Florida editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The Ledger of Lakeland on funding affordable housing:
Various agencies throughout Polk County are working hard to try to fend off the potential for rising homelessness - something all of us should want.
One critical, self-evident aspect of preventing problems with homelessness confronting places like San Francisco and Los Angeles is ensuring local communities have enough affordable housing.
Some recent endeavors in this vein that immediately spring to mind are Talbot House Ministries’ affordable housing project with two apartment buildings in downtown Lakeland, Lakeland Habitat for Humanity’s effort to assist low-income elderly veterans with “tiny houses” in Mulberry, and Winter Haven’s initiative, driven by Mayor Brad Dantzler, to find housing for homeless students.
For context, the Florida Housing Coalition defines affordable housing as that which costs owners or tenants with earnings on the lower end of the wage scale no more than 30% of their household income. For example, the median household income in Polk County, as of 2017, was about $46,000 a year. Per coalition guidelines, a family would be considered “very low income” if they made 50% of that, or $23,000. Thus, that family’s housing could be considered “affordable” if they spent $575 a month or less for it.
Florida has had a mechanism to help people in a housing-finance crunch since 1992, when the Legislature adopted the Sadowski Affordable Housing Act. The Sadowski Act created a trust fund, fed by taxes on real estate transactions, that aided individuals and local governments in finding affordable housing or increasing its stock.
But in recent years lawmakers have exhibited a bad habit of funneling this money elsewhere, thus defeating the purpose and practice of the Sadowski Act.
Looking forward to the 2020 legislative session, we encourage Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers to leave this account alone.
A report by the Florida Housing Finance Corp., which administers Sadowski Act funds for the state, reveals what has been lost as lawmakers have drained this program.
Between 1993 and 2018, the Sadowski Act generated a total of $5.9 billion for housing initiatives. Lawmakers left it alone and funded things accordingly for the first 10 years. But they dipped into the trust fund for the first time in fiscal year 2002, siphoning off $12 million. “Sweeping,” as this practice is known, subsequently proved to be an addiction, the report shows.
Only three times between 2004 and 2018 did lawmakers not draw money from the trust fund. In fact, in two years - 2012 and 2014 - they took it all and didn’t appropriate anything for Sadowski Act programs, the report indicates. Meanwhile, 2019 marked the 12th consecutive year that lawmakers swept the Sadowski trust fund for additional revenue.
Overall during the past quarter-century, lawmakers diverted $2.01 billion from the trust fund - or more than a third of its total revenue - for other projects or programs. According to the FHFC, the trade-off for this “forgone funding” being swept elsewhere into the state budget over the last 25 years has been an estimated 167,000 fewer units of affordable housing.
This is unconscionable. And it must stop.
For his part, Gov. DeSantis showed last session that he was willing to leave the trust fund alone. But that didn’t last. Ultimately, lawmakers found a new home for $125 million of its revenue. Admittedly, it was hard to argue with rerouting those dollars. The Legislature packaged $115 million to help areas in the Panhandle devastated by Hurricane Michael.
But for fiscal year 2021, we call on the governor and our lawmakers to wean themselves off this revenue source, which will get fatter as growth returns to pre-Great Recession levels, and use it for its intended purpose: to help the less fortunate put a roof over their heads.
The Palm Beach Post on a senate bill that would force Florida companies to verify their employees’ immigration status:
“Absurd,” “counterproductive,” “flawed,” “illogical” “impractical,” “irresponsible,” “quixotic,” “unworkable” -- just some of the words used to assail a plan that would require every Florida business to check the immigration status of new employees through E-Verify.
We prefer “hypocritical.”
Last year, Republicans in Tallahassee went after so-called “sanctuary cities,” making it illegal for Florida counties and municipalities to resist helping U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) round up and detain undocumented immigrants. Never mind that the state had no officially declared sanctuary cities.
Now, Republicans like Gov. Ron DeSantis, and state Sens. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, and Tom Lee, R-Thonotossassa -- parroting the bellicose anti-immigration language of President Donald Trump -- are pushing Senate Bill 664. The idea, catnip to immigration restrictionists, is to force employers to out their undocumented workers and give those jobs to real Americans. DeSantis says he plans to prioritize the bill in the upcoming legislative session, calling it “the best way to help deter illegal immigration.”
But the business community wants no harsh anti-immigration policing of their workplaces. And -- fortunately for the state as a whole -- cooler heads in the Florida Senate don’t want to antagonize the business sector that pours so much campaign cash into Republican political coffers.
In other words, GOP anti-immigrant zeal is poised to clash with some of the party’s most stalwart supporters. How likely is this bill to succeed? And how much is posturing?
E-Verify is the federal program that electronically compares information from I-9 tax forms with federal Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration databases. If SB 664 and a similar House bill become law, any business or contractor that fails to comply with the E-Verify program risks substantial fines, and suspension or revocation of their licenses. The bill also allows Floridians to file complaints against businesses they suspect hired undocumented workers.
