- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

April 7

Miami Herald on Medicaid expansion:

The wheeling and dealing between the two chambers of the Florida Legislature has come to a virtual stand-off over the chasm on healthcare funding.

“We’re simply not speaking to each other right now,” Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami and head of the Miami-Dade delegation, told the Editorial Board Tuesday in Tallahassee. That silence is an irresponsible waste of time as the clock ticks down on the second half of the session.

The debate over expanding Medicaid had another unfortunate Alice-through-the-looking-glass moment this week as Gov. Rick Scott turned his off-again-on-again support for the federally funded initiative off again. This governor is leading in circles on this issue, getting the state nowhere close to providing access to healthcare for almost 1 million Floridians.

And once the federal government cuts funding to the Low Income Pool, or LIP, which helps hospitals that treat poor patients, South Florida taxpayers shouldn’t have to help foot the bill - $200 million in Miami-Dade and $180 million in Broward.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, heads the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, and he is speaking up. He’s warning taxpayers that a world of financial pain is coming their way. “We need to stress the impact that the end of LIP will have on our community,” Mr. Garcia told the Board. “I don’t think taxpayers are getting that message.”

And neither are Mr. Scott or lawmakers in the House. To its credit, the state Senate has included $2 billion for healthcare in its budget; the House refuses to even address the issue of Medicaid expansion in its budget. A $4-billion difference separates the Senate and House versions, which must be reconciled for the overall budget to be approved.

Are lawmakers headed to a special session? The impasse is so deep, Ms. Flores thinks so. “We’re not going to get our budgets resolved in time.”

Members of the Republican-majority House have an ideological opposition to accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid. At least they’ve been consistent - consistently wrong. Gov. Scott has been all over the map. He refused to consider accepting $51 billion in federal funds to broaden the program’s umbrella. He then broke with party members in 2013 to support the initiative, but did absolutely nothing to help push it through the Legislature. On Monday, he balked again.

Meantime, Florida’s taxpayers continue to pay for the most expensive treatment - emergency-room care - for the poor and uninsured; their hard-earned taxes are providing care for residents in other states, with more clear-eyed leadership; and federal LIP funds are OK, but federal funds for Medicaid expansion are not, the “reasoning” seems to go.

The League of Women Voters called the governor’s about-face “a sucker punch for all Floridians.” League President Deirdre Macnab said: “This issue affects everyone. If the working poor are left without coverage, hospitals will have to shift the loss of treating the uninsured to the insured.”

That fact ought to get everyone’s attention, but no one is negotiating. Not the House and the Senate. Not the state, whose talks with the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services over LIP are stalled.

Both chambers and the governor are playing a reckless game of chess with each other. But it’s a dangerous game - and guess who will be the biggest loser.




April 6

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on Nigerian election:

With reports of terrorism, disease and political corruption and instability, the continent of Africa hasn’t been the source of much good news lately. But Western democracies have reason to be encouraged by the results of the recent presidential election in Nigeria.

The winner, Muhammadu Buhari, should be a major improvement over the troubled incumbent he soundly defeated, Goodluck Jonathan, even though Buhari is a former dictator.

With a population of 170 million and with vast oil reserves, Nigeria ranks as the wealthiest democracy in Africa, but political stability and sound government practices have been painfully lacking for a long time.

Finally, after years of unrest and government misdeeds, the Nigerian people had enough.

In fact, the day after the election Nigerian stocks soared 16 percent in value as investors demonstrated their confidence - or perhaps it was simply their hope - that the new regime will deliver what it promised: Peace, prosperity and, importantly, an end to endemic corruption.

Equally impressive is the fact that in losing gracefully, Jonathan effectively silenced those who wanted to dispute Buhari’s triumph. Jonathan called him to concede even as his own supporters were loudly clinging to hopes of victory.

And so, for the first time in 16 years, a sitting Nigerian president was defeated at the polls.

Buhari’s reputation has grown over the years and his days, in 1984 and 1985, as a dictator might as well be ancient history to Nigerians. Since then he had run for president three times, although he never came close to winning.

