- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

May 26

Miami Herald on for-profit colleges:

Students who have been taken for a long and costly ride by some for-profit colleges need look no further than the state’s Commission for Independent Education - CIE - if they are wondering why they have not found relief from the schools’ predatory practices.

The CIE, putatively, is Florida’s watchdog over the such schools. But not only does it rarely, if ever, bare its teeth at complaints of possible wrongdoing, it has been the industry’s compliant lapdog. The CIE is larded with school insiders who see, hear and speak no evil about their industry.

Herald reporter Michael Vasquez’s series, Higher-Ed Hustle, outed the strong links between the CIE and the schools that it oversees. Seven members sit on the CIE; four of them are school executives, as mandated by state law. Vasquez wrote: “Though the CIE has received more than 2,200 student complaints in the past 14 years, it could not identify a single instance of a school being disciplined as a result.”

Sam Ferguson, the CIE’s top administrator, likened those complaints to “parking tickets,” swatting away any hint that some of the schools under his purview are not honest dealers.

That’s a callously dismissive view, and Mr. Ferguson should be ashamed to have articulated it. Aggrieved students seeking a fair and dispassionate hearing from the CIE have ended up paying far more than a parking fine for their troubles. Meanwhile, for-profit colleges continue to rake in millions in federally funded Pell Grants for strong-arming vulnerable students into their programs.

The students, perhaps unable to get into a community college where the costs are far lower, are often left with huge debt and the inability to get a job, as recruiters so rosily promised them, because of unaccredited programs. Some school recruiters flat-out lie. Vince Martin, a former recruiter for Everest University, told the Herald that, “I just felt like I was doing evil.”

Despite thousands of complaints, the CIE and its inspector general see nothing worth pursuing. The IG recently gave his blessing to a CIE staffer’s dubious personal and professional ties to the Institute of Healthcare Professions in West Palm Beach. A former employee alleged that Marybell Serrano was a roommate of the for-profit’s owner, Karyn Vidal, and held a 2-percent ownership stake in the school. The IG accepted stock certificates from 2013 that showed Ms. Vidal shared ownership with her ex-husband and, ultimately, found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Left unexamined, however, are allegations that the two women had relatives pose as fake students in order to obtain accreditation for the school, which is a key to getting federal financial-aid funds. Several students who are related to Ms. Vidal or Ms. Serrano were allegedly listed by the schools as students who had graduated and successfully gotten jobs. For some strange reason, investigators have decided to let the CIE investigate this serious matter separately.

There are too many red flags waving here for lawmakers to ignore - though the for-profits’ generosity come reelection time no doubt makes it easier to look the other way. But the composition and attitude of the CIE clearly need to change. Some for-profit schools are sowing pain and despair among elected leaders’ constituents. Where these schools are doing a credible job, they should be praised, but they should not reap rewards for destructive and, possibly, fraudulent behavior. Other states are cracking down. Why isn’t Florida?




May 27

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on House needing to act on ending health care impasse:

Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner’s retooled plan to insure 800,000 of the state’s low-income residents has addressed the practical objections House leaders had to the Senate’s previous plan.

Participants will no longer be required to enroll in Medicaid before joining the Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange, the Senate-created health plan known as FHIX.

This is key because there will be no expansion of Medicaid. The uninsured will go to the state-controlled program.

Potential enrollees without jobs will have to register with the state’s employment portal to prove they are looking for work. They’ll have more coverage options. And bureaucrats won’t be allowed to make substantial changes to the rules.

Collectively, the changes give the state greater control and make the enrollees more accountable. We hope House leaders adopt the spirit of compromise exhibited by the Senate and begin negotiations to end the stalemate over insuring Florida’s working poor.

The impasse caused legislative leaders to end their regular session early without adopting a budget, a constitutional requirement that must be fulfilled by the end of June. A special session begins Monday to find common ground and the retooled FHIX plan provides a solid foundation.

