- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Nov. 12

Gainesville (Florida) Sun on Affordable Care Act:

As the second year of Affordable Care Act enrollment looms, the stakes are rising for Americans who need health care coverage.

The federal website Healthcare.gov opened Monday for consumers to look at plans and compare coverage. They’ll be able to purchase plans starting Saturday during an open-enrollment period that lasts until Feb. 15.

The uninsured have added reason to sign up this year, with fines for lacking coverage rising to $325 from $95. Experts say that even those who bought plans last year might want revisit their choices, as some with plans that have low premiums but high deductibles might want to change coverage.

The enrollment period is shorter than last year, so consumers should start researching options early. The website’s bugs are said to have been worked out and the application pared down, so this year’s enrollment process should go much smoother than last year’s disastrous rollout.

Even with those problems, 7.1 million people have signed up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration estimates at least another 2 million will enroll for 2015.

Yet with the Affordable Care Act providing benefits for so many, the measure continues to be under political assault. House Speaker John Boehner and soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have pledged to keep trying to repeal the act, if not in one fell swoop then through incremental steps.

Given the Republicans’ lack of a veto-proof majority, these efforts are a waste of time and contrary to the GOP leaders’ stated desire to find common ground with the president.

A bigger threat is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear another challenge to the legislation. The lawsuit argues that language in the act suggests the federal government shouldn’t be able to offer health-insurance subsidies to individuals in Florida and the 33 other states that didn’t create their own insurance exchanges.

It’s ridiculous that the court would contemplate ignoring the intentions of the act’s authors due to nothing more than poorly-crafted legislative language. In 2012, the court found the act’s individual mandate to be constitutional but allowed states to opt out of an expansion of Medicaid.

Floridians are still living with the consequences. Our Legislature refused to expand Medicaid, leaving an estimated 764,000 residents in a coverage gap. Research has shown that thousands of needless deaths could be prevented and millions in economic benefits gained through the expansion.

If Washington and Tallahassee had their priorities straight, those stakes would be on the minds of lawmakers as the Affordable Care Act enters its second year of enrollment. Instead, Republicans are more interested in attacking the president’s signature accomplishment than protecting the health of their constituents.




Nov. 10

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on battling Georgia for water:

It is encouraging that the U.S. Supreme Court has indicated it will hear Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia concerning water diversions from Apalachicola Bay.

We hope the court does take the case and fashions a reasonable solution that will prevent Atlanta’s burgeoning population from ruining the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.

The river network ultimately flows into Apalachicola Bay, whose once renowned oyster industry has virtually collapsed. The bay’s rich blend of saltwater and freshwater had produced 90 percent of Florida’s oysters and 10 percent of the nation’s. But inadequate freshwater flow and increasing salinity levels have reduced oyster meat harvests from about 3 million pounds to 1 million pounds since 2012.

Last year federal authorities designated the oyster fishery a resource disaster area. Some funding was provided to reshell parts of the bay, providing habitat for larval oysters to anchor and develop.

But such stop-gap measures are unlikely to do much if the bay lacks adequate freshwater flow.

There may be other factors, including drought, in the decline of Apalachicola Bay’s fisheries. But there should be little doubt that Georgia’s water diversions are a major threat.

University of Florida researchers found the oyster population crash was likely “the result of diminished numbers of juvenile oysters reaching maturity, due to insufficient reproduction by adult oysters, unusually high mortality of juvenile oysters, or a combination of both factors.”

They found no evidence of oil or other contaminants - nor of overfishing, which Georgia officials try to blame for the oyster collapse.

In fact, Georgia has had little regard for how its growth decisions and water demands affect those downstream. It has shown little inclination to reduce its reliance on the river system.

That is why Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi filed suit last year. As Florida’s lawsuit states, Georgia’s daily diversion of 360 million gallons from the river system will grow to 705 million gallons per day by 2035, given Atlanta’s expected growth.

Nobody expects to halt Atlanta’s growth, but Georgia has to find a way to reduce its already harmful diversions from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin.

The development of alternative water sources and more rigorous water conservation are essential. Georgia, to its credit, has reduced per-capita water consumption in recent years. But it still could do much more.

