of cruel and neglectful guardians, but who also were known to DCF caseworkers as being at risk.

Even the most recalcitrant lawmakers who would have been content to cut DCF’s budget, again, could not ignore the stories of horror meted out on their watch. State Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, stepped up as chair of the Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee and, with the heft of like-minded colleagues, got major reforms approved.

Finally, the Legislature put on the books that children’s safety and well-being are to be placed above the rights of parents accused of abuse and neglect. Lawmakers demanded more transparency from agency administrators and a website to track child deaths.

But before the year was out, state officials apparently decided that transparency was making them look bad. Indeed, it has.

Of course, they look worse now that they have drawn the blackout curtains in a flagrant attempt to leave the public, including the media, in the dark — and children at the mercy of extremely bad parenting.

The stealthy disappearance of oversight and death reviews means that there will be no lessons learned, no remedial action taken, because valuable information is not being collected. It means bureaucrats at fault will not be held accountable. It means children will continue to die.

This is a disgrace and everyone, from Gov. Scott to agency directors to lawmakers who boo-hooed about all of the innocents lost, should declare it so, then make it right. Otherwise those were nothing but crocodile tears shed in embarrassment, not authentic concern.




Dec. 29

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on deadly superbugs:

A particularly scary story recently reported in The New York Times illustrates the dangers of the promiscuous use of antibiotics.

It also illustrates how nations’ poor health policies can threaten people across the globe.

The Times reports antibiotic-resistant bacteria are killing tens of thousands of newborns in India. Last year 58,000 infants died from the epidemic, which officials attribute to the overuse of antibiotics.

The tragic infections are part of a larger health threat. Researchers told the Times that the “evidence is now overwhelming that a significant share of the bacteria in India — in its water, sewage, animals, soil and even in mothers — are immune to nearly all antibiotics.”

And this is not simply India’s problem. The “superbugs” have shown up around the world, including the United States, France and Japan.

This is not to suggest the antibiotic-immune bacteria poses the same threat in the United States as in India or other developing countries, whose primitive sanitation practices lead to widespread infections and, consequently, the widespread use of antibiotics.

Still, the superbugs do not recognize geographic borders. Moreover, the United States has had its own problems with antibiotic-resistant infections, though nothing of the magnitude of what India is encountering.

Last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report that found more than 2 million people in the United States are afflicted with drug-resistant infections a year, and 23,000 cases are fatal.

The report found once readily treatable illnesses such as strep throat were becoming resistant to antibiotics. The reason? Widespread and often indiscriminate use of antibiotics, which results in germs becoming more tolerant of the treatment.

Part of the problem is that patients often misuse the drug. They stop using the antibiotic as soon as they begin to feel better rather than taking the prescribed amount. Moreover, people often seek antibiotics when they are not necessary. The CDC report found as many as 50 percent of antibiotics are prescribed incorrectly or to patients who do not need them.

Another factor: Antibiotics are widely used in agriculture to promote animal growth. Last year the Food and Drug Administration took steps to prevent the use of antibiotics used for human infection in agricultural operations. Food chains such as McDonald’s have sought to curtail such drug use in meat.

In September, President Obama formed a task force to develop a strategy to combat the problem, including the development of new antibiotics. The plan is expected to be announced in February.

But although the problem may be more manageable in the United States, what’s happening in India shows how quickly killer bacteria can develop and spread.

Dr. Neelam Kler, a leading neonatologist in New Delphi, told the Times:

“Five years ago we almost never saw these kinds of infections. Now, close to 100 percent of the babies referred to us have multi-drug-resistant infections. It’s scary.”

Indeed, India is taking steps to improve sanitation and protect its water, the kind of lifesaving work that merits U.S. foreign aid.

While working to limit the development of homegrown “superbugs,” the United States should also work to prevent the virulent bacteria from becoming a global threat as well.



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