Florida editorial roundup

October 16, 2019 GMT

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Oct. 15

The Miami Herald on a violent video shown at one of President Trump’s resorts:

Some of President Trump’s supporters clearly are out for blood. Figuratively and literally.

As first reported by The New York Times, American Priority, a pro-Trump group unveiled a macabre video to the president’s fans at his resort in Doral, Florida.

It depicts President Trump, his head superimposed onto the body of a mass killer, declaring bloody war on his critics — the media, of course, political opponents and anyone else who has issues with this so-called leader. And all this violence takes place in a church, no less — the “Church of Fake News.”

Scheduled speakers at the three-day conference included Donald Trump Jr. and former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Trump Jr. and Sanders said they did not see the reprehensible meme video. It’s unfortunate that their loyalty to this destructive president runs so deep that we suspect they would not be appalled if they had. They might have found it back-slappingly hilarious.

Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, tweeted on Oct. 14, that while Trump has not seen the video, “Based upon everything he has heard, he strongly condemns” it.

It’s unfortunate, again, that this unempathetic president likely would have found it funny before he expediently found it worthy of condemnation.

In the cartoonish video, Trump smacks the late Arizona Sen. John McCain in the back of the neck. He stabs television personality Rosie O’Donnell in the head. He hits California U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters, whom he frequently taunts with having a “low IQ.” He sets ablaze the head of Democratic presidential candidate and rival Bernie Sanders.

Not a shock. Not even a mild surprise, at this point. And that’s the problem.

After all, what’s fake violence when we have experienced people of faith mowed down by bullets, as they worshipped in churches and mosques and temple for real?

Three years into Trump’s administration, are we even shocked that such a video would exist? The video is the fruit of a time in which hatred of opposing voices and open mockery of “the other” are encouraged by people who should know better. You can even cut people’s heads off, as a joke on video. But, again, we have seen all of this for real.

To be fair, so much of such violence was unleashed long before Trump’s hate-filled campaign for the presidency ever began. But after Columbine, after Virginia Tech, after Sandy Hook, presidents led this country in its grief.

Not now.

Without saying anything as blatant as “Go after ‘those’ people!” Trump has actively, volubly pointed his most unhinged followers in his targets’ direction. El Paso shooter had a racist manifesto citing an “invasion” of Hispanic immigrants. That’s a description the president has used time and again to describe the flow of Central Americans across the Southern border; that’s why journalists — Trump’s “enemy of the people” — are under attack, threatened with death, “swatted” by anonymous callers who send police to their homes on dangerous wild goose chases.

Alex Phillips, the event’s organizer, said in a statement to the Times that, “Content was submitted by third parties and was not associated with or endorsed by the conference in any official capacity.”

So, basically, no one’s responsible. And, sadly, that is no surprise, either.

Online: www.miamiherald.com


Oct. 14

The South Florida SunSentinel on a bill that would stop companies from suing citizens seeking public records:

What may be the shortest bill to be heard by the Florida Legislature next year is unarguably one of the best. It comes to the rescue of a public records law that has been picked apart, piece by piece, in recent years.

It’s House Bill 195 by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero. This is what it says:

“An agency that receives a request to inspect or copy a record may not respond to such request by filing a civil action against the individual or entity making the request.”

It aims to foil a scheme that makes it more difficult and expensive to see public records.

Chapter 119, the public records law, says citizens may inspect and copy any non-exempt record “at any reasonable time, under reasonable conditions.” The request must be answered promptly. If part of a record falls under an exemption, the agency must still provide the record with that part redacted. Citizens can go to court to try to get what was withheld. If the judges agree they should have it, the agency must pay their court costs and legal fees.

But some agencies — notably the South Florida Water Management District — have been responding to records requests by first going to court to sue the people who want the documents. The method is to ask a judge to declare the records exempt.

That’s an aggressive attack on Florida’s long-standing principle that public records are the public’s business.

The tactic stalls the request, often for months. It forces citizens to hire lawyers. And suits for declaratory judgment ordinarily make people bear your own costs, even when they win.

Imagine asking for a copy of your own accident report and the police sue you to say you shouldn’t have it.

Okay, that’s an extreme and unlikely example.

But it’s no more extreme than what the City of Orlando did in response to public records requests after the Pulse night club shooting, which took 49 lives in June 2016. Instead of simply citing various exemptions that applied to crime scene evidence, the city went straight to court. Many records have since been released, but people had to put in the time, trouble and expense of fighting for them.

