- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Sept. 4

The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville, on proposed plan for water withdrawals from St. Johns River:

Florida’s booming population is already causing enough stress on the river.

But advocates do not have the same political clout as some of the development interests.

Thankfully, one benefit of being slow to conserve is that there is much progress still available.

As a news story by the Times-Union’s David Bauerlein noted, Central Florida has proposed a draft plan that would pull up to 50 million gallons per day from the St. Johns River at one location and up to 110 million gallons per day at two other river locations.

Mayor Lenny Curry has opposed those plans, reasonably stating that river withdrawals should be a “last resort.”

Though Central Florida proposes more conservation, Curry states that more should be done.

As his letter stated, the Floridan aquifer is “close to exhaustion” in Central Florida.

Lisa Rinaman, St. Johns Riverkeeper, told Bauerlein that the river withdrawals are “unsustainable.”

In fairness, Central Florida has done a commendable job of recycling water. Central Florida did not consolidate its sewage treatment plants like Jacksonville so that treatment plants are closer to the areas that would use the recycled water.

In contrast, Jacksonville treats most of its wastewater at the Buckman Street sewage treatment plan in the Talleyrand area. Pumping treated wastewater to the suburbs would be phenomenally expensive.

Still, local leaders cannot realistically ask Central Florida to conserve when Jacksonville has so much left to do.

JEA has raised water rates at higher usage levels in order to deter people from using drinking water for irrigation.

That has worked to a large extent.

But more incentives to replace toilets, faucets and shower heads with conservation-related ones would be consistent with JEA’s mission as a public utility.

There should be more incentives to use native Florida plants and shrubs that are more drought resistant.

And homeowners need to use more drought-tolerant grasses that require less water. Yes, the grass may turn brown for a few months. But that is a small price to pay in order to conserve water.

More agricultural users should be taking advantage of drip irrigation that uses much less water more effectively. Rain barrels and cisterns should make a comeback.

Business and civic leader Preston Haskell made a good point in a Times-Union opinion column that water should no longer be considered a free resource. Like any other scarce resource, there should be a cost to using water.

Meanwhile, pursuing an option like desalination is extremely expensive. Not to mention the fact that desalination produces a brine that can create yet another environmental headache.

To find good examples of water conservation, just look at California - a state located in a desert climate with about twice the population of Florida.

As The New York Times documented, Los Angeles has reduced its water usage to less than it used in 1970 (when it had 1.1 million fewer people than today).

And in May, residential water use in California had dropped by 29 percent, reported the Los Angeles Times.

In fact, Los Angeles is giving back to Mother Nature by constructing wetlands in the city, harvesting stormwater and directing it to aquifers for replenishment and flood control.

In an opinion column on the facing page, two leaders from the Florida Springs Institute propose that JEA build wetlands near Baldwin and pump treated wastewater there to recharge the Floridan aquifer.

That would be highly expensive. But it’s worth exploring.

In fact, JEA previously has studied the cost of injecting treated wastewater to the aquifer.

The challenge of the last century was an energy crisis.

The challenge for this century will be a water crisis.

But conservation still remains the least expensive alternative when done right.

And it’s a far, far better option than taking more water from the St. Johns River.

Online:

https://jacksonville.com/

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Sept. 8

South Florida Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, on Gov. Rick Scott and government transparency:

Gov. Rick Scott has this thing about transparency in government - he seems to be allergic to it.

Sure, he talks a good game about openness, but the reality is far different.

Remember when he promised to put all his emails online? After touting the launch of the Project Sunburst website, he stopped using his state email as a primary form of communication.

Then earlier this year, a number of state employees said they’d been ordered not to use the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in official documents and speeches. Scott’s office denied banning the terms, but a year-by-year analysis by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting found a steep decline in the state’s use of the term “climate change” after Scott took office.

Most recently, the governor agreed to pay more than $700,000 to settle several lawsuits alleging violations of the state’s public records laws, including during the dismissal of the state’s top cop. Scott didn’t pay that fine with his money, of course. He paid it with yours.

The latest dodge by the governor involves his investigation of Planned Parenthood, which has been in the news since activists in California secretly recorded videos that while heavily edited, suggested the organization was illegally profiting from the sale of fetal body parts.

Scott, who opposes abortion, immediately announced he was ordering an inspection of Florida’s 16 Planned Parenthood clinics to see if they, too, were illegally selling fetal tissue, too. (The law allows clinics to recover the costs, but not make a profit, when sending fetal tissue to researchers.)

