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Florida editorial roundup

May 9, 2019

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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May 8

The Miami Herald on hurricane preparedness:

Less than a month out from the start of hurricane season on June 1, Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives are in South Florida to remind us about disaster preparedness. But there is a twist to their pitch this year, and we think it’s a necessary one.

It’s not only about having a plan to weather a storm; it’s about making sure that any plan includes financial preparedness beyond getting some cash out of the ATM in case electricity is knocked out later.

Under the threat of bigger, badder disasters fueled by climate change and sea-level rise, FEMA is trying to prepare Americans to better bounce back from disaster by being adequately insured to avoid “unneeded disaster suffering.”

The question is, “How do we focus on resilience going forward,” David Maurstad, FEMA’s chief executive of the National Flood Insurance Program, told the Editorial Board.

In other words, at the recent rate of natural disasters, can FEMA, whose recent response has faced criticism, help everyone in need? Doesn’t look like it.

The idea is not to sit and wait for a disaster, then react, but to ensure greater investment in mitigation strategies before and after disasters to make buildings, infrastructure, communities — and individuals — more resilient to the effects of extreme weather and other catastrophic events.

With well-insured homes, the federal government can cut down the sums of money currently spent on disaster recovery. Americans need to invest in their preparedness with flood insurance and thus soften the pain and suffering of recovery by shortening the time in the event they become victims. This is advice from the government agency designed to rescue us. We probably should take it. Yes, it will cost us money.

This year alone, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting that 200 million Americans, mainly in the Midwest, are at risk of flooding from snow melt and high rains. “They are expecting an unprecedented flood season,” Maurstad said. Already FEMA has 53 open disaster events, including one in the Florida Keys and one in the Panhandle.

Add a hurricane strike for Florida this season, and FEMA will be overloaded.

So the agency is focusing on a central theme: Americans need to be better insured. And they must realize that their homeowners insurance does not cover flooding and understand the value of flood insurance, which he thinks many more should have. “A lot of people think their homeowners insurance will pay flood damage; they’re wrong,” Maurstad said.

Unfortunately, Congress has been working at odds with this advice: Last year, the National Flood Insurance Program had a $25 billion deficit. Florida is a donor state. In 2017, Florida made up about 35 percent of NFIP policies. But it has received a little over 7 percent of its payouts during the past four decades. The maps that outline a region’s flood risk are perilously out of date. And premiums keep rising.

Congress’ attempts to stabilize FEMA’s finances have repeatedly failed.

FEMA’s new pitch is an admission that Americans can no longer rely on the agency to come save them, as stumbles in Florida, Puerto Rico and California make clear.

It’s an honest, but unfortunate, message.

Online:

https://www.miamiherald.com/

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May 6

The St. Augustine on arming teachers:

“I have a very strict gun control policy: if there’s a gun around, I want to be in control of it.” — Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood was a gun-totin’, rascal-shootin’ TV and movie actor who rarely showed up on the tube or screen without a sidearm attached to his hip. We’d assume he isn’t much for gun control; yet his quote may form one of the better arguments for keeping armed teachers out of classrooms.

In it he makes a distinction between the government controlling guns and responsible gun owners controlling the guns around them.

Florida’s Legislature took steps to give the latter definition of gun control a frightening new twist when it voted last week to allow teachers to arm themselves in public, private and charter schools.

The only thing it didn’t do was hand out private school vouchers to buy weapons or allow charter schools to put them in classrooms with no standardized oversight or accountability.

But we digress.

We’re not certain any group in Florida wants to put guns into schools more than our lawmakers — certainly not teachers themselves, or school administrators; certainly not most parents; certainly not students; and certainly not law enforcement.

State lawmakers have attempted in the past to allow guns on college campuses, bars and more. They support open carry. This year they moved forward a bill to allow guns in churches that also had schools on property. It died in the Senate.

The irony should not be lost on Floridians that about the only place lawmakers have shied away from allowing any guns is in both the House and Senate chambers.

While lawmakers can make plenty of “rules” on how guns can be safely carried or stored in schools, rules are only as good as those who keep them. And, sorry, but teachers just don’t fit the bill.

They’re already tasked with teaching kids with wildly varying capacities to learn, while being guidance counselors, mentors, disciplinarians, mental health experts — and being paid like the hundreds of new toll-takers who will be hired to grab cash at the state’s newly funded toll roads to nowhere (but with plenty of room for development at their interchanges).

But we digress.

The bottom line is the potential for gun accidents are in direct proportion to the ability to get your hands on one — in or out of school.

Aside from the simple mathematics are the darker issues we don’t like to speak of. Killing someone is not as care-free as TV makes it out to be. The real problem is lag time. A potential shooter entering a school knows exactly what he/she’s going to do and to whom the deed will be done. There’s no hesitation.

But when confronted with a shooter, even the most experienced law enforcement officers and most highly-trained military personnel must take a half-moment to “think” — you’re not human if you don’t. But that’s all it takes to become the victim rather than a protector.

