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Editorial Roundup: Florida | Florida News |

Published on: 02/16/2022

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By The Associated Press

South Florida Sun Sentinel. February 11, 2022.

Editorial: Senate should reject state representative’s $200 million tantrum

Revenge porn is illegal in Florida. If only the state could outlaw revenge politics.

The latest attempt at it comes from State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay. He wants to strip $200 million from the budgets of 12 school districts — including all three South Florida counties — that last year refused to follow Gov. DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates. The money would go to districts that complied.

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View All 423 Images By making that threat, Fine was abusing his position as chairman of the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee. He was wrong on policy and wrong on the facts.

The districts, Fine said, “didn’t defy the mask ban, they broke the law. They acted in an illegal way and they engaged in the second-largest state-sponsored act of child abuse in the history of Florida.”

Fine told the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board that he was speaking broadly of mask mandates nationwide. The biggest “state-sponsored” child abuse, he said, is the extended “forced closure of schools” in other states and reliance on remote learning.

Either way, the districts broke no law. They defied the governor after citing ample evidence that DeSantis had no authority to issue such an executive order under the so-called Parents Bill of Rights.

In November, having to act because DeSantis’ case was so shaky, Fine and other Republicans did ban school districts from imposing mandates. Once that happened, all districts complied. So when Fine barks that districts must “follow the laws that we’ve passed,” they did.

At this point, the Senate contains no such penalty in its budget. For that reason, one might be tempted to dismiss Fine’s idea. Floridians, though, never should underestimate this Legislature’s capacity for bad ideas, especially when it comes to public education.

Fine’s plan is as slapdash as DeSantis’ executive order. It calls for taking the money from non-teaching staff who make at least $100,000. But local officials in Palm Beach County aren’t even sure if that description would include principals.

Under current calculations, however, Broward County would lose $32 million, Palm Beach County would lose $28 million and Miami-Dade would lose $72 million. Those amounts would be on top of potential cuts due to lower enrollment caused by the pandemic.

Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna, whose board defied the governor, correctly called Fine “a childish, immature bully who simply hates public schools.” Fine responded, “I think it’s pretty clear who is immature and childish here. Perhaps the next time career politicians like Hanna are considering breaking the law, they will think twice.”

Again, the districts did not break the law. And superintendents like Hanna are not “career politicians,” though that is a favorite slur of right-wing Republicans who seek to privatize public education.

Fine is the tip of the GOP spear in Tallahassee that hopes to harass Florida’s sensible school board members, teachers and administrators until they quit. He is so obsessed that he’s willing to penalize his own county. Brevard is one of the 12 that he is targeting. The cost of Fine’s tantrum to his constituents would be $4.5 million.

Other Republican-sponsored legislation would cut or eliminate the salaries of school board members and set term limits for them. Legislators want to require cameras in each classroom to videotape teachers, no doubt to help parents claim “indoctrination” in critical race theory.

Back in Brevard, the public defender who sits on the charter review committee wants to allow recall of school board members. Florida doesn’t have a way even to recall the governor.

In a functioning Legislature, Randy Fine would be an outlier. In Florida, the fringe is in control. We ask the Senate to reject this attempt at revenge politics.

___

Tampa Bay Times. February 15, 2022.

Editorial: The Legislature is moving condo safety in the right direction

Inspections and required reserve funds would be meaningful responses to the deadly Surfside tragedy

Florida lawmakers are moving quickly to prevent another deadly condo collapse. Legislation in the House and Senate would subject older condominium buildings in Florida to regular inspection, with the House measure going further to help ensure that structural problems are actually addressed. These are essential starting points in improving safety for millions of residents.

A federally appointed team of engineering experts is investigating what caused the 12-story Champlain Towers South condominium in Surfside, north of Miami Beach, to collapse in June, killing 98 people. While understanding the science behind the tragedy is critical, the collapse also exposed dangerous gaps in how condominiums in Florida are managed and maintained. Only two Florida counties — Miami-Dade and Broward — require that condos be inspected and recertified as safe after a building turns 40. The House and Senate legislation would toughen that requirement and apply it statewide.

The Senate led the way by championing SB 1702, which would establish a mandatory structural inspection program for multifamily residential buildings that are greater than three stories tall and larger than 3,500 square feet. Inspections would be required once a building reaches 30 years old, and every 10 years thereafter. Buildings within 3 miles of the coastline would require an inspection after 20 years, and every seven years thereafter. That shorter timetable is meant to accommodate the corrosive effect of sea water, a practical concern given the large numbers of condos built along the coast.

