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Florida editorial roundup

August 7, 2019

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Aug. 7

The Palm Beach Post on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order for an independent investigation into Jeffrey Epstein’s time in the custody of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office:

It’s about the victims. After 15 years of investigating, prosecuting, jailing, coddling and trying to fathom high-profile sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, we can’t forget that it’s still about his underage victims.

That’s what state Sen. Lauren Book, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, wanted the public to bear in mind when she sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis more than two weeks ago asking him to have the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) conduct an independent investigation into the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office’s apparent mishandling of Epstein’s incarceration.

And DeSantis, on Tuesday, relented with an executive order directing FDLE to take over a criminal probe into not only the privileges provided the wealthy financier while he was in PBSO custody more than a decade ago, but also “irregularities” regarding a 2008 plea agreement with Epstein.

DeSantis assigned State Attorney Bruce Colton of the 19th Judicial Circuit to handle any proceedings that arise from the investigation. The 19th Judicial Circuit covers Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties.

“Floridians expect and deserve a full and fair investigation,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement.

We agree. That’s why the Post Editorial Board for two weeks chided DeSantis to honor Book’s repeated entreaties — while the Republican governor gave the cold shoulder and the Plantation Democrat received threats from alleged Bradshaw supporters.

DeSantis, in his prepared statement, pointed to a request in the form of a letter dated Tuesday, Aug. 6, from Bradshaw as the reason for the probe.

Book, who sent 4,000 signatures of support to DeSantis on Monday, also reiterated why an independent review was so important:

“Epstein enjoyed an unprecedented and deeply troubling level of leniency and luxury while incarcerated by PBSO. I am disgusted by the flagrant corruption documented within the logs of deputies assigned to supervise Epstein while on work release and deeply disturbed by allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated under PBSO watch. FDLE’s investigation is the first step toward a clear understanding of what happened and who is responsible.”

Bradshaw, who had earlier ordered an internal investigation into Epstein and PBSO’s work release program, wrote in his letter that the public interest would be better served by a state investigation “from court sentencing to incarceration.”

“Given the recent questions that have been raised around the Jeffrey Epstein case, I am formally requesting that FDLE assume the existing criminal investigation and I pledge the cooperation and participation of my agency,” Bradshaw wrote.

We’re pleased the sheriff finally came around on his thinking. County residents should expect no less. Indeed, an “independent” probe announced on Friday (Aug. 2) by the Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission fell woefully short of the public confidence required in this case.

Jeffrey Epstein preyed on the vulnerability of teenage girls — some as young as 14 — in our community. His wickedness found its way onto our high school campuses. He lured them with money and gifts.

Yet his wealth somehow managed to shield him from the punishment so many feel he deserved.

The victims deserve to know why. We deserve to know why.

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

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Aug. 6

The Ledger of Lakeland on the University of Florida’s decision to provide funding for guest speakers with different viewpoints on campus:

In October 2017 the University of Florida took a bold, unpopular stand for true intellectual diversity and free speech — as an institution of higher learning should.

After the deadly August 2017 clash between white nationalists and Antifa counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia — during which a white nationalist plowed his car into a crowd of demonstrators, killing one woman and injuring almost 20 others — many major public universities rejected a petition to speak from Richard Spencer, the loathsome leader of the National Policy Institute, condemned by many as a white nationalist group.

UF did likewise, but with much apprehension, later relented. The state’s flagship university did so over the objections of protesters who rightfully criticized Spencer’s message, and despite then-Gov. Rick Scott’s emergency declaration, issued amid concern for the potential of violence.

In explaining why they reconsidered, UF administrators denounced Spencer’s “white supremacist rhetoric,” but grudgingly acknowledged that the university “as a state entity must allow free expression of all viewpoints.”

UF made the right decision, despite its wariness and appropriate dismissal of Spencer. If our universities refuse to allow and promote free speech, even speech the bulk of us find despicable, they create a stunted intellectual atmosphere — which, in turn, encapsulates some students in an ideological bubble in which they’ll seek refuge from all ideas they find distasteful, and which relegates others to a political ghetto, from which they will seek another outlet, perhaps to society’s detriment.

Yet it turns out some in power at UF saw the commitment to free speech as merely transactional.

Last December the UF chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a conservative group, sued the university, asserting its free speech rights had been violated.

At the time of the lawsuit UF collected from all its students a mandatory $19 per credit hour fee that funds a variety of events for student organizations. The money was split between groups defined as “budgeted” and “nonbudgeted,” and the university empowered the Student Government organization with control of the purse strings as well as veto power over certain activities. According to Alliance Defending Freedom, the nonprofit group that represented YAF, 48 budgeted student organizations could access a collective pot that exceeded $1 million, with many receiving automatic stipends. On the other hand, another 859 student groups had just $50,000 to divvy up.

