Florida editorial roundup
The Associated Press
Aug. 01, 2018
Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The Sun-Sentinel criticizes a new state law that it says makes public beaches less accessible:
Can we all agree that Florida's famous beaches are our calling card — the reason national and international visitors flock to our state? Yet now, in addition to toxic algae blooms and red tide-caused coughing fits, we have a new state law making public beach access less accessible.
Last March, Gov. Rick Scott signed a law that allows private property owners in some areas to restrict public beach access to the "wet" sand. So you can plop a beach chair down in wet sand, but good luck trying to keep your towel, book or electronic gear dry.
This new law — sponsored by Broward County's very own Rep. Katie Edwards-Walpole of Plantation — is kicking sand in the face of tourists and locals. It prevents local governments from passing ordinances that allow people to keep using beaches in front of private property, beaches they may have been using for years. To continue visiting such beaches, residents and tourists would have to hire an attorney, sue the landowners and get a judge to agree the public has customarily used the beach for years.
Since signing this mean law, Gov. Scott, who's running for the U.S. Senate against Bill Nelson, has had a change of heart. Two weeks ago, he signed an executive order blocking state agencies from enforcing it.
"Unfortunately, the legislation has now created considerable confusion and some have even interpreted it as restricting beach access," Scott said in a press release. "I'm committed to keeping our beaches open to the public and this executive order makes this commitment clear."
Fortunately, many counties already have common-use access ordinances that will remain on the books because they were passed before a certain date. But in the Panhandle, tourist-friendly Walton County found its ordinance voided by the law's retroactive date. Why Walton was singled out is a question deserving of an answer.
On Friday, standing before a "no trespassing" sign on a Walton beach, Nelson urged the governor to hold a special legislative session to repeal the law. "The governor's executive order . only added to the confusion," he said. "This law is establishing a terrible precedent for the selfish interests of a few property owners."
Florida's beaches have long been largely open to all, thanks to the Florida Constitution, even if sometimes finding a public path onto a beach can be a challenge.
Yet some resorts, condos and McMansion owners would just as soon you didn't plant a towel on their vista. They would prefer a beach reserved solely for their family or paying clientele. For most of Florida, that's not possible.
Edwards-Walpole, who chose not to run for re-election this year, introduced this terrible legislation in the House, and by the end of the session, most lawmakers went along with her. State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, sponsored the Senate version.
The unwarranted bill states that someone's property line can extend all the way to the mean high tide line — the point the water reaches at high tide or the sea side of the line of seaweed that washes ashore. With beach erosion, the line is a moving target.
Edwards-Walpole continues to maintain her bill is misunderstood, that she's only trying to clarify how property-rights disputes should be resolved, not favor oceanfront landowners.
Right. Like no one now knows they can take property disputes to court.
Sadly, the law became an Internet poison dart as a video shared on YouTube and Facebook shows Walton County sheriff deputies trying to explain to a beachgoer — an attorney who videotaped the exchange — how to find where he could sit. It involves an instructional "line in the sand" that separates wet from dry sand, a line that changes with the tides.
As the polite deputies say, hey, they aren't attorneys. But the representative of a homeowner's association complained and they had to respond.
Edwards-Walpole this week issued the following statement: "I urge coastal counties to pass customary use ordinances using the streamlined process set forth in HB 631 that balances protection of public access and private property rights and ensures that such ordinances won't face costly and lengthy court challenges."
Except without her bill, the onus wouldn't be on counties to act.
As we said in January, we don't buy that Edwards-Walpole's confusing bill was meant to streamline anything. It was meant to protect the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us beach lovers. And now it's sending the world a bad message about those who can visit our beaches.
Here's more from the representative: "It is a shame that the customary use doctrine, something so simple and straightforward, has been needlessly sensationalized to scare and confuse beachgoers and private property owners alike. HB 631 did not privatize our public beaches. The bill provided a way for local governments to pass ordinances that give the public access to private lands."
No, again. Local governments had that right well before this law. The catch hits those counties that hadn't passed any customary use laws before 2016. See Walton County for example A.
Even the governor notes the mess this law has created.
How about a repeal, lawmakers? The governor's executive order is insufficient. Sure, he can suspend prosecutions, but the law still stands.
Rather than gum up the courts with new challenges, why not revert to local rules? Let's protect our economy by protecting beach access for all.
The Ocala Star Banner encourages readers to search the database of Florida's Division of Unclaimed Property:
We're all looking for a little extra money. Here's an idea for you to consider for some unexpected cash.
Florida's Division of Unclaimed Property holds more than $1 billion in unclaimed assets, predominantly from dormant accounts in banks, insurance and utility companies, securities and trust holdings. And it's not only money. There are jewels, coins, stamps, historical items and more — generally from abandoned safe deposit boxes.
A newspaper employee recently received a letter informing her that the Florida Department of Financial Services was holding property in her name. More about that in a moment.
She went online to FLTreasureHunt.gov, and did a quick search for her name from a dropdown menu at the top of the page. It came up, along with dozens of other people with the same name — but one listed an address of hers from over a decade ago. Long story short, there was a $300 item listed from a company she once worked for. By completing a simple verification process online, she was told that a $300 check would be forthcoming. Two weeks later, it arrived. That was last week.
