Florida editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The Pensacola News Journal on a Senate bill that would allow private ownership on area beaches:
No matter what side you’re on in the contentious battle over a Senate bill that would allow private ownership on area beaches, one thing is certain. This is federal government action designed to intervene in a local government issue. For that reason alone, Senators Nelson and Rubio should scrap the legislation and allow local citizens to work out issues of taxes, fees and fairness on Santa Rosa Island.
It is unnecessary and inappropriate for federal officials to impose a sweeping major change in the historic status quo of public ownership of a natural treasure like Santa Rosa Island. Especially when the central premise for the bill comes from demands for fairness in county-regulated fees and taxes. We don’t use acts of Congress to solve disputes over parking meter rates. Nor should we look to federal officials to resolve questionable allegations of unfairness in a local tax issue.
Conservative backers of the bill such as Rubio and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz ought to explain to voters exactly why a federal government that should butt out of health care ought to be making sweeping land management decisions for citizens of Escambia County. If that’s not “big government,” then what is?
For Nelson’s part, after initially backing the bill, he has since raised doubts and called for revisions that would put preservation restrictions on Navarre Beach similar to what the bill calls for on Pensacola Beach. Specifically, Nelson’s spokesman said, ”(He) still supports the overall purpose of the bill, but wants to add some additional assurances that Navarre Pass will stay closed and conservation areas preserved.” Nelson is right to call for increased preservation guarantees, but still misses other troubling questions with this bill.
Currently, Escambia County citizens own the Navarre portion of the island and lease it to Santa Rosa County. The proposed legislation would transfer ownership of that land to Santa Rosa, whose officials have rejected the sort of preservation restrictions that the bill contains for Escambia’s portion.
Therein lies the inherent flaw in treating the island as dual territories subject to different standards and protections. The barrier island is a highly unique and sensitive ecosystem. Tides and winds and forces of nature do not recognize imaginary dotted lines or arbitrary dictates and ambitions of neighboring county governments. Public ownership of the island was intended as a protective measure for a rare natural environment with a larger sense of posterity in mind.
Undoing that historic public ownership should require direct and widespread public input from all the citizens who have a stake in the island. That has not been the case at all with this proposed legislation.
Furthermore, before any such move should be considered, citizen stakeholders ought to be provided with a concrete financial analysis of a transfer to private ownership. Neither county nor federal officials have shown Escambia County citizens any hard numbers of what this legislation would mean for taxpayers’ bottom line. Since when are real estate transactions negotiated without some specific appraisals, assessments and dollar amounts on paper?
How much would be gained or lost in tax and fee collection?
How much is all this publicly owned land worth?
Do our commissioners, representatives or senators even have any idea?
We spend thousands on economic impact studies for everything from hockey to road closures in this county. So where’s the science-based economic report to justify the transfer of ownership that this legislation proposes? Show citizens the numbers that deserve their support.
Additionally, Gulf Islands National Seashore has historically been a leading voice for stewardship and a watchman over the entire island. In the past, Seashore officials have rightly opposed a Navarre pass, private ownership and increased development due to the fact that on such a sensitive sliver of sand, changes on one end of the island will inevitably alter the other end. Cut a pass in Navarre and you’ll feel it in Fort Pickens.
Senator Nelson and Rubio should look back at Gulf Island’s historic positions on the issue and seek direct, candid input from National Park leaders and rangers who have become deeply acquainted with these issues over the years. Their opinions are significant and they know the island better than most.
But in the end, the hundreds of thousands of Escambia citizens who own the island ought to decide this issue. The island is their treasure and heritage. And with all due respect to our federal officials, Escambia citizens know the beach better than senators from South Florida or a congressman from Fort Walton.
The beach belongs to locals. And with this overreaching legislation, our federal officials are trespassing.
The Florida Times-Union on a loophole in the state constitution:
Florida’s Constitution needs to be revised to return a sense of fairness to the election process.
Thankfully, the state’s Constitution Revision Commission has taken the first step to removing a cynical loophole in the local election process.
The write-in loophole drives a truck through the state’s intent to open primaries to all voters when just candidates from one party are running.
Both parties have used the device, or at least taken advantage of it. It involves adding a write-in candidate, which closes primaries to voters of the other party and independents.
That makes the general election a sham. No write-in candidate has ever won an election in Florida. And in many of these cases, the write-in candidates are not serious, but stalking horses for the dominant political party.