But when he takes office in late May, he will have multiple and tremendously difficult tasks ahead of him. Nigeria has long suffered a reputation as a nation where corruption has become a deeply ingrained part of the culture, and while he hasn’t specified how he intends to do it, Buhari has vowed to put an end to it.

He also takes over at a time when the Nigerian people, especially in the north, are terrified of the Boko Haram extremists who have proved to be far better - and certainly more ruthless - warriors than the nation’s military forces.

That’s why it is significant that Buhari is not only a retired army general who presumably has the confidence he’ll need if he is to drive Boko Haram out of Nigeria, but that he is a Muslim. (Jonathan is a Christian.)

Nigeria’s population is split, with Muslims dominant in the north and Christians in the south. However, Buhari has made it clear he favors a secular government, and, in fact, he chose a Christian pastor as his running mate. That too should please the Western democracies.

But it is the Nigerians themselves who most desperately want things to change. “Nigerians expect to see immediate change,” Idayat Hassan, the director of the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja, said. “They expect to see corruption ended right away, but corruption is an institutional problem here. It’s a way of life.”

When he was Nigeria’s dictator, Buhari had tried to stamp out corruption and government malfeasance, setting up military tribunals that saw hundreds sent to prison, but his reign was marred by his decrees limiting freedom of the press.

That was a long time ago, and Nigeria’s a different country now. We’ll soon see how different it is.

Buhari told a London audience not long ago that he considers himself “a converted democrat who is ready to operate under democratic norms.”

The West will be watching with great interest, because if the African continent is ever to become predominantly democratic, it will need its largest nation to be in the forefront of the reform movement. And one democratic norm is a free press. According to one survey, only 10 of the 54 African countries enjoy a free media.

Buhari must not only defeat Boko Haram and wipe out corruption, he must make sure Nigeria’s free press prospers.




April 8

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on texting law:

Two years ago Florida finally passed a law that prohibited texting while driving, albeit with a major string attached - one that has bound enforcement efforts by requiring police to have one hand tied behind their backs.

Since the law went into effect Oct. 1, 2013, police have written only 45 citations for illegal texting in Volusia County. Most motorists have likely spotted that many violations driving to and from work in one week. Several communities around the state sported even weaker numbers: Ocala reported only two citations last year; St. Johns County had zero.

Overall, the Florida State Patrol ticketed 2,061 texting violations last year, compared to 279,200 citations for seat-belt violations.

The difference is that a seat belt infraction is a primary offense, meaning police can pull over and ticket a driver if they observe him violating the law, whereas texting behind the wheel is a secondary offense - police need another reason (such as speeding) to stop a motorist, in addition to witnessing the person driving and texting at the same time. Although 45 states and the District of Columbia have laws punishing drivers who text, Florida is one of only five that make it a secondary offense.

That makes no sense. Although wearing a seat belt greatly improves your chances of surviving a crash, it’s largely a personal safety issue. Texting while driving, though, can create a major distraction that threatens the safety of everyone else on the road.

According to distraction.gov, the federal website dedicated to distracted driving, in 2013 motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers killed 3,154 people and injured about 424,000. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting while driving increases a motorist’s risk of a crash by 23 times. The National Safety Council says there’s an accident every 14 seconds because of someone texting while driving. According to the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration, the behavior is six times more dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Research suggests that stricter enforcement of distracted driving laws increases highway safety. A study by Texas A&M; published earlier this year showed a 7 percent decrease in car crash hospitalizations in states where texting while driving is a primary offense.

Given the danger of fiddling with a phone while driving poses, police shouldn’t have to witness motorists violating another law in order to enforce the one on texting.

A Florida Senate committee last week approved two bills that would make texting while driving a primary offense. Unfortunately, House versions of the bills have been filed but not yet heard in committees - and the clock is ticking toward the May 1 expiration of this year’s legislative session.

Public awareness campaigns can help reduce texting while driving much the way they increased seat-belt usage in the 1970s and ‘80s. Mobile apps also can aid in restricting a driver’s temptation to use a cellphone. Putting some teeth into the texting law, though, will send the strongest message that drivers have a legal responsibility to keep both eyes on the road, for their safety and for the safety of others.



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