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Florida editorial roundup

October 23, 2019 GMT

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Oct. 12

The Ledger of Lakeland on a potential specialty license that will help fund research on aiding the bee population:

Last spring freshman state Rep. Melony Bell introduced a bill to help raise awareness of the risk to Florida’s honey bees — a vital link in our food chain.

The Fort Meade Republican wanted to create a specialty license plate whose sales would generate funding for the Florida State Beekeepers Association to use for promoting honeybee research and related educational and husbandry programs. The bill passed one subcommittee unanimously but went no further.

Bell has revived her license-plate bill for 2020. For the sake of the bees, and for the continued health of our nation’s agricultural sector, we hope it creates more of a buzz this time.

The situation with bees, which are important in pollinating crops, is a mixed bag.

In March 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the number of managed bee colonies across the U.S. has remained relatively stable since 1996. But beekeepers have been concerned about the winter extinction rate, which since 2007 has doubled the historic average. One group that tracks such trends, the Bee Informed Partnership, noted in June that last winter’s colony kill-off was the worst in the 13 years it has followed the issue.

One method beekeepers have used to keep ahead of this situation is to “split” their colonies. Yet last week WUSF offered a report outlining threats to honey bees that suggests simply splitting hives may not help. (Rep. Bell’s husband, Robbie, a beekeeper, was a subject in the WUSF report. He is not on the board of the state beekeepers’ association that would control the license-plate funding, if the bill is enacted, according to the group’s website.)

WUSF noted that one affliction for bees is the varroa mite, an insect that infests colonies and may figure into “colony collapse disorder,” a condition that the USDA says figures prominently in beekeepers’ winter woes.

Another factor is the growing use of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or “neo-nics.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers neo-nics to be very effective in controlling pests that threaten a wide array of crops, according to WUSF. But they are also highly lethal to pollinators, like honey bees.

A spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council told WUSF that 40% of bees die off each year because of pesticides, which is three times the historic norm, and neo-nics, sued of which began 25 years ago, are responsible for almost all of that increase. And the EPA has just green-lighted a new neo-nic without requiring a study of its effect on pollinators, prompting legal action from the beekeeping industry.

Despite that, though, Jamie Ellis, who runs the University of Florida’s bee research lab, says the varroa mites are far more threatening to bees, relative to pesticides, WUSF noted.

As we mentioned above, honey bees are critical to the food chain.

The USDA notes, “Pollinators, most often honey bees, are responsible for one in every three bites of food we take, and increase our nation’s crop values each year by more than $15 billion.”

Back in June NPR observed that beekeepers have become an “essential cog” in keeping our farms and groves going because wild insects cannot keep pace. But they face limits in what they can do to fend off these threats. As a Sierra Club article noted last week, “Splitting honeybee hives is triage. It’s not a long-term solution.”

That’s where Rep. Bell’s license-plate idea comes in. It may not provide a definitive solution to these ills. But it can help boost researchers’ efforts to address them. Hence, we encourage more lawmakers to “bee” involved in her cause next year.

Online: https://www.theledger.com


Oct. 19

The Tampa Bay Times on the lack of effort to help residents in a mobile home park get clean water:

Some systems are simply broken. The story of Clearwater’s Southern Comfort mobile home park represents the very worst of government bureaucracy, where repeated notices by state and county officials of bacteria near the source of the mobile home park’s tap water led to no action. Now the only action left is to remove these residents from their homes — for some, the only homes they can afford — by shutting the whole place down.

It should never have come to this. The drinking water conditions at Southern Comfort Mobile Home Park were so bad that residents grew accustomed to buying bottled water, knowing that the tap water was not potable, reported the Tampa Bay Times’ Kavitha Surana. They weren’t surprised by brown or odorous water. One resident had to bathe her children with bottled water and baby wipes because her two eldest developed rashes and peeling skin that they believe comes from the dirty tap water. At one time, nearly 500 people lived in the park, but now only about 12 families remain. Why did they stay? “Conformismo” is what one resident called it: “You’ll settle for what is happening around you. You won’t demand more. I think that’s what we are seeing around here.”

This was a total bureaucratic failure. The first documentation of an issue with the park’s wastewater treatment plant came as early as 1972, nearly 50 years before the park’s upcoming closure. Yet over decades no improvements were made. In 2010, the state Department of Environmental Protection filed a lawsuit against the plant owner, claiming the waste and bacteria in the water was too high and that untreated or inadequately treated sewage could run off into the ground. That, in turn, could have leaked into the well that was the source of the park’s drinking water, according to experts.

Still no action was taken, a recurring theme of this entire sad story. The park’s owner did hire a lab to test monthly water samples in the distribution line — only once was bacteria found, in 2018, but it was determined a “false positive,” said the state. A year earlier, the Pinellas Department of Environmental Protection Division tested the creek behind the park after a resident complained. It found levels of bacteria, like E. Coli and fecal coliform, that were “off the charts,” the director said. The park was fined $17,508, but still nothing changed. After all, that division only controlled the creek, not the park’s tap water. But this kind of bureaucracy, where each agency points the finger at the other, is unacceptable. That so many government agencies were in the loop about this mobile home park, for almost 10 years, and yet nothing changed for these residents is ridiculous.

Now the few residents who remain are being told they must leave. When at least one family was paying $658 a month to rent the land under their mobile home, comparable prices are limited and many feel it would be too expensive to simply move their mobile homes. It’s hard to find housing under $1,000 for a family of five in many parts of Pinellas County.

It’s important this situation is coming to light. These families who, for so long, have been ignored and allowed to live in plain sight in deplorable conditions. Now they are told they must leave even when some of them feel they have nowhere to go.