Nevertheless, the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the write-ins must be treated as if they are legitimate.
And thus there is a need to close this loophole through an amendment to the Constitution.
Enter the Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years to propose amendments for the voters.
There are high hurdles for these amendments. First, it takes 22 of the commission’s 37 members to place an amendment on the ballot. Then the amendment must receive 60 percent of the votes in order to pass.
The Times-Union has supported these high bars for amending the Constitution in order to ensure they are well crafted and serious.
A good example was the medical marijuana amendment, which failed on the first try, was improved and then passed on the second attempt.
The commission is considering a total of eight amendments. We can heartily endorse several others:
- Increasing the mandatory retirement age of judges and justices from 70 to 75. Many of those in the judiciary are in fine physical shape and bring valuable experience.
- Automatically restoring voting rights to ex-felons who have served all of their jail time, probation and parole with the exception of those who committed homicides and sexual offenses.
Bottom line, when the Legislature is unwilling to act, the people must be given the chance to fill the void with Constitutional amendments.
The Sun Sentinel on a proposal to allow adoptees over 18 to learn their biological parents’ identities:
State Rep. Richard Stark of Weston is on a mission. For the second year in a row, he has introduced a bill in the Florida Legislature that would let adopted people over age 18 examine their original birth certificates to learn the identity of their natural parents.
Florida is in the company of 26 other states that grant access only under court order. Sixteen states give partial access to adoptees, usually after jumping through a cumbersome and expensive series of hoops. Just nine states grant the easy access outlined in Stark’s bill.
At issue is an adoptee’s right to answer a fundamental human question: “Who am I and where did I come from?” Without the original birth certificate, that question is not easily answered.
The popularity of services such as Ancestry.com testifies to the thirst for discovering our roots. And the growth of genetic medicine makes knowing the identity of our parents all the more important.
Infant adoptees are issued two birth certificates, the original at birth and a revised one at the conclusion of the adoption. The original bears the names of the mother and father. The revised one, the names of the new parents.
In all but those nine states, the original is sealed. Stark and thousands of other adoptees believe that deprives them of vital information without a court order.
Practically speaking, sealing the records makes it hard to learn the identity of the birth parents, which is precisely why advocates of the current policy favor it. Birth parents, they say, should be protected from unwanted scrutiny.
Arguing that point is State Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford. Like Stark, an adoptee, Brodeur is acutely aware of the sensitivity to privacy among all parties in an adoption — the adoptee, the birth parents and the adopting parents.
He believes, along with many others, that the prospect of disclosure could prompt a would-be mother to abort a pregnancy rather than go through the adoption process.
Opponents also believe disclosure violates the promise of confidentiality that prompts many to agree to adoption.
Stark and his fellow advocates suggest a financial interest for opponents of disclosure. Getting a court order to unseal birth records requires expensive legal help, something the adoption bar favors.
Restricted access was not always the case in Florida. Until 1977 an adoptee was able to gain access to his or her original birth certificate.
But the law was vague on the question of who could adopt, an omission nettlesome to many.
So the Legislature closed what they saw as a loophole. They barred gays and lesbians from adopting. Having done that, they also added the confidentiality provision in the rewrite.
The ban on gays adopting held until 2010, when an appeals court pronounced the prohibition unconstitutional. But the birth record seal remained in place.
Stark sees the issue as common-sense fairness, fundamental to answering someone’s basic questions about who they are.
This is a zero-sum game. If the natural parents enjoy the cloak of anonymity, the adoptee is denied the right to learn his genetic identity. If the adoptee wins the debate, the natural parents are exposed.
Keeping the record sealed until the adoptees’ 18th birthday isn’t a perfect solution, but it does balance competing interests. Two decades of anonymity for the natural parents seems like a fair swap for a lifetime of doubt, uncertainty and mystery for the adoptee.
As in virtually all conflicts between rights, the task before us is to strike a balance. We cherish the freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment, for example, yet we continue to struggle with where to draw the line between the right to speak and the wish to muzzle hate speech.
We believe the merits in this argument lie on the side of the adoptee who, under current law, is totally cut out of the equation, but has the biggest stake in the outcome.
The Legislature owes this year’s bill a hearing, something it failed to get last session.
The law has needed changing for 40 years. A modification is overdue. Surely it is within the ability of the Legislature to address this question in a way that is fair for all.