“It made no sense to me,” says Rodrigues. “There were legitimate exemptions they could have cited.”

The water district pulled the same stunt when the Everglades Law Center asked for the minutes of the closed-door session, where board members approved a costly and controversial financial settlement with the rock mine developer, George Lindemann Jr.

Instead of simply refusing, which would have entitled the Law Center to sue the district in Palm Beach County, where it’s headquartered, the district filed a pre-emptive suit in Martin County against the law center, as well as against environmentalists Maggy Hurchalla and Donna Melzer. They live in Martin County, along with Lindemann himself, which gave the district a pretext for seeking that venue.

In so doing, it put the issue before a circuit judge, William Roby, who had already ruled favorably for Lindemann in the damage suit that resulted in a $4.3 million verdict against Hurchalla for allegedly interfering with his contract. The case is being appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Roby ruled against releasing the records and so, in large part, did the Fourth District Court of Appeal. The legal advice that persuaded the district to settle with Lindemann remains secret. The Supreme Court will be asked to overturn that, too, and it should.

Rodrigues’ bill got unanimous support in the House in the past two sessions, but a similar bill never made it past a gauntlet of Senate committees, where it was amended to be something less. It would continue to allow the pre-emptive suits for declaratory decree, but if a court finds the records are not exempt, the citizen seeking the records would be awarded “reasonable costs of enforcement, including reasonable attorney fees” against the agency.

It is Senate Bill 162 by Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville.

His original bill modeled Rodrigues’, but was hammered by intense opposition from the Florida League of Cities, a tax-supported lobby that is no friend of Government in the Sunshine.

Something strange happens to some people whom voters trust to operate the government. They start to think it belongs to them.

SB 162 is better than the status quo, but not as good as HB 195. It would still shift the odds against citizens who seek records. However, it’s on the agenda of a meeting of the Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability, which should approve it in order to get it moving earlier than it did last year.

“I’m legitimately very optimistic that we’re going to get it done this time,” says Rodrigues.

Let’s all hope so.

Online: www.sun-sentinel.com


Oct. 9

The Gainesville Sun on paying college athletes:

The Florida Gators were recently featured on “24/7 College Football,” an HBO show recorded after quarterback Feleipe Franks suffered a broken ankle that ended his season.

The show followed Franks into surgery and after his return home. He was met there by head coach Dan Mullen’s wife, Megan, who brought Franks chicken noodle soup for dinner.

“Don’t worry, it’s totally legal, I’ve checked with compliance,” Megan Mullen told her husband before bringing over the food, reassuring him that it wouldn’t violate NCAA rules.

Only in the backward world of college sports would anyone need to worry about bringing an injured young man food. But under the amateur model of athletics maintained by the NCAA, so-called student-athletes are forbidden from being compensated for putting their bodies on the line each week.

That might finally be changing. California’s Fair Pay to Play Act was signed into law, permitting college athletes there to make money from endorsement deals and sign agents starting in 2023.

The NCAA opposes the law, but other states are already considering following suit. Two bills have been filed in the Florida House that would allow college athletes to land endorsement deals — one from a Republican, the other from a Democrat.

It’s no wonder why the idea has inspired bipartisan support: It would allow athletes to make money on the free market, while ensuring athletes are able to share more in the wealth generated by college sports.

The college-sports industry made an estimated $14 billion in revenue last year, with the NCAA alone making more than a billion dollars. Head football coaches in particular earn millions in salaries and bonuses, while their games generate millions in revenue for hotels, bars, restaurants and other businesses in cities such as Gainesville where they play.

The NCAA has long argued that college athletes are already compensated with scholarships and the other perks that come with being a player, along with being given a platform that allows them to get drafted into the pros and make big bucks. But less than 2% of players in most NCAA sports turn, while even the best athletes risk suffering injuries that prevent them from ever making a dime professionally.

The NCAA has instituted some changes in recent years, such as allowing athletes to receive cost-of-living stipends and unlimited meals from their universities, but change has been too small and slow. Hopefully the Pay to Play Act will force the NCAA and its member schools into making broader reforms, as the measure certainly isn’t the perfect solution.

After all, the NCAA and its member schools will still be making billions while the responsibility for compensating players falls on advertisers and other businesses. The system would likely only result in a handful of players being paid, while creating a new arm’s race in recruiting.

But the status quo isn’t working either. College athletes are an injury away from not being able to play — and no amount of chicken-noodle soup is enough to make up for it.

Online: www.gainesville.com