A bill advancing through the House, PCB PPE 22-03, includes similar provisions. While it provides a more relaxed schedule for inspecting coastal condos (after 25 years, and every 10 years thereafter), the bill includes several key protections. Condo associations would be required to conduct studies of their reserves every decade to ensure they have the resources to finance needed structural improvements. Most important, they would be barred from waiving a requirement that money be put into reserves for structural improvements and other key repairs, such as to plumbing, electrical and fireproofing systems.

These inspections are key to maintaining the properties and to giving condo associations the time they need to plan and save for major renovations. Both bills also require that these records be shared among owners, potential buyers and government agencies, creating a tool for better informing residents and holding condos and regulators accountable. While both bills leave it to local government to assess any penalties for noncompliance, the House bill authorizes the state to enforce the requirements for reserve studies and some inspections.

This legislation is improving as it advances, and the bipartisan support speaks to the broad impact that stronger protections would have for millions of Floridians. Florida has more than 1.5 million residential condos, and of those, nearly 600,000 are at least 40 years old , with an estimated 2 million people living in condos 30 years or older. Nearly 142,000 condominium units in the state are 20 to 30 years old, reflecting how many are in the pipeline for age-related repairs.

The House bill does a better job of making these inspections meaningful, by reducing the ability of condo associations to put off needed repairs. It also does a better job of balancing the competing economic interests. Condo owners cannot in many cases be expected to shoulder huge assessments overnight. But deferring maintenance indefinitely, beyond endangering safety, could seriously undermine Florida’s condo market, a rich source of property tax revenue. Florida has turned a blind eye to this risk too long.

Lawmakers still need to address a major missing piece — provisions to help condo associations finance these costly repairs. Experts estimate that thousands of condo associations are in a bind, cash-strapped and fobbing off major renovations to the next group of owners. These associations need new avenues to credit. And buyers need a more realistic picture of what owning a piece of paradise in Florida really costs. But the Legislature is responding commendably to Surfside with at least a strategy for preventing another tragedy.

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Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun Sentinel. February 11, 2022.

Editorial: The tweeting, deleting operative who does DeSantis’ distorting

Christina Pushaw is a combative, divisive and highly partisan political operative whose keyboard rants carry great weight for one reason: She’s the governor’s press secretary.

When she tweets and retweets, likes and dislikes, she’s speaking on behalf of Ron DeSantis, the governor of the third-largest state and a likely 2024 presidential candidate.

True to her flawed form, Pushaw implied on Twitter that neo-Nazi demonstrators in Orlando might be Democrats in disguise. They were not, of course, and she soon deleted the tweet. (The Sun Sentinel has asked for all of her deleted tweets, contending they were public records created by a state employee. So far, no response. No surprise.)

The deletion only called more attention to how her boss wouldn’t say anything about the repugnant outburst of racism in one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

When he finally did, it was to wallow in pretentious self-pity, complaining that Democrats were “trying to smear me as if I had something to do with that.” No one suggested anything of the sort. DeSantis’ silence was the issue — and Pushaw’s knee-jerk response highlighted it.

Nazi ideology, the greatest evil in modern history, committed the genocidal murder of millions and devastated Europe with war and is resurgent in the U.S. The numbers may be relatively small, but anti-Semitic attacks are rising.

History demands, and Americans expect, that their leaders denounce Nazi racism whenever it erupts from the sewer. Other Florida politicians in both parties spoke up swiftly and loudly against the outrage in Orlando, making DeSantis’ silence all the more conspicuous.

Nazism and other manifestations of white nationalism are a clear and present danger here, encouraged by the former president’s remark about “fine people” among the “Unite the Right” thugs at Charlottesville four years ago.

A Palm Beach County rabbi, Jeffrey Salkin of Temple Israel, called Pushaw’s comments “reprehensible.” The rabbi, who’s also a columnist for Religion News Service, told POLITICO: “This is the time for the public to be aware of the dangers of anti-Semitic extremism and not to traffic in the denial of that extremism.”

In an era of endless spin, Pushaw takes things to new lows. She lights up social media with incendiary and off-base remarks that would have embarrassed previous governors and gotten press aides fired. DeSantis seems to relish them, and that’s the problem.

— Twitter suspended Pushaw for 12 hours for violating rules on “abusive behavior” in her criticism of an AP story last summer linking DeSantis’ largest campaign contributor with investments in Regeneron, a drug the governor was promoting for COVID-19 treatment. She warned the reporter that if he didn’t retract it, she would “put you on blast” and retweeted: “Light. Them. Up.” AP said the reporter was a target of threats and stood by its story.

— She set off a firestorm of criticism in November after peddling a conspiracy theory that linked new COVID-19 rules in the Republic of Georgia with a visit by a member of the Rothschild banking family. She took down that post and said she had not known that the Rothschilds have been perpetual targets of anti-Semitic propaganda.