Online: https://www.tampabay.com


Oct. 18

The South Florida SunSentinel on executing a man that may be innocent:

Florida convicted two men of savagely murdering a 14-year-old girl at Indian Rocks Beach in 1985.

The career criminal who now says he alone did it is serving life in prison.

The other, who insists he is innocent and may indeed be, is on death row, where Gov. Ron DeSantis intends for him to die Nov. 7.

This glaring disparity isn’t the only reason why James Dailey, 73, should be spared from execution.

To convict him, prosecutors depended on the testimony of jailhouse informants who said Dailey admitted the crime to them, describing in gruesome detail how Shelly Boggio was beaten, stabbed and drowned.

They could have gleaned it all from the newspaper articles that detectives showed them.

Commonly known as snitches, jailhouse informants are notoriously unreliable and often corrupt. Sometimes they tell the truth, often they don’t, and it is difficult to know the difference. In either case, authorities who wouldn’t rely on such people for the time of day fall overboard to believe them when they’re ratting on others.

Some of their lies are exposed when other evidence, particularly DNA, conclusively proves the innocence of the fellow prisoners they betrayed. Of the 72 Florida cases listed on the National Registry of Exonerations, seven involved perjured testimony by jailhouse informants who sought better deals for themselves. Six of those seven exonerations owed to belated DNA testing, conclusively proving that the snitches lied.

The most damning testimony against Dailey came from an ex-cop turned career criminal, Paul Skalnick. During two years in the Pinellas County jail, he gave incriminating testimony against 33 fellow inmates, including Dailey and four others whom he helped to put on death row.

Subsequently, Skalnik was convicted and imprisoned for raping a child in Texas. He was also arrested in Massachusetts for scamming people out of money by posing as a lawyer.

There is no DNA evidence to involve or exclude Dailey in the Boggio murder. Nor is there any eyewitness or other physical evidence to connect him to it.

Dailey was implicated by his roommate, Jack Pearcy, who was trying to save himself, and succeeded. Once convicted and sentenced to life, he refused to testify at Dailey’s trial. Subsequently, he told other convicts he alone was the murderer. He also has said so in a sworn affidavit, but the courts refuse to take any of that seriously.

Nor does it apparently matter to them that Pearcy, unlike Dailey, had an extensive criminal record before coming to Florida, including violence against an ex-girlfriend, escape from custody and a murder-for-hire plot in Missouri.

Dailey, on the other hand, is a decorated Air Force veteran who served three tours in Vietnam, arriving at the height of the Tet Offensive. He had only one civilian conviction, for a bar brawl, on his record.

It does not seem to trouble the governor’s conscience that the man with the lurid record will live in prison, while the other man is marked for death. But it should deeply concern every Floridian to whom equality and justice are inseparable virtues.

With ironic timing, DeSantis has set Dailey’s execution just four days before Veterans Day.

In twice rejecting Dailey’s latest appeal, the Florida Supreme Court relied heavily on procedural rules, rather than face the doubts about Dailey’s guilt. Innocence, said the court with brutal candor, isn’t “cognizable” under Florida law. All that matters is whether the rules were observed.

Dailey’s was the 23rd case — out of 27 in the past year — in which the court has ruled against death row inmates.

After Pearcy escaped the electric chair, detectives combed the jail for informants who might help send Dailey to death row. They had no trouble finding some.

“It was a circumstantial case, it’s not like there was an upstanding citizen eyewitness to the case,” an original prosecutor, Beverly Andringa, told the Tampa Bay Times last month. “So speculation is all we have as to what happened.”

She has since said, according to court records, that she would not consider Skalnik to be a credible witness in future cases.

Nothing else linked Dailey to the crime scene other than the testimony of Pearcy’s girlfriend that Dailey had returned to their residence shirtless and dripping wet. But that didn’t prove who killed the victim. Witnesses said they had seen her with only one man that night, not two.

Dailey remains on death row, his life dwindling to weeks, while Skalnik is reportedly in a nursing home and Pearcy, 64, is serving life without parole at Sumter Correctional Institution.

When different juries produce such unequal results and the courts accept them, the governor should balance the scales.

Once upon a time, governors did. Bob Graham, who sent the first 16 men to the death chamber under Florida’s 1972 law, also commuted six sentences to life in prison. In four of the cases, it was because their co-defendants had been sentenced to life.

But no governor has granted death row clemency since 1985, the first year of Graham’s second term. His successors have accounted for 83 executions while refusing, with rare exceptions, to explain whether they even considered clemency or why they denied it.

Dailey deserves a public hearing by the state’s clemency board. If DeSantis isn’t willing to call one, any member of the Cabinet could — and should.

DeSantis signed the death warrant, on Sept. 25, while Dailey’s most recent appeal was awaiting a decision by the Florida Supreme Court. The court decided the case without oral argument. It ruled unanimously against Dailey eight days after the death warrant signing.

The governor’s communications director has not replied to two e-mails asking why he signed a death warrant with an appeal pending before the court or whether he had relied on predecessor Rick Scott’s decision to deny clemency to Dailey.

After the Supreme Court ruling, Dailey’s lawyers asked the Sixth Circuit for another hearing and a stay of execution, both of which were denied swiftly. At a hearing, a former prosecutor who barely a month ago had given the defense an affidavit pointing strongly to Pearcy as the sole killer couldn’t recall what he had described in the document.

Dailey’s legal dockets record a travesty of justice.

When the U.S. Supreme Court wrote off a Texas inmate’s appeal, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in dissent that the execution of someone who could prove he is innocent would be “perilously close to simple murder.”

We don’t know whether Dailey is innocent. Only Dailey and Pearcy know that. But the doubt is so strong, the jailhouse snitch factor so troubling, and the disparity between the two men so great, that this execution, too, would be perilously close to simple murder.

Online: www.sun-sentinel.com