- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Jan. 20

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on Scott’s FDLE power play:

Having won a second, and final, term as governor, Rick Scott is acting like he’s not only no longer accountable to the voters, but that also he has no responsibility to the public to be truthful.

He has maintained silence about the circumstances under which Gerald Bailey resigned Dec. 16 as commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It was originally believed that Bailey, a 30-year veteran of the agency who had been in the top job eight years, simply retired. However, Bailey has since said that he was forced out by Scott, which the governor initially denied.

The FDLE head cannot be hired or fired by the governor without a unanimous vote by the Cabinet. The Cabinet members - Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater - unanimously voted last week to hire Rick Swearingen as Bailey’s successor, but they did so without first being told by the governor why Bailey resigned. It was only after that vote that Scott publicly admitted that he indeed had asked for Bailey’s resignation.

That is an intolerable breach of state law, which was implemented to prevent concentrating the power to hire and fire in one person’s hands - exactly what Scott did. It also is inexcusable that Scott would mislead his fellow Cabinet members.

That leads to the bigger question of why Scott would feel compelled to force out the head of the FDLE. The fact that he did not even attempt to solicit the Cabinet’s approval, let alone discuss it in a public meeting, strongly indicates the reasons for Bailey’s dismissal were not legitimate.

Bailey says he repeatedly refused requests by Scott and his advisers to falsely name someone a target in a criminal case, hire political allies for state jobs and intercede in an outside investigation of a prospective Scott appointee. He also told the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald that he refused requests by Scott’s campaign for the FDLE to transport campaign workers in state vehicles (the agency has a legal duty to transport only Scott and his family), and that the campaign asked him to help write its law enforcement platform - despite the fact the FDLE is supposed to be an independent agency.

The episode reeks of politics, much of it petty in nature - and all of it tampering with a law-enforcement agency.

Don’t count on Scott coming clean on his own. But don’t let this story evaporate either. The three Cabinet members who were misled by the governor, despite being his political allies, should join with the Legislature in demanding a public accounting of why Bailey was kicked to the curb.

The governor may believe that because he can’t run for re-election that he has no political price to pay for his actions. But his lame-duck status can work against him, too, in that lawmakers don’t have to fear a third-term Scott.

There already are cracks in the governor’s armor. The Republican Party of Florida over the weekend selected state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia of Hernando County as its chair over Scott’s hand-picked choice, sitting Chair Leslie Dougher.

State legislators must put party politics aside and uphold the integrity of the appointment system by holding public hearings on Bailey’s ouster. Floridians deserve to hear the whole story.




Jan. 15

Miami Herald on shielding the news media:

The Justice Department took two wise steps to strengthen protection for the news media this week, signaling - dare we hope? - a new and more enlightened view by the Obama administration of the rights of reporters to do their jobs without fear of government prosecution.

As he prepares to leave his job, Attorney General Eric Holder eliminated a loophole in the department’s rules that made it easier for prosecutors to subpoena journalists. At the same time, a federal prosecutor gave up on efforts to force a New York Times reporter to supply testimony in a trial over government leaks.

The latter decision is particularly significant. It signals the end of a seven-year fight by the federal government to force James Risen of The New York Times to identify a confidential source. Mr. Risen had made it clear that he was prepared to go to jail rather than reveal unnamed sources he relied on in writing State of War, a book describing U.S. efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear program.

In terms of public impact, the persecution of Mr. Risen long ago came to overshadow the actual prosecution of a government official on trial for the alleged leak because of its potentially serious consequences for the practice of journalism. The bullying of Mr. Risen was widely seen by reporters in this country as a test case of how far the government is willing to go to force them to become arms of the prosecution in cases involving the disclosure of government secrets.

The chilling effect of forcing Mr. Risen to identify sources would cripple the First Amendment. Think about it: Without the freedom to report on “secret” government activity, Americans would remain in the dark about many of the biggest controversies and abuses of the last 13 years: drones, waterboarding, secret prisons in Guantánamo, Iraq and elsewhere, NSA snooping and much more.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department also announced a change in the guidelines established by Mr. Holder last year in an effort to heed complaints against a crackdown on the news media. The rules extended protections to the work product and communications of reporters engaged in “ordinary news gathering.” The updated policy drops the word “ordinary,” taking discretion away from prosecutors and giving them one fewer excuse to seize reporters’ records.

The revision and the turnabout in the case of Mr. Risen are gratifying. But these merely reflect government decisions and attitudes that can be changed overnight, or from one administration to another. What is really needed to bolster protection for the news media is a change in federal law to declare that reporters will not be forced to identify their confidential sources - in other words, an act of Congress.

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia - Wyoming is the outlier here - already provide this kind of shield law for reporters. A well-thought-out solution in federal law that strikes a balance between the freedom to report important information and national security is essential if future administrations - or this one, in its last two years - should choose to target reporters and news leaks. Ideally, it would also grapple with the thorny issue of who is a journalist.

Efforts to enact such a law have stalled in recent years, but the 114th Congress should have another go at it. Absent such a statute, the validity of the First Amendment is forced to rely on the goodwill of government officials.

In a democracy, that’s not good enough.




Jan. 20

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on approving USF medical school:

The Florida Board of Governors … is scheduled to decide funding for the University of South Florida’s new medical school proposed to be built in downtown Tampa.

This should be an easy call.

The USF’s Morsani College of Medicine and the Health Heart Institute would be located in a $157 million, 12-story building and be the centerpiece of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s projected $1 billion redevelopment of 28 acres in the Channel District.

Vinik’s project, which will include residential towers, hotels and office buildings, is expected to transform downtown and the local economy. So the Board of Governors can boost medical education and the economy at the same time. And the governors should see that USF is requesting no more than what it would have spent on developing the school and the Heart Institute, which have been given initial approvals, at its north Tampa campus.

The state is not being asked to underwrite Vinik’s venture. He’s donating land for the building and will build a supporting parking garage and medical office complex. Any costs above what USF would need for on-campus construction will be covered with private donations.

USF is requesting $17 million for the medical school this year, with the ultimate state total to be $62 million after three years. It also wants $15.8 million this year for the Heart Institute, which has been promised $50 million in state funds. Philanthropist Frank Morsani has pledged $18 million for the medical school.

The key fact here is that USF must replace its 40-year-old medical school facilities, which lack modern classrooms and other necessities and are generating inordinate maintenance costs. The investment is essential for the medical school to thrive, and the downtown location, more appealing to young students, physicians and researchers, will bolster the state’s return on investment. The urban school would be close to Tampa General Hospital, where students train, and USF’s CAMLS (Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation), where students and physicians practice medical procedures with simulators. Having the Heart Institute near TGH’s exceptional cardiac programs also will be an advantage.

All this surely will attract other health care enterprises. USF officials estimate the downtown school will create close to 1,500 jobs.

Local leaders enthusiastically support the project, and Tampa City Council has pledged $30 million to provide the necessary road, stormwater and utility improvements for the development.

The Board of Governors is being asked to partner with a private developer and local officials in a higher education investment that will invigorate a university, a downtown and the economy. They should have no trouble recognizing the golden opportunity they are being handed.



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