- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Sept. 21

The Miami Herald on state lawmakers providing funding for the Everglades:

Guess it’s up to Congress to come through for the Everglades. Goodness knows the state of Florida turned its back on at least one big boost the life-sustaining River of Grass needed this year.

In a perfect world, state lawmakers and the governor would have nailed down the long-negotiated deal with U.S. Sugar to buy almost 47,000 acres that it owns. The land would have filled in a missing piece of the puzzle needed to help the state store billions of gallons of water to replenish the Everglades and quench this growing state’s thirst.

The money was there, thanks to voters’ overwhelming support for Amendment 1. The deal had been forged in 2010 - though U.S. Sugar balked at the purchase price late in the game.

Rather than charging forward, state leaders looked the other way. The whole thing was supposed to be over and done with, signed, sealed, delivered by Oct. 12, the day the pact expired.

Instead of a celebratory toast in three weeks, the whole deal was toast earlier this year, when no funds were appropriated for the purchase. Now, according to the Everglades Foundation, Congress is mulling stepping into the void. It should do so with urgency.

The land the state forfeited would have gone some distance to help store, not waste, its critical water supply. There is little storage capacity, especially in the center of the state. As a result, it’s dumping billions of gallons a year into the Gulf and Atlantic. According to the Everglades Foundation, in 2013 Florida dumped 500 billion gallons of water, wasted, unused. This year, 120 billion gallons have been squandered - and that’s taking into account the precipitous decline in Lake Okeechobee’s water levels because of scant rainfall earlier this year. Imagine what water-deprived Californians would think.

The Central Everglades Planning Project, which needs congressional authorization would provide the state half of the $1.7 billion needed for the initiative. If passed, it will remove manmade barriers such as levees, so that water can flow more naturally south to the Everglades.

The state’s lack of action here is especially galling when the governor and lawmakers have been more generous than in years past with funding for the Everglades, though far less than the “record funding” as the governor claimed earlier this year. That milestone occurred under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

The Everglades are a high-value asset to this state, its environment and its economic vitality. Remember, this is only our drinking water that we’re talking about, and the habitat to sustain wildlife, which also sustains the fishing industry and recreational tourism and . you get the idea.

It’s a shame that Gov. Rick Scott and Florida lawmakers didn’t. Florida’s congressional lawmakers should lead their colleagues to a more forward-looking conclusion.




Sept. 23

Orlando (Florida) Sentinel on gun legislation in state:

Like the swallows that return yearly to San Juan Capistrano, state lawmakers have returned to Tallahassee in a reckless crusade to arm collegians in the name of self-protection.

Last week, state House and Senate committees endorsed bills to allow students 21 or older with concealed-carry permits to tote guns to class.

Backers insist Senate Bill 68 and House Bill 4001 would both protect coeds against campus shooters and rapists and assaults on their Second Amendment rights.

“I don’t feel like your constitutional rights should stop at a line in the sand,” said Sen. Greg Evers, a Baker Republican and Senate bill sponsor.

Neither should a line in the sand constrain common sense.

Sensible reasons clarify why school presidents and campus police chiefs strongly oppose arming students - even after last year’s deadly shooting at Florida State University.

Nearly 60 percent of college students ages 18-22 drink. Every year, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly 600,000 college students suffer injuries because of booze. Wedding collegians with Colts is a bad marriage.

Nor would guns on campus act as a talisman to ward off sexual assault. Victims of campus rapes often have been drinking. That dulls the likelihood of successfully handling a gun. Moreover, as Laura Finley, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Barry University in Miami Shores, noted in a recent column, most victims are assaulted by someone they trust, meaning “it is unlikely that they will arm themselves with a weapon before heading out for the night with their partner. Thus the weapon would do no good.”

Not that such facts get in the way of a bad cause.

