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Florida editorial roundup

December 19, 2018

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Dec. 17

Tampa Bay Times on Florida’s attorney general joining the lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act, which a judge ruled unconstitutional:

Here’s a lovely Christmas gift from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. The federal lawsuit she joined on behalf of the state to challenge the Affordable Care Act resonated with a friendly conservative judge in Texas, who late Friday struck down the entire law. The ruling will be appealed, but it unnecessarily leaves millions of Floridians anxious and uncertain about whether they will get to keep their benefits and coverage in the long term.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor found the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional even though the challenge by Republican governors and state attorneys general from Florida and 19 other states focused on a narrow issue. The judge concluded the entire law must be scrapped because he found unconstitutional the requirement that most Americans must have health coverage or pay a tax penalty. The tax penalty was essentially eliminated by Congress last year, so the judge illogically concluded that makes the mandate illegal and the entire law fatally flawed. Both liberal and conservative legal experts question the judge’s reasoning, and the ruling is certain to be appealed.

That is little comfort to Floridians who are among 23 million Americans who get health coverage through the federal or state marketplaces, or through Medicaid expansion in 36 states. It’s ironic the court ruling came the day before the deadline to sign up on the federal marketplace for 2019 coverage. Heading into the final days, Florida led the nation in sign-ups with nearly 1 million residents obtaining coverage. The total would have been higher if the Trump administration had not tried to sabotage the law by slashing spending for advertising and for hiring navigators to help consumers find the best deals.

Don’t forget that millions of Floridians benefit from other portions of the Affordable Care Act. Parents can keep their children on the family health insurance plan until the kids are 26 years old. There are protections for several million Floridians with pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure, who cannot be denied coverage. There are provisions that require free preventative care such as mammograms and vaccinations. All of those benefits would be wiped out if the Affordable Care Act disappeared, which is what Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott have advocated for years.

Predictably, President Donald Trump called the court ruling “a big, big victory.” Sen. Marco Rubio also was happy, releasing a statement that said the decision is a “stark reminder of the millions of Americans who are suffering under the law. Americans should have the ability to buy a health plan that meets their needs, rather than what Washington tells them.” No word from Scott, who distanced himself from the lawsuit during his successful campaign for U.S. Senate and claimed to support keeping protections for pre-existing conditions. And not a peep from Bondi, who did not represent the best interests of Floridians in joining this partisan lawsuit.

If the ruling ultimately stands, Republicans would face a political backlash and be forced to come up with an alternative. Polls show Americans narrowly support the Affordable Care Act, and support is far higher for the law’s most popular provisions.

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

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Dec. 15

South Florida Sun Sentinel on the state commission investigating the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting releasing its draft report:

Nearly 20 years after Columbine — and despite more than 40 school shootings since, including at Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech — the faculty and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were abjectly unprepared for Nikolas Cruz and his AR-15.

So was the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, which was charged with protecting them.

Those are the brutal but inescapable conclusions of the state commission investigating the Feb. 14 massacre, which left 17 dead and 17 injured. The panel released its 407-page draft report Dec. 12 and will continue to work on it.

The report tells a wrenching story of warnings ignored and safety measures untaken. One commission member, a grieving parent, did not overstate in calling the Parkland massacre “the most preventable” of school shootings, a modern phenomenon whose frequency and ferocity represents a unique national disgrace.

The commission identified a multitude of failures, including the failure to believe something like this could happen at Stoneman Douglas, the failure to appreciate the threat posed by a student involved in 69 violent incidents since third grade, the failure to lock or attend open gates, the failure to respond to an active shooter by calling a Code Red lockdown, the failure to create safe classroom corners invisible from door windows, the failure to conduct active-shooter drills, and the failure of law enforcement to adhere to national norms in responding to a school shooting.

Regrettably, before delivering its report to the Florida Legislature, the commission ended its final meeting with a call to arm teachers.

That’s dangerous. No teacher would be a good match for a deranged youth wielding a high-velocity, military-style assault weapon. It’s false security that distracts from what should be done.

Cruz shot 34 people while an armed sheriff’s deputy cowered outside. Arriving deputies hesitated to enter, too. Apparently, they relied on a department policy that flouts the lesson of Columbine, which calls for police to immediately pursue the shooter, not wait for reinforcements, perimeters or command posts.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel had changed the policy to say deputies “may” — not “shall” — pursue the shooter. “I want an effective tactical response, not a suicide response,” he told the commission.

It took 11 minutes for police to enter Stoneman Douglas. Even then, it was four officers from the Coral Springs Police Department. BSO deputies remained just outside the door, the report said. This disgrace was the most egregious of BSO’s many failures that day.

Meanwhile, the school’s faculty and staff, including designated safety monitors, appeared largely clueless on how and when to call a “Code Red,” which would have alerted teachers and students to take shelter in their classrooms.

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In November, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told commissioners the district had immediately set out to improve safety measures. He told the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board last week that among other things, 70 percent of schools now have a single point of entry, new gate and camera systems have been installed, and anyone who hasn’t been to a school lately wouldn’t recognize today’s tough procedures for gaining access.

But many commission members, who have gained a deep understanding of the district’s culture, don’t trust him.

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Sad to say, the Stoneman Douglas commission report says nothing about better gun control, which would include a long-overdue ban on military-style assault weapons like the one Cruz used to massacre so many. The commission has until 2023 to complete its work. Common sense gun control belongs on its agenda. ...

Online: https://www.sun-sentinel.com/

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Dec. 19

The Palm Beach Post on Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis’ role in the South Florida Water Management District’s direction:

It’s possible that by being rude to U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) board inadvertently did the whole state of Florida a favor.

Let’s go back to the day after the Nov. 6 election. The powerful water-management board was about to vote on a hugely important item that it slipped into the agenda at the last minute: extending Florida Crystals’ lease for eight more years on state-owned land earmarked for the coming south reservoir.

Mast, the congressman who represents the Treasure Coast areas plagued by toxic blue-green algae-laden water discharged from Lake Okeechobee, had rushed to the meeting 75 miles away in Coral Gables out of deep alarm that the reservoir project was being sabotaged in a stealth maneuver by sell-outs to the sugar interests.

He pleaded for more time, for more information. He explained that he was speaking not just for the people of his district, but as Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis’ environmental point-man during the transition. At least, Mast said, give the incoming governor a chance to weigh in.

Nope. Without breaking stride, the board members, all appointed by outgoing Gov. Rick Scott, unanimously voted to extend the lease, which was to expire in March.

The slipperiness of the board’s maneuver put a sinister cast on what may prove to be a benign action. In the two years it will take for construction on the reservoir to begin, why not let the land be farmed? Florida Crystals says it will relinquish needed acres when the project requires it.

But the board’s haughty refusal to inform or consult with the incoming governor — potentially tying DeSantis’ hands on a problem he has promised to solve as governor — speaks volumes about the presumptuousness of this nine-member panel. We don’t blame Mast one bit for saying, in a subsequent interview on Miami CBS-4′s “Facing South Florida”, that the whole lot of them “should be replaced.”

Anything that shakes up, and ultimately reverses, Scott’s mismanagement of Florida’s waters would be an improvement. If DeSantis previously had any reluctance to change the course set by his fellow-Republican, the SFWMD’s disrespect should harden his determination to do what’s right for the state’s environment, its economy and its people’s health.

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Online: https://www.palmbeachpost.com/

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