A few years ago when a drought caused serious water shortages, the former governor eased water restrictions after the landscaping industry complained.

In 2009, a federal judge ruled in Florida’s favor, finding that the Buford Dam project on the river system that created Lake Lanier, where Atlanta gets most of its water, was not designed to be used for public water supply, but for flood control, navigation and hydropower.

Yet the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, over time, reallocated lake water intended for conservation to support water supply.

Alas, the judge’s sensible ruling - which would have frozen Atlanta’s water withdrawals for three years and allowed time for congressional resolution - eventually was overruled.

It is a messy situation. When it comes to choosing between supplying enough water to households or oysters, the resource will lose every time. That is why it is critical that governments adequately plan to accommodate new growth.

Or as U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson wrote in 2009, “Too often, state, local and even national government actors do not consider the long-term consequences of their decisions. … Only by cooperating, planning and conserving can we avoid the situations that gave rise to this litigation.”

Florida is no stranger to such shoddy growth decisions, but water shortages have forced it to begin developing alternative water sources, as Georgia should.

We hope the Supreme Court justices will acknowledge that the welfare of people, commerce and resources do not diminish the farther they are downstream.




Nov. 11

Miami Herald on correction facility:

There’s management and then there’s crisis management. But the folks running Dade Correctional Institution have excelled in a whole new category: crisis mismanagement.

If lifer Ronald “Psycho” McCoy’s escape from the South Miami-Dade facility were an one-off, an aberration, that would be cause for concern.

However, his ability to take flight was aided and abetted by lax security where it should be the most rigorous. Staffers might as well have just held the gate to freedom open for McCoy.

McCoy, serving two life sentences and with a history of carrying out violent crimes, got away some time Halloween morning. But several hours passed before authorities at DCI alerted state prison officials. Then it took another five hours for anyone to lift a finger to call the police. Miami-Dade police were notified that a violent felon was on the loose at 5:15 p.m. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was alerted half an hour after that. Homestead officers got the word at about 6 p.m. And the media were not alerted at all. The Miami Herald learned of the escape independently. Only then, at about 6:30 p.m., did corrections issue a press release. That means that McCoy had an advantageous head start, courtesy of the Dade Correctional and the authorities at the state level. Nearby residents, indeed, South Floridians, were left in the dark, and vulnerable.

Corrections authorities at every level have been mum as to why it took so long to alert law enforcement of McCoy’s escape.

All of which is cause for deep and abiding worry - to say nothing of the need for a top-to-bottom independent investigation of this facility. This is where, as the Editorial Board implored in the past, the U.S. Justice Department should step in. If DOJ was disturbed enough to swoop in several years ago and investigate the Miami Police Department’s serial shooting of young unarmed black men and bring the department to heel, can it do any less with a state corrections department where in one facility alone, torture, deaths - and now an escape - reek with the stench of official cover-up and obfuscation?

McCoy was captured three days later in West Palm Beach driving a stolen pickup truck. That episode is over, but the systemic problems that led to the escape; allowed mentally ill inmates to be brutalized and die under corrections officers’ “care”; silenced whistleblowers; and slow-walked - if not outright blocked - attempts to investigate or bring criminal charges endure.

Two weeks ago, before McCoy made his getaway, DCI Warden Les Odom announced his retirement. He had been in the position only three months, having replaced Jerry Cummings, who was forced out after corrections officers shoved an inmate into a stall where he died in a scalding hot shower. Mr. Cummings has since spoken up, telling the Miami Herald that DCI is a roiling mess: Understaffing leaves officers’ stations unmonitored; “ghost” officers, who aren’t actually on the job, report for duty; employees smuggle drugs to inmates; and security breaches are so common that he’s surprised escapes don’t happen more often.

Does the aggrieved Mr. Cummings have an ax to grind? Likely. Does that mean his allegations should be dismissed? No, not in the wake of the horrors that already are on the record about DCI. A broader, more comprehensive - and independent - investigation into the failure of DCI authorities to protect those inside the prison, or outside, is long overdue.



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