As state Rep. Dennis K. Baxley, an Ocala Republican, contended in a House subcommittee debate in January, “If you’ve got a person that’s raped because you wouldn’t let them carry a firearm to defend them, I think you’re responsible.”

We’re all for being responsible. Trying to exorcise campus shootings and rapes through on-campus personal arsenals doesn’t come close.

This is a time for reasonable solutions.

Like what the State University System’s Board of Governors proposes: pumping $20 million more into its 12 schools to bolster mental-health counseling and hire more campus cops to bring schools congruent with the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s guidelines of two officers per 1,000 students. Florida A&M; is the only state school that makes the grade.

It’s absurd to put the onus on could-be victims. This plan puts the burden where it belongs: on schools and law enforcement professionals.

State lawmakers would be wise to holster the zombie campus-carry bills and train their sights on a sound idea to arm schools - not collegians - with more protective firepower.




Sept. 21

Tampa Bay Times on rising health care costs in state:

As Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature look to pin down responsibility for the state’s rising health care costs for the poor and uninsured, they should look in the mirror. It’s not the hospitals, which are their favorite target. It’s the Medicaid managed care system they created that is costing money rather than saving money. It’s their refusal to accept billions in federal dollars to subsidize health coverage for more low-income Floridians. And it’s their failure to create an economy that produces enough good-paying jobs that offer private insurance that employees can afford.

The latest projections show the state’s Medicaid costs will rise another $593 million next year, eating up more than 44 percent of the state’s anticipated new revenue created by the recovering economy. And that trend is going to continue. Budget forecasters say that over the next three years, rising Medicaid costs will suck up nearly half of the additional revenue, leaving less to invest in public education and other areas.

Scott and some Republican legislative leaders blame the hospitals for the state’s rising health care costs. The governor has ordered audits of nearly 130 hospitals, and his politically motivated Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding is rooting around for proposals to lower hospital costs. Yet the state’s budget forecasters predict Medicaid spending for in-patient services at hospitals will barely increase next year. Hospitals have their issues, including a lack of transparency in pricing. But they are not driving up the state’s health care costs for the poor.

The main reason for rising Medicaid costs is that more than 302,000 additional Floridians are expected to sign up for coverage next year. Scott blames “Obamacare” for the state’s rising costs, and more uninsured residents are discovering they are eligible for Medicaid when they try to sign up for health coverage through the federal exchange. But these are primarily pregnant women and children who have always qualified for Medicaid in Florida. They would be entitled to coverage regardless of the Affordable Care Act.

The state’s shift to a privately run managed care system also is costing more money. Scott once projected Medicaid managed care would cut costs by 5 percent. Instead the managed care plans sought a 12 percent increase for next year, and the state approved a 7.7 percent increase. Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, was right to question last week whether “we were sold a bill of goods” by the governor and Republican lawmakers about the cost-savings promise of managed care for Medicaid patients.

In addition to rising Medicaid costs, the state faces another $400 million hole next year in covering the costs for charity care at hospitals. That is federal money that the Obama administration plans to quit sending to the Low Income Pool, because it prefers to spend that money for health insurance for the poor to help keep them healthy rather than on expensive treatment in hospital emergency rooms after they get sick.

Of course, Scott and House Republicans would avoid that problem and save state tax dollars if they would accept billions in federal Medicaid expansion money to subsidize private health coverage for more than 800,000 Floridians. Instead, Rep. Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes continued to demonize hospitals last week in his speech after being named by Republicans as the next House speaker. He warned of one health care system for the rich and another for the poor, declaring “it’s time people realized that conservatives aren’t against health care for the poor people; we’re against giving them poorly run government health care.”

It’s time people realized that “poorly run government health care” is a privately run Medicaid system that the governor and Republican legislators like Corcoran created. It’s time they realized that system is not saving money but costing taxpayers more. And it’s time they realized that it’s the governor and the Republican-led Legislature who are responsible for Florida’s health care mess - not the Affordable Care Act or the hospitals.



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