YAF was a nonbudgeted group, and Student Government had denied its request to join the ranks of the budgeted. But YAF did receive a special exemption to obtain funding for a speaker. After YAF brought conservative author Dinesh D’Souza to campus in April 2018, Student Government changed its policy to bar nonbudgeted groups from receiving funding for outside speakers.

YAF had sought $6,225 to bring NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch and conservative author and screenwriter Andrew Klavan to Gainesville. But the group’s request was denied under the revised policy. YAF subsequently challenged the policy, maintaining its members were being forced to pay into a system that funded appearances by progressive speakers who oppose their ideals, while blocking them from inviting speakers of their choosing.

Last week, YAF dropped its legal action after UF agreed to change the policy so event funding is disbursed in a “viewpoint-neutral” manner, and pay YAF $66,000 in legal and other costs.

As ADF lawyer Caleb Dalton said afterward, college students should not be forced to sue to protect their constitutional rights. Nor should they be required to subsidize political opponents, without the other side doing likewise. Yet if legal duress was necessary to pressure UF to surrender a misguided defense of an indefensible rule, so be it.

UF administrators and Student Government leaders may not like the people YAF wants to hear, but the previous policy nurtured the lopsided brainwashing so evident on college campuses nationwide. Albeit later than necessary, UF earns kudos for realizing that supporting free speech and diversity of thought meant eradicating this discrimination. “Tolerance,” after all, cuts both ways.

Online: https://www.theledger.com/

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Aug. 1

The Florida Times-Union on ways to manage the state’s population growth:

Florida is growing fast.

State economists predict that Florida will continue to add more than 300,000 people per year, and that it will reach 22 million residents by 2022.

The state forecasts, by the way, are actually lower than Census Bureau predictions, according to the News Service of Florida.

Here are some challenges facing the state — and which must be addressed by Florida’s leaders.

Water supply

The Floridan Aquifer, the underground source that supplies most of Florida’s drinking water, is already tapped out in some of the South’s more populated areas. And in Northeast Florida JEA is already forecasting serious water supply issues during the next decade.

Under this scenario it’s almost certain that we’ll need alternative water sources — and that they will be expensive alternatives.

Sea level rise

Sunny day flooding, or nuisance flooding, is already hitting many coastline areas; what used to be rare is now becoming routine.

Coastal communities will have to make difficult decisions on whether to build sea walls to keep out water, evacuate areas or raise structures. It’s already clear that in order to protect future development, we must prepare now for rising seas and storm surges.

Mitigation is often the best and cheapest strategy but state government has not properly funded it.

Transportation

Gas tax revenues have long funded road improvements, but new cars get better gas mileage and electric cars produce almost no gas tax money.

That means Florida will need to find new ways to fund road improvements.

Tolls, though long hated in Jacksonville, are one way to fund new highway improvements; at least tolls are user-related fees. However, charges based on miles driven may be a feasible way to replace the gas tax in the future.

Protecting the coast

Florida’s elected leaders have joined together to oppose drilling off the state’s coast; so far that has been successful but vigilance is required.

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford has filed a bill that would place a moratorium on drilling in the South Atlantic and Straits of Florida — it would also extend the existing moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico on oil and gas leasing and exploration until 2029.

In a news release Rutherford noted that at “a time when the United States is exporting record quantities of oil and gas, there is no need to conduct new drilling off the Florida coast.”

Listening to voters

Florida voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment to provide funds for conservation lands: Amendment One passed with a landslide 75 percent vote in 2014. However, legislators have misinterpreted the amendment and swept some of the funds into operations.

Given Florida’s rapid growth rate it’s essential that land be preserved for future generations.

Quality of life

Legislators also have not supported affordable housing; they have routinely swept trust funds into the general budget. As a result too many Floridians must spend extraordinary amounts of their budgets just to keep roofs over their heads.

Legislators, especially in the House, have stubbornly refused to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid. As a result too many Floridians are still struggling to have health care. That’s why Florida has more citizens signing up for Obamacare than any other state — yet state leaders have joined a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate Obamacare.

Meanwhile, Florida continues to waste millions on a prison system that keeps too many people expensively locked up when there are better and cheaper options that still protect public safety.

An opportunity — and a challenge

Add up all of these tasks and the conclusion is clear:

Growth remains Florida’s biggest opportunity — but also its biggest challenge.

Online: https://www.jacksonville.com/

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