Under the plan, the state can draw down billions in Medicaid funds to close a gap in the state budget created by changes in the way the federal government funds indigent care in Florida. It offers a sensible and humane way to close the budget gap without eliminating tax cuts promised during the legislative session or cutting worthy programs or projects throughout the state, all while offering private insurance options to the working poor.

FHIX requires co-pays by enrollees and promises to pull the plug on the program if the federal government reneges on its promises.

“This Florida solution will improve access to health care for low-income Floridians and mitigate the impact to our economy,” Gardiner says.

It has the backing of many influential business leaders who think Medicaid expansion under the Senate plan would be good the economy and the state overall.

Studies show there is a hidden cost associated with a large uninsured population that gets uncompensated and costly health care at emergency rooms.

The costs are passed on to the people with insurance.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says the federal government can’t be trusted to deliver the money under an expanded Medicaid program. He has refused to consider FHIX because it draws down the Medicaid money.

He has made his point, and it has some merit. But there is no better alternative, and Crisafulli should fulfill his obligation to govern in the best interests of the state by seeking compromise.

Simply cutting the state’s proposed budget by millions of dollars to make ends meet won’t get health care to the 800,000 low-income Floridians in need or position the state to deal with this issue in the coming years.

Senate leaders have labored over the past few weeks to craft a plan that works for Florida. Now it’s up to the House to make the best of a difficult situation.




May 27

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on bottle clubs:

It’s the last call for local bottle clubs, and the only question is why closing time didn’t come a lot earlier.

Volusia County has three such establishments that are considered “social meeting places” after regular bars close at 2 a.m. Customers are served drinks from their own liquor bottles; the club merely provides the “setups,” such as juices, sodas and ice.

Too often, though, violence is part of the mix.

Following a deadly shooting in the early morning hours of May 10 that police say stemmed from an argument that began at Papi’s on Nova Road - and a News-Journal story the following week on law-enforcement issues with bottle clubs - Sheriff Ben Johnson has put the hammer down. As of last Saturday, licensed bottle clubs may no longer serve alcohol or permit the consumption of alcohol past 2 a.m., the same as regular bars, and violators will be subject to criminal penalties.

According to the VCSO, the sheriff is relying on an interpretation of Florida law from the county’s legal department, which concluded that since bottle clubs are required to obtain a license to operate from the state, they are then subject to the county ordinance that prohibits the sale or consumption of alcohol at business establishments between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m.

Papi’s and its next-door neighbor Daytona’s Last Call reside in an island of unincorporated Volusia County amid a sea of Holly Hill and Daytona Beach - a crazy quilt of zoning that makes gerrymandered legislative districts look linear. The surrounding cities prohibit bottle clubs; the county doesn’t. The Sheriff’s Office is responsible for responding to calls for service (although Daytona Beach and Holly Hill also have responded to the clubs in emergencies).

And there have been many in recent years.

As The News-Journal’s Lyda Longa reported, in the last two years, sheriff’s deputies have responded to Papi’s 184 times for various reasons, and received 141 calls at Last Call. Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood said the Mother’s Day homicide occurred just after 4 a.m. on the Oakridge Avenue bridge, and was preceded by a shoving match between the victim and the suspect behind Papi’s. In 2013, a man was shot to death in the Papi’s parking lot. That same year, police say a club patron was shot in the face in that same parking lot by another club goer.

There are numerous other examples of shots being fired, fights and other public disturbances, lending credence to the adage that nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m. - especially at establishments like Papi’s, whose first rule (of 17) is: “Enter at your own risk.”

The club owners plead innocence, arguing that all of these conflicts occur outside their establishments and are therefore beyond their control. But it’s clear that the clubs draw a certain kind of crowd that endangers public safety in the immediate area. Treating them as the de facto bars that they are - gathering places for people who drink - and thus limiting their hours of operation can reduce the potential for mischief.

It’s good that the sheriff has taken action against the source of the problems, but there was sufficient reason to do so long before the recent homicide and News-Journal story.

If only eliminating those enclaves of unincorporated county were as simple.



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