— She accused Ben Frazier, a Black social organizer in Jacksonville, of intending to disrupt a DeSantis press conference where he was handcuffed and charged with trespassing for demanding to talk to the governor about his response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Frazier, she said, “is an activist, not a member of the press,” which should not have mattered. The trespassing charge was quickly dropped.

— After Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried compared DeSantis to Adolf Hitler, Pushaw attacked the media as “DNC stenographers,” a partisan slur that referred to the Democratic National Committee. (This newspaper’s opinion page editorialized against Fried’s comments.)

— She retweeted a post that said, “The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is trying to make it so that people in Florida die of COVID. They’ll kill people to harm Republicans.”

— Often too quick on the draw, she attacked Glenn Kessler, a respected Washington Post fact-checker, for Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor, MSNBC analyst and critic of Donald Trump. Yes, she deleted it.

The traditional role of the governor’s press secretary is to announce, explain and defend policies and field inquiries. The prudent ones usually kept in the background and let the boss do the talking.

Pushaw is a one-off spokeswoman who strays far beyond that. She verbally attacks private citizens, picks fights with the media, and routinely blasts the Biden administration. She’s a full-time propagandist for DeSantis’ ambitions, and he gets to stick Florida taxpayers with her $120,000 salary.

DeSantis, who seems to regard his reelection this year as a given and as a way station to the presidency, should pay Pushaw from his political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis. He can afford it and it’s an abuse of the public treasury to make taxpayers pick up the tab for her daily partisan warfare.

A freelance journalist previously published in conservative media like Human Events Pushaw hitched herself early to DeSantis’ rising star. Before asking him to hire her, she auditioned of sorts, with articles attacking Rebekah Jones, a DeSantis critic fired from her job at the Department of Health and charged with illegally accessing state computers.

Pushaw and DeSantis rarely miss an opportunity to elevate his profile by attacking Democrats and the national media. “If the corporate press nationally isn’t attacking me, then I’m probably not doing my job,” DeSantis has said.

In many respects, he’s mimicking the divisive tactics that Donald Trump used to win the presidency, where he boosted DeSantis to the governor’s mansion from an obscure seat in Congress.

DeSantis doesn’t bother to deny that the White House is his goal, and he won’t rule out running against Trump himself in 2024, which means that the platform for Pushaw’s distortions, attacks and flouting of Florida’s public records law may only get bigger.

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Palm Beach Post. February 13, 2022.

Editorial: Memo to state pols: Stop the abuse of local Home Rule

Once upon a time, the state of Florida appreciated “home rule,” the concept that allowed local communities to set ordinances, rules and regulations as their citizens see fit. So cherished was the concept that voters made it a part of the Florida Constitution, which supposedly ended challenges related to the powers of city and county governments.

What is still a constitutional right is fast becoming a fairy tale. There are no fewer than 23 bills before the Legislature that would weaken local community control, an affront to any Floridian who thinks government closest to the governed works best. Local governments have a role to play and that role needs protection, not preemption.

Unfortunately, city and county commissions, school boards, even soil and water conservation districts face overzealous oversight. Whether it’s lessons taught in school, how firms train their employees or ordinances under consideration, the message coming out of this legislative session is pretty clear: The state of Florida knows best.

Ideally, preemption bills should keep local ordinances and regulations consistent with state law. The key word here is “ideally.” In reality, preemption legislation typically occurs when local communities upset Florida’s entrenched business interests. Think Key West, which last year saw the Legislature overturn three local ballot initiatives voters approved to limit the number of cruise ships and passengers entering the city.

As the Florida Legislature moves into the second half of its 60-day legislative session, Republicans in the Florida House and Senate have managed to take their power of preemption to a new level of local infringement. No longer content to wait for an aggrieved business or constituent, lawmakers are beginning to use the state’s preemption to ensure political power on the eve of the 2022 elections.

Think we’re being alarmist? What then is the rationale behind a vote in the House Appropriations Committee to strip $200 million from the 12 school districts, including Palm Beach County’s, that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis anti-mask mandates? Explain HB 35 and SJR 244, which would make nonpartisan school board races partisan contests and bring candidates under greater influence of political party platforms. What is the logic behind HB 1467, which would make those coveted positions volunteer posts?

This, on top of the push for “Anti-Woke” bills that would stifle discussions in and outside of the classroom on race. The “Don’t Say Gay ” legislation has a similar effect on talk of gender and sexual identity. Republicans in Florida and across the country call for “individual freedom” but see no problem in undermining independent school boards, teachers, government officials, private businesses and anyone else who offends their political supporters with the truth that comes with these contentious topics.

Business interests and constituent complaints still drive lawmakers to make rash and often simplistic decisions that put local communities within the pre-emption crosshairs.