This week the same employee was showing a friend how the website worked. She did the search again and, this time, scrolled farther down the list of names. There she found yet another listing for an address from 25 years ago. This one turned out to be $50 and was listed as life insurance interest payment for a beneficiary. That claim verification is underway, and a check will be forthcoming as well.
The money held is yours. There is no cost to search the site and no cost to verify a claim. Even the postage for the check is free. So why not take a look?
There are a couple of things to be aware of. The initial contact letter may not be from the Division of Unclaimed Property. If the letter is signed by Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Petronis, it's likely the real thing. But private companies, calling themselves licensed private investigators, may contact you instead.
Much more likely, though, you'll begin to receive these mailouts after you claim the account. Our employee received three such letters between the time she filed the claim and the time the actual check came in the mail. These are official-looking letters and completely legal.
They, however, hint that they found the money owed you and will happy "to assist" you in reclaiming your prize. Their commission is capped at 20 percent or a maximum of $1,000.
You do not need these services. The state is holding the money. A week after the letters arrived, so did the check in the full amount from the state.
When and if you do find yourself on the list of possible claimants, you'll be asked to verify your identity. It's all done online. The state then has 90 days to process the claim, but in our employee's case the verification email was two days behind the claim. The check arrived in less than three weeks — start to finish.
As an aside, our employee also found two listings of held assets for her uncle of the same surname and one for her deceased father.
There's a lot of money being held. But if one search can find a total of five claims for immediate family members, isn't it worth the time to take a look?
The Ledger affirms support for Florida's Stand Your Grand law, but cautions against abuse of the statute:
Few situations are ever improved once politics play a part, and we're seeing this unfold over in Clearwater — with possible adverse implications for gun-rights' proponents throughout Florida.
Outside a Clearwater convenience store on July 19, 47-year-old Michael Drejka, who witnesses said had displayed a history of behaving like a self-delegated czar of parking lot etiquette at the store, angrily confronted a woman who had parked in a handicapped parking space — although she apparently had no handicapped tag or sticker, and despite plenty of other regular spaces being available. The woman's boyfriend, Markeis McGlockton, 28, witnessed this encounter, and in defense of his girlfriend and their 5-year-old son who was in the car, he shoved Drejka to the ground. Drejka then pulled a gun and shot the unarmed McGlockton, even though he seemingly backed away from Drejka once he saw the weapon. McGlockton, a father of three, died shortly afterward.
The outcome was a tragedy. But Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri compounded the sad incident by announcing the following day that Drejka would not be arrested because his actions appeared justified under the state's 2005 Stand Your Ground law.
Gualtieri cited the law's "largely subjective standard," and further alleged that Drejka might sue if arrested, based on changes lawmakers made to the statute in 2017. "It cuts towards this guy's belief, in his mind, that he's going to be harmed again, and he had to shoot to defend himself. And those are the facts. And that's the law," Gualtieri told reporters.
Yet conservative state lawmakers, defense lawyers and NRA spokeswoman Marion Hammer all have told the media that none of that is true. But because Gualtieri chose to substitute his immediate judgment for that of prosecutors, all sorts of trouble is taking root.
Because Drejka is white and McGlockton is black, critics immediately spied another racially charged case akin to that involving George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin — a comparison made worse because many of the law's critics have failed to explain that Zimmerman never invoked Stand Your Ground as his defense. He instead claimed self-defense, which led to his 2013 acquittal on murder charges.
Thus, Stand Your Ground critics now are calling for the law to be changed or repealed. They do so while stoking racial animus and promoting claims that the law is racist — although in the past critics have claimed the law is flawed because it allowed gangbangers in minority neighborhoods to declare open season on each other without consequence. In fact, after Martin's slaying in 2012, the Tampa Bay Times analyzed nearly 200 Stand Your Ground cases and concluded that there was "no obvious bias in how black defendants have been treated." The Times reported at the time that black defendants declaring Stand Your Ground in deadly shootings went free 66 percent of the time, compared to 61 percent for white defendants.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson now is piling on by literally trying to make a federal case out of a local law enforcement matter. Nelson is leading a cadre of Democratic federal lawmakers, including some who have no connection to Florida, in urging the Justice Department to tap its civil rights division to investigate the McGlockton shooting. And the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of America's foremost race-baiters, is expected to be in Clearwater on Aug. 5 to, as Sharpton tweeted, protest McGlockton's death.
The bottom line of all of this is that Gualtieri has opened the door for legal mayhem that, if carried to fruition, could end up depriving law-abiding citizens of the right to defend themselves.
To clarify, Stand Your Ground does not excuse murder. The law originally was based on the premise that defendants had to justify their use of force. That changed in 2017, when lawmakers put the burden on prosecutors to show the force was not justifiable. But however such cases proceed, the decision to prosecute the person who resorted to force belongs first to the state attorney and then a judge — not law enforcement.
Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe is reviewing the case. McGlockton's family, anti-gun activists and some Democratic lawmakers are increasing the pressure for Drejka's arrest. If McCabe believes a murder case can be made against him, we trust he will be arrested, despite Sheriff Gualtieri's assertion, and a vigorous prosecution would ensue. That would be appropriate.
We support Stand Your Ground, but recognize it is not a license to kill, and should not be abused to support bogus or irresponsible claims of force. Despite what many may think, the people who believe that most fervently are gun owners who now worry their critics have another motive to strip them of their constitutional rights.