- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

April 15

The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla., on clarifying court succession laws:

The Florida Constitution over the years has been over-amended, jam-packed with picayune measures that reflect narrow legislative desires more than they secure universal rights (unless you count protecting pregnant pigs as a vital civil liberty).

However, the state is facing a potential constitutional crisis with regard to its Supreme Court justices, one that requires a legitimate fix via the amending process. Unfortunately, only the Senate so far is addressing it - and doing so in the wrong direction.

Three of the seven Florida Supreme Court justices - Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince - are nearing the mandatory retirement age of 70 during their current six-year terms. That means they will have to step down on Jan. 8, 2019, the same day the next governor is sworn in.

However, Florida law is not explicit on whether the outgoing governor or the incoming governor should appoint the justices’ successors.

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, has sponsored a constitutional amendment that would be placed on the November ballot this year that would clarify who has the authority to fill the court vacancies. The Senate on April 3 passed the measure on a 26-14 vote that fell along party lines.

That partisanship is indicative of what’s at stake.

Lee’s rationale for the amendment is sound. He fears that without clarification in the law, the outgoing governor and incoming governor in 2019 will clash on who should appoint the justices’ successors, leading to a nasty legal battle.

However, Lee’s preferred solution is the political sticking point: He wants the outgoing governor to make the appointments.

That has Democrats concerned.

At some point before 2019 the law on appointments will have to be clarified. When it is, it should be in favor of the incoming governor.




April 14

Miami Herald on allowing state to choose textbooks:

School vouchers aren’t the only controversial education issue being tackled by the Florida Legislature this year. Another measure, which narrowly passed the Senate on Friday, could overhaul how all public school textbooks are chosen - and not for the better.

The way it works now, districts and the state share the approval process. The Florida Department of Education selects a range of classroom materials that meet its standards, and local school districts choose from them.

It’s not a perfect system, and some parents have complained that they have little say in the selection. Still, the current process doesn’t need to be scrapped - just tweaked.

If adopted by the House, the proposal forces the state’s 67 school districts, and not state education officials, to review and approve those textbooks.

In essence, the bill would eliminate the state’s role altogether and mandate that districts take over the process. Although, under current law, districts can select textbooks, it’s telling that not one of them has chosen to handle the task alone.

A handful of Senate Republicans and most Democrats in the Senate expressed hesitation about the far-reaching effects of the legislation, and we share that concern.

SB 864, which passed by a 21-19 vote, is misguided - not to mention yet another unfunded mandate from Tallahassee that will further overwhelm local school districts.

A House bill, HB 921, already offers that happy medium. It does not eliminate the state’s review of textbooks, and instead allows districts to choose their own textbooks - if they want to.

House lawmakers should reject SB 864 and let the state continue to pick textbooks. Otherwise, we stand to see chapter after sorry chapter of conflict played out across the state.




April 15

The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on Rwanda’s turnaround:

It has been 20 years since the genocide that took as many as a million lives and left Rwanda in ruins. So it is illuminating that a new report shows that life expectancy in the formerly splintered African nation has doubled in that time.

The development reveals what can happen when murderous, corrupt regimes are replaced with leadership focused on maintaining peace and improving living conditions.

Harvard professor Paul Farmer, along with Rwandan health experts, just published a study of the life expectancy data in The Lancet, the world’s most prestigious medical journal.

“In the aftermath of one of the worst spasms of mass violence in recorded history, few imagined that Rwanda might one day serve as a model for other nations committed to health equity,” their report notes.

The 1994 genocide, carried out chiefly by the country’s Hutus against their rival Tutsis, killed nearly 20 percent of the nation’s population and displaced millions more.

One particularly horrible statistic to emerge from the genocide: Half a million women were raped during the fighting, and up to 20,000 children were born as a result.

That was then. The story now goes far beyond the life expectancy data, which obviously were going to improve somewhat once the mass killings ended.

In Rwanda today, the genocide - while it will never be forgotten - has been put aside as the victims and the perpetrators join hands in a remarkable effort to build a better nation.

Investment in Rwanda has nearly tripled since 2005, and although it lacks many natural resources, the country has become economically vibrant.

Moreover, most of the population is covered by health insurance, and malaria deaths have fallen more than 85 percent since 2005. The crime rate is low, and Rwandan women can now safely walk the streets at night.

If this kind of reconciliation and revival can happen in a forlorn corner of the world like Rwanda, couldn’t it also happen in other places?

In fact, it has happened elsewhere: Just last week, Michael D. Higgins became the first president of Ireland to ever visit Britain’s Parliament and be received by Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle.

Given the bloody history of Ireland’s conflicts with the United Kingdom, it is encouraging the two sides are on friendly terms.

And although it took 20 years to overcome the horrors of Rwanda’s genocide, we can only hope that the reconciliation, like that between Ireland and Great Britain, offers similar hope to other troubled parts of the world.



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