For example, city and county commissions considering new ordinances could face civil lawsuits, thanks to HB 403 and SB 280, which make it easier for businesses to sue local governments if they believe new ordinances will hurt their bottom line. In their zeal to rein in local governments, Republican lawmakers did the unthinkable: They raised the legal liability for local taxpayers by opening the door for trial lawyers to bring litigation.

Even soil and water conservation districts can’t catch a break. Initially, HB 783 and SB 1078 were filed to abolish the state’s 56 soil and water conservation districts outright. It seems the senate sponsor heard complaints from constituents in his North Florida district that their district didn’t have an adequate representation of farmers. The response to this outrageous bill prompted the senator to make a change. The districts will stay, but its elected members must be “actively engaged in the business of farming or animal husbandry.” Academics or experts in water conservation need not apply.

Home rule was never a gift from the Legislature. Until 1968, the state’s preemption powers were absolute, until voters changed the state Constitution to give local governments the power to establish regulations and ordinances, protect public health and safety and to tax to pay for needed services consistent with state and federal law.

Lawmakers continue to abuse a proven concept. Encroachment on home rule only undermines the ability of citizens to govern themselves, a right local communities worked hard to establish and, unfortunately, must continue to fight to keep.

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Miami Herald. February 12, 2022.

Editorial: ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is just the beginning of Florida GOP’s cruelty to LGBTQ kids

Florida Republican lawmakers have declared war on LGBTQ children — all in the name of freedom and “parental rights.”

Aka, the rights of parents whose views of sex and sexuality are stuck with the GOP in the 1950s.

Lawmakers don’t want to look bigoted and discriminatory, so they will attempt to put lipstick on this pig — because who’s against rights and freedom? — to hide the cruelty behind a slew of anti-LGBTQ legislation introduced this year.

Last year, in the midst of a global pandemic that exposed severe inefficiencies in the state’s unemployment benefits system, lawmakers treated transgender athletes as the real threat to Florida and banned them from women’s sports.

This year’s list begins with the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill to ban districts from encouraging conversations about sexuality or gender identity in primary schools. The GOP-led Legislature also is going after sex education and gender-affirming medical care — and, to top it off — lawmakers want elementary schools to post online the book titles available in their libraries. While there’s nothing wrong with transparency, the latter appears intended to fuel the recent push by some parents and conservative groups to ban books related to sexuality and racism, the GOP’s other obsession these days (lawmakers also want to ban classroom discussions about race that make white people feel uncomfortable).

LGBTQ and Black Floridians have become pawns in the Republican strategy to galvanize mostly white voters around divisive social issues. It worked in the Virginia gubernatorial election, where Glenn Youngkin won thanks in part to his “parental choice” appeal to suburban parents. Unfortunately, parental choice in the GOP playbook seems to matter mostly when it applies to white conservative parents.

Paying the price are LGBTQ students who are more vulnerable to mental-health issues and suicide. The “Don’t Say Say” bill also would force schools to out students to their parents if it’s considered to be in relation to a student’s mental, emotional or physical health or well-being.” This seems directly targeted at districts in Broward, Palm Beach and Hillsborough counties, which have policies that prevent staff from divulging a child’s sexual identity to a parent without the child’s consent.

The bill at least makes an exception if “such disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment or neglect of the student.” But what kid will feel comfortable opening up to a school counselor if this becomes law?

Don’t teach the S-word

Then there’s the old conservative boogeyman in schools: sex. Many conservative lawmakers and parents rather believe that teenage hormones don’t exist. So the sponsor of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, also wants to make it harder for schools to teach reproductive health or about sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

Currently, state law allows parents to make a written request to exempt their children from these classes. SB 1842 would flip that system, prohibiting schools from providing sex ed unless they obtain written consent from the parents. It would be yet another barrier for students to learn about safe sex and would hurt LGBTQ students the most. Despite progress in recent years, HIV continues to disproportionately affect gay and bisexual men who are younger and African American or Latino, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Weaponizing doctors

Baxley also is behind another measure, SB 1820, to allow doctors and insurers to deny providing or paying for medical care because of “religious, moral, or ethical beliefs or principles.” That would include LGBTQ patients. The bill hasn’t moved in the Senate, but its companion HB 747 cleared a House committee last month.

Another bill also would use doctors to further ostracize transgender youth by making it a crime to provide gender-affirming care, such as surgery and puberty blockers, to minors. Luckily, no committee has taken up HB 211, which was filed and failed last year. It doesn’t have a Senate companion.

This is not the first time Republicans use the medical profession to advance their political agenda. A 2011 law restricted what doctors could ask their patients about gun ownership, but parts of it were struck down by a federal appeals court in 2017 for violating the First Amendment.

END

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tags: Florida , Associated Press

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