And the real truth is, it takes skill and practice to hit a barn with a pistol or revolver — from the inside.

And hasn’t it been the case that many school shootings are done by school students? How many of you could kill a 15-year-old in a crowd of 15-year-olds?

Teachers, by their heart and gut, would be among the last group of workers we’d expect to kill a kid — without blinking.

And, they should not be forced to, which is the only redeeming quality of the school safety legislation this year.

Think about it: In Florida, coffee pots, mini-fridges, essential oil diffusers, unfiltered internet access and over-the-counter medicines are disallowed in most classrooms.

Some schools prohibit peanuts in class because of the threat of accidental allergy issues.

Hand guns? Not so much.

Online:

https://www.staugustine.com/

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May 5

The Palm Beach Post on Florida Republican lawmakers:

One has to wonder whether Florida Republican lawmakers even care whether they are raising voters’ ire as they ram through legislation.

Witness the final days before adjournment sine die of this year’s session: A bill authorizing a multi-billion dollar toll road plan through sensitive environmental areas. A bill expanding an already controversial “guardian” program to allow full-time teachers to carry guns in public school classrooms. A down-to-the-wire, anti-immigrant “sanctuary cities” bill for a state that has no sanctuary cities.

All of these, and more were enough to elicit loud protests in the Capitol Rotunda.

But on a broader point, the just-ended session showed a rather objectionable trend: a ramping up of bills either ignoring the will of voters or stifling the authority of local governments.

As legislative pastimes go, lawmakers in Florida and elsewhere have always sought to pass or weaken laws in an effort to circumvent voters. But typically, their better angels would take over or, more appropos, fearing a backlash, they would do the right thing. Not so much any more. Not in our legislature. Not where corporate lobbyists and ideologues, frustrated by the checks placed on them by voters — and the judiciary — tend to rule far too much of the day.

It’s a slippery authoritarian slope lawmakers are on, as evidenced again this session.

Take pre-emption. Attacking the state’s bedrock “home rule” statute, has become a normal course of business when it comes to filing bills. As we said previously, when it comes to big-footing local governments’ authority, it seems nothing is off-limits for Florida legislators.

Plastic straws. Sunscreens. Scooters. Vacation rentals. It doesn’t matter how local, or how well-meaning. If the issue somehow insults lawmakers’ — or influential lobbyists’ — sensibilities, it’s considered fair game to quash the smaller government’s ability to act on behalf of its residents.

For about a dozen counties in the state, including Palm Beach County, that appears to be the case even when it comes to local voter referendums. As of Friday, the Florida Senate had passed and the House was again taking up a bill (HB 7123) that could “potentially” force those counties’ school boards to share a portion of the proceeds from special voter-approved property tax hikes with charter schools.

The Senate removed that provision late Thursday, but the issue remains especially touchy for Palm Beach County. A significant portion of the $200 million estimated to come from referendum approved last fall by 72.3 percent of voters is designated for promised public school teacher raises. The countywide referendum specifically excluded district charter schools. Not surprisingly, charter school advocates are suing the district. The cases are pending.

But we agree with Board member Karen Brill when she says this is not about “whether we are for or against charter schools. It is our ire over the Legislature trying to supplant the will of the voters and the authority of the School Board.”

The 64 percent of voters who approved last fall’s Amendment 4 believed they made their will to restore voting rights to most ex-felons pretty clear. The amendment language was so plain that the measure should be, as its authors say, “self-implementing.” No more should be required of ex-felons than that they register to vote as any other citizen, on pain of penalties if they submit an untruthful application.

But Gov. Ron DeSantis insisted that the Legislature pass a law setting out the terms under which the amendment’s requirements are met. The House, in a party-line vote with Democrats opposing, passed a bill to clarify the ramifications. The legislation specifies that Amendment 4 only restores voting rights after all criminal debt has been repaid. It could block the voting rights of more than 1 million people.

As we saw in Palm Beach County earlier this year, people who got back the right to vote through passage of Amendment 4 have already begun to register. If the GOP bill becomes law, the state would need to cancel some of those registrations. But first, Florida would need to set up a system to track and evaluate the status of criminal debt payments.

Then, as if trying to cripple future voter attempts at expressing their will, Republican lawmakers introduced bills requiring amendments to pass by a two-thirds vote rather than the current 60 percent threshold to become a law.

House sponsor, state Rep. Rick Roth, R-Palm Beach Gardens, attempted to defend the partisan bill (HJR 57/SJR 232), by saying it was designed to protect Florida voters from misleading measures.

That’s needlessly condescending. That the proposed legislation appeared dead in the last days of the session is an indication that Republican leaders can still listen.

We’re indeed hopeful because of their willingness this session to do away with the politically compromised Constitutional Revision Commission, stop a controversial “fetal heartbeat” bill, and bring forward some long-awaited election and criminal justice reform.

We also remain skeptical, especially since those same lawmakers have established a clear pattern of eschewing the decisions of voters and locally elected officials.

That sounds more like dictating, than legislating.

Online:

https://www.palmbeachpost.com/

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