None of Florida’s clinics were found to be selling fetal tissue, or even harvesting it, for that matter.

But that message was deleted from the press release edited by the governor’s office.

According to emails obtained by POLITICO under a public records request, the governor’s office changed a press release to avoid answering the key question investigators were sent to answer: Were Florida clinics selling fetal tissues?

The state Agency for Health Care Administration tried to be upfront about its findings. Its version of the press release said that while regulators found three clinics performing unlicensed abortions - a claim Planned Parenthood strongly disputes - they found “no evidence of the mishandling of fetal remains.”

But after reviewing the press release, Scott’s office excluded that last part.

His office defended the editing. Communications Director Jackie Schutz said in email to POLITICO that her office “often works with our agencies on materials.” She called the agency’s press release a “draft document.”

Oh, please. Not only does that explanation not pass the smell test, it smells. Period.

“The fact is Gov. Rick Scott is playing politics with women’s health by orchestrating this attack on a trusted health care provider,” Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said in an email to POLITICO.

Scott, of course, has long been playing politics with abortion. While the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics are licensed to perform first trimester abortions, which have been defined as the first 14 weeks, in the recent dust-up his office said the legal cutoff is now 12 weeks. Earlier this year, he also signed a bill requiring women to make two trips to an abortion provider - at least 24 hours apart - to get the procedure.

What Scott and conservatives in Congress should acknowledge is that Planned Parenthood tries to reduce abortions by providing affordable birth control and other health care services for women who couldn’t afford it otherwise. And while some are calling for a government shutdown rather than continued federal funding for the organization, it should be remembered that no federal funds can pay for abortions, only health services.

Of course, acknowledging the good that Planned Parenthood does would require a bit of transparency. Don’t expect it from Scott.

Online:

https://www.sun-sentinel.com

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Sept. 4

Tampa Bay Times on drawing congressional districts in state:

Treading lightly, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a trial judge to choose between congressional district maps drawn by state lawmakers while keeping the door open for one last try by the Legislature to finish the job. That door should be slammed shut. Legislators have failed three times to draw legal congressional districts, and any map drawn by the courts will have more public confidence than one drawn by legislators who have proven they cannot be trusted.

The latest redistricting opinion from the Supreme Court, already under fire from Republican legislators for providing specific guidance for how the districts should be drawn, attempts to strike a balance between the authority of the judicial and legislative branches. While it sends the issue back to Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, it essentially limits Lewis to options already considered by the Legislature. The Legislature is given one more chance to do the job, as long as it acts before Lewis finishes and meets an October deadline the justices previously set. That is an olive branch, but it is not a viable option and Lewis should proceed promptly.

Remember how redistricting got to this point. Florida voters approved the Fair Districts constitutional amendments in 2010 that set clear standards for drawing new districts and banned any intent to favor political parties or incumbents. Yet when legislators redrew the congressional districts in 2012, they clearly violated the will of the voters and the Florida Constitution. The courts heard about secret meetings with Republican consultants, maps drawn by consultants that were submitted under the names of others, special access to maps and documents for consultants and fake public testimony generated by the consultants. The Florida Supreme Court earlier this year invalidated eight of the 27 congressional districts and gave clear instructions on how to fix them, including keeping U.S. House District 14 within Hillsborough County. That district is now represented by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and includes portions of Hillsborough County and south St. Petersburg.

Even after all of that, the Legislature failed again last month to agree on a new congressional map. There is no reason for lawmakers to try again, and the practical road is for Lewis to decide where the lines should be drawn and submit his map to the Supreme Court. The circuit judge has some intriguing decisions to make that affect Tampa Bay.

For example, state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, persuaded the Senate to adjust the lines so that Hillsborough County voters would be more certain to control two districts instead of one. His plan would move about 158,000 residents in south Hillsborough into a Hillsborough-centered district. In the base map originally approved by the House, those residents would be shifted to a district covering all of Manatee County and half of Sarasota County, areas now represented by U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota.

Either of these options are better for Hillsborough than the current map, which carves the county into four districts - none of which are based entirely in the county and one that puts thousands of south Hillsborough residents in a sprawling interior district represented by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee. The Senate map is preferable for Tampa Bay, and the House’s explanations for rejecting it were not persuasive.

That’s just one reason why the best option now is for the trial court to take over. Moving lines anywhere creates a ripple effect, and the trial judge is the best objective person to decide which options best meet the constitutional requirements. The courts have gone to great lengths to defer to the Legislature and provide clear direction, and state lawmakers have failed at every turn.

Online:

https://www.tampabay.com

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