According to a broad array of business leaders, E-Verify could devastate the economy of Florida -- where an estimated 425,000 unauthorized immigrants, about 7% of the population, reside in the greater Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area alone, according to the Pew Research Center.
That is, if E-Verify works as advertised. The experiences of Arizona and Mississippi, two of the few states where E-Verify is the law, suggest strongly that it doesn’t. Workers find it easy to fool the system by flashing fake identification. Businesses simply avoid using the system and face little, if any, consequence.
No wonder this draconian measure is running into widespread opposition – from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
So let’s get real. This bill isn’t going anywhere. Unless DeSantis and Gruters -- who also chais the Republican Party of Florida -- are tired of their political careers, they’re not going to risk throwing Florida’s economy into chaos to prove how tough they are on alleged illegal immigration.
As for the hypocrisy: In the world of political theater, you can get guaranteed applause from certain audiences just by promising to crack down on the workplaces that entice foreigners to risk sneaking into the U.S. in the first place.
But in the real world, everyone knows that the three main pillars of Florida’s economy -- agriculture, construction and tourism -- are utterly dependent on those low-paid, hard-working people.
It’s tempting to dare DeSantis and like-minded Republicans to even bring an E-Verify bill up for a vote. In the unlikely event that the law did its job and sent masses of undocumented people packing, desperate Florida employers -- especially small businesses -- would soon be complaining of shortages of people to pick tomatoes, lay roof tiles under a broiling sun, clean hotel rooms and more.
And then, perhaps, these short-sighted lawmakers would be forced to create some sort of rational, temporary-worker system that would enable foreign workers to fill the vacant jobs -- without the workers having to break U.S. law to do it.
The true fix to our nation’s immigration problems, of course, requires action in Washington, where Congress and President Trump must craft a comprehensive package to address citizenship, visa and work-related issues. There’s little chance of that, given our divisive political environment and the fact that we are heading into a hyper-partisan presidential election year.
In lieu of that, it’s up to DeSantis, Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and other Republican leaders to come up with a practical plan that addresses the realities of immigration and work, rather than scores political talking points.
The Daytona Beach News Journal on legalizing marijuana:
Public opinion on marijuana use is shifting dramatically. Just 10 years ago, polls showed that right around half of Americans supported wholesale legalization, including recreational use. In recent polls, however, national support has grown into a solid majority, ranging around 65%. Last week, a statewide poll had Floridians 64% in favor of total legalization.
Eleven states have followed that lead, legalizing the sale and use of recreational pot. Of the rest, all but three have authorized marijuana to be dispensed for medical use — and in many of those states, the definition of “medical” has been stretched mighty thin. (As Tuesday’s edit pointed out, some Florida doctors are advertising that they will write medical marijuana recommendations for conditions as far-fetched as obesity, stuttering and writer’s cramp — and that’s under the aegis of a 2016 constitutional amendment that was supposed to be strictly written to limit use to serious conditions such as cancer and debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder.)
Meanwhile, communities across Florida have recognized the foolishness and cruelty of derailing lives over the possession and use of a substance that most people regard as about as dangerous as alcohol — if that. The result is a well-intentioned but confusing (and often poorly drafted) patchwork of local ordinances that allow so-called “civil citations” to be issued for people caught with small amounts of pot.
As soon as 2020, Florida voters could be asked if they want to stop the charade and decriminalize marijuana altogether. Two constitutional amendments are advancing steadily toward the ballot that would do just that.
Florida voters can expect to be approached at least a few times in the next few months and asked to sign a petition. There aren’t that many differences between the two proposals, but one appears to be a little more consumer-friendly and free-market, while the other has more financial resources.
Regulate Florida/Sensible Florida was the first one out of the gate. It would regulate marijuana the same way the state regulates alcohol — which would open the market and allow Floridians to grow their own marijuana in small amounts. It faces an uphill battle to the ballot, with just $200,000 in contributions so far and fewer than 100,000 of the 766,200 signatures it needs by Jan. 1 (giving county elections supervisors 30 days to verify signatures and turn them in by Feb. 1).
Make It Legal Florida started later — but with strong financial backing from some in Florida’s medical-pot industry, it can afford more paid signature-gatherers. It would use the same structure as medical marijuana, which funnels business to a handful of licensed, “vertically integrated” companies that have the ability to grow and sell marijuana.
Having either amendment on the ballot — or both — should start a debate. And it’s one that seems right about time for Floridians to have.
The growing acceptance, and the steady march toward legalization, don’t change the fundamental realities of marijuana use. There’s little likelihood that marijuana can treat all the conditions its supporters claim. And it’s still a powerful psychoactive substance, with significant and well-documented health risks.
But it’s also something that hundreds of millions of people around the world use, and enjoy, with few negative consequences — and that goes for the states that have legalized marijuana completely. Granting it legal status could open the door for more and better research on the real health benefits. It would do away with the need to go through a physician (which can cost up to $300) to get a state “pot card.” And last week, a state committee estimated it could produce $190 million a year in tax revenue.
In the end, Floridians may decide they don’t want to take the plunge into full legalization just yet. But it’s time to at least ask the question