- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Jan. 30

The Bradenton Herald on medical marijuana:

Let the debate begin again. A fresh medical marijuana citizen initiative found success recently with enough signatures to earn a place on the November ballot, appearing as Amendment 2. A similar constitutional amendment failed by a slim margin in 2014, just two percentage points below the 60 percent approval required for passage.

This time, United for Care rewrote the amendment to address opposition concerns about lax language that would open the door to drug abuse. Doctors would be allowed to recommend marijuana for patients suffering “debilitating conditions” such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis or epilepsy.

With stricter medical requirements - and a higher voter turnout for a presidential election - Amendment 2 stands a far greater chance of passage.

Then Florida would join 23 other states and Washington, D.C. with medical marijuana laws. (Four have legalized cannabis for recreational use.)

Online: https://www.bradenton.com/

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Jan. 31

The Naples Daily News on fracking legislation:

Fracking legislation

Florida House Republicans and Democrats each had it partially right in Wednesday’s vote, largely along party lines, on what the state should do about fracking, or hydraulic fracturing.

The Republicans had it right in advocating for a $1 million study of what types of inland drilling procedures should be allowed in Florida and to then set regulations based on study findings. The Democrats had it right in suggesting the state shouldn’t wrest a say over drilling from cities and counties.

The House voted 73-45 Wednesday to support the measure co-sponsored by state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero. The Senate will have the same issue before it in a bill sponsored by state Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples.

Fracturing, which injects fluids to crack open or acid to melt the rock layer to enhance productivity of an oil well, is largely the concern of two areas of the state - Southwest Florida and the Panhandle, where most of the drilling occurs.

As it stands, fracking can occur in Florida, which has outdated laws and rules that haven’t yet caught up with modern drilling techniques, such as horizontal bores that can cut angularly underground in search of oil.

A tough call

This legislation is a close call to us, as demonstrated a year ago when we supported the Rodrigues and Richter bills despite some reservations.

Do you keep the state’s outdated, lax procedures, the ones that now allow fracking, in place? No.

Should you study Florida’s unique hydrology and geology to guide what should be allowed in the state, rather than relying on studies done elsewhere in the nation? Yes.

Should there be a moratorium on fracking permits while the study is completed? Yes.

Should the state be allowed to know what types of chemicals that drillers are injecting into the ground? Yes.

Should Florida regulate what happens with the spoiled water pulled out of the ground at a drilling site? Yes.

Should state inspectors be allowed ready access to the drilling site at key times? Yes.

Should performance bond amounts that haven’t increased in decades be raised, in case of the need for a spill cleanup? Yes.

Should state regulators be allowed to consider how companies performed in other states when weighing whether to grant a drilling permit in Florida? Yes.

So far, we’re in agreement with all this, summarized on the House floor by state Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, the co-sponsor. That’s where the Republican majority has gotten this right.

Local control

Here, however, we part ways with this year’s version of the legislation.

When the Rodrigues and Richter bills almost passed in spring 2015, fracking was barely on the radar of most local government agencies. Nearly a year later, Democrats on Wednesday listed dozens of cities and counties that now have either banned fracking or urged state lawmakers to do so.

The city of Bonita Springs was one of the first. The Village of Estero is among them. While not on the list, Collier County commissioners this fall advocated for changes to the legislation to be sure they maintain some local control, such as over zoning that determines how far drilling rigs may be kept from residences.

There have been modifications to the 2016 bills in recent weeks to address local government rights, such as ensuring hometown officials are notified about a permit request so they can weigh in on it with the Department of Environmental Protection. We see this as a shallow concession, however, considering there already were procedures to object to a permit and seek a hearing.

On the House floor Wednesday, GOP state Rep. Doug Broxson spoke passionately how the economy of his North Florida district has benefited for decades from nobody-got-sick, safe, clean drilling that’s helped the U.S. seek energy independence.

That, to us, makes the point. If it’s been good for his Panhandle district, that’s great. So let the local government officials there have a say what’s allowed, and where. His district is as far from Collier County, Bonita Springs and Estero as is Tallahassee.

The Senate can still fix this legislation by stripping out portions that restrict local control. Failing that, we wouldn’t support this year’s bill.

Online: https://www.naplesnews.com/

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Feb. 1

The Florida Times-Union on financial help for the disabled:

When you’re one of 435 representatives in the U.S. House, it’s difficult to have a major impact on people.

But U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, can now see the fruits of his labor in helping America’s disabled people.

About a year ago, Congress created the 529 ABLE accounts, a savings vehicle for disabled people. It has the same tax advantages as 529 accounts for college.

The ABLE accounts can grow tax-free if used for qualified expenses such as education, housing, transportation and job training.

Also, a disabled person can have as much as $100,000 in the account and still qualify for federal benefits such as Medicaid and SSI.

An eligible person is someone who becomes disabled before age 26 and (1) receives Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or SSI; or (2) files a disability certification under IRS rules.

Florida and 36 other states and the District of Columbia have passed enabling legislation for state ABLE accounts.

The Florida Legislature passed the enabling legislation unanimously, 38-0 in the Senate and 117-0 in the House.

In a logical move, the Prepaid College Board in Florida has been directed to set up the ABLE accounts.

And thanks to new legislation, qualified applicants can tap ABLE accounts from any state rather than wait for their own.

Because of the increased competition, there ought to be better choices for consumers.

In addition, Crenshaw is working to allow rollovers from 529 college accounts to 529 ABLE accounts.

“No longer would individuals with disabilities have to stand aside and watch others use IRS-sanctioned tools to lay the groundwork for a brighter future. They would be able to as well, and that’s an accomplishment we can all be proud of,” Crenshaw stated on his website.

Thanks to the congressman and others for supporting this important legislation.

Online: https://jacksonville.com/

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