- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


June 26

The Ocala Star Banner on bear hunting in Florida:

The vote by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to place a one-year moratorium on bear hunting was not only a scientifically and ecologically sensible policy move but also was a refreshing response by a public body to a passionate public debate.

The FWC voted 4-3 on Wednesday to put off for one year resuming Florida’s controversial bear hunt until more can be learned about the bear population and how to reduce human-bear conflicts. The narrow vote bespoke the division among Floridians over hunting bears as a means of limiting their incursions into areas populated by people.

The decision came as a bit of a surprise since FWC staff had recommended a new bear hunt in 2016, although it was proposed as being shorter with more limited permits and hunting areas.

One of the messages that hunt opponents got across to commission members was that last year’s hunt was justified as a means of culling out the bear population in order to reduce bear-human interactions in Florida’s growing urban sprawl, Yet the hunt was conducted in deep woods locations in largely rural parts of the state. The FWC district that includes Marion County, that is, the Ocala National Forest, produced the largest number of bears taken in the ‘15 hunt.

The vote to postpone came on the heels of a scientific report by three scientists - Nokuse Plantation director Matt Aresco, bear biologist Joe Gutherie and Florida State University professor Joseph Travis - questioned the FWC’s latest bear population estimate that showed, in the FWC’s words, “robust growth” from 2,640 in 2002 to an estimated 4,350 today. Last year, prior to the hunt, the agency put the bear count at about 3,500 statewide, then proceeded to issue 3,778 hunting permits. Go figure.

The three scientists effectively argued - and the public echoed their arguments - that the FWC’s bear count was flawed. While the agency staunchly defended the accuracy of the tally, the scientists pointed out it did not examine bear “subpopulations,” nor did the FWC have any meaningful plan for moving bears away from former habitats being consumed by Florida’s growth; and there was no plan to establish bear sanctuaries.

A majority on the commission agreed that these were reasonable expectations before holding another bear “harvest,” although the commission clearly indicated future bear hunts are possible, if not likely.

The crux of the problem, bear-human conflict, is not a result of some soaring bear population - bears were just taken off the endangered species list in 2012. Rather, it is because 1,000 people a day are moving into Florida and that growth is steadily consuming bear habitat.

Not only does a better bear management plan, including new bear habitats, need to be part of future policy, but state and local governments need to act to create laws and ordinances that protect these beloved animals who are being driven from their natural homes as well as the people moving into those habitats.

Last year’s hunt was clearly poorly planned. A planned week-long hunt was halted after the maximum allowable number of bears were killed in two days and dozens of lactating mothers were among those slain. And again, the hunt was centered in deep woods areas when the bear problem is in suburban areas.

State and local officials need to spend this one-year pause developing better data and regulations for dealing with bears more humanely and more intelligently. For now, though, we applaud the FWC’s decision and for listening to the people.

Online: https://www.ocala.com/


June 27

The Tampa Bay Times on the Supreme Court ruling abortion regulations in Texas:

The U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Texas abortion restrictions should be good news for protecting abortion rights in Florida. The court on Monday overturned a Texas law requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges and clinics to meet the same standards as surgery centers. Florida has less restrictive but similar requirements that are under legal challenge and set to become law Friday, and the courts should follow the Supreme Court’s lead and put them on hold.

The Texas law and Florida’s similar approach have the same objective: Cut off access to legal abortion. Republicans in the Texas legislature said the goal was to ensure abortions were performed in safe environments by qualified doctors. But that was happening before these onerous restrictions went on the books. “The great weight of evidence demonstrates that, before the act’s passage, abortion in Texas was extremely safe with particularly low rates of serious complications and virtually no deaths occurring on account of the procedure,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the 5-3 ruling.

The law ordered doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of a clinic. But in order to obtain admitting privileges, doctors must have patients to admit. And because complications in abortions are so rare, abortion doctors are hard-pressed to meet that bar. The majority of justices saw through that ruse.

The provision requiring clinics to mirror surgery centers made no sense. By imposing standards for hallway widths, humidity control and floor finishes that have no bearing on how the procedure is performed, it promised to drive clinics out of business because of compliance costs. But the real burden, of course, was on women. Texas quickly went from 40 abortion clinics to 20 after the law took effect. And abortion advocates said that would have dwindled to seven or eight to serve the many thousands of patients needing services. The Supreme Court was considering the Texas case through the lens of its 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, which said abortion laws cannot place “an undue burden” on women seeking care. Shuttering clinics, hindering doctors and forcing women to travel hundreds of miles to obtain legal medical care surely failed that test.

A comparable bill passed by the Florida Legislature this year, HB 1411, does not impose rules on clinics, and it allows abortion providers to have admitting privileges or transfer agreements with local hospitals. But early versions of the legislation more closely resembled the Texas law, and the version Gov. Rick Scott signed contains plenty of other threats to women’s health. The law cuts off Planned Parenthood from state health care contracts, including for services such as cancer screening, STD testing and preventive care; requires the state Agency for Health Care Administration to review 50 percent of abortion cases, threatening patient confidentiality for no medical purpose; and redefines the first trimester of pregnancy by relying on a woman’s estimation of her menstrual cycle rather than an ultrasound, which is the scientifically accepted method. Planned Parenthood is challenging the law in court, and there is an emergency hearing this week.

With Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, it should be clear that trying to erode the constitutional right to an abortion through indirect regulatory laws cannot stand in Texas - or in Florida.

Online: https://www.tampabay.com/


June 28

The Daytona Beach News-Journal on Marco Rubio’s decision to run for re-election:

Like a stone tossed into a pond, Marco Rubio’s decision last week to run for re-election to the U.S. Senate has had ripple effects - not just on state, but also local, politics.

Days before the deadline for candidates to qualify for Florida’s Aug. 30 primaries, Rubio performed such a breathtaking 180-degree reversal on his political future that it likely would’ve earned 9s from the judges at the Olympic trials. In mid-May, less than four weeks before he flipped, he responded to speculation that he was considering holding on to this Senate seat by Tweeting, “I have only said like 10,000 times I will be a private citizen in January.”

Apparently it’s that 10,001st time that makes all the difference.

At least Rubio admitted he flat-out changed his mind, although the reasons for that decision aren’t terribly compelling. The need for a Senate check on presidential power? That always was there, even when Rubio himself was running unsuccessfully for president this year. In fact, he justified missing so many Senate votes while on the campaign trail by expressing frustration with the slow pace of Congress and with the excuse that he was wasn’t returning anyway. So much for checks on the executive.

The massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando? Gun violence and terrorist attacks were major issues when Rubio decided not to seek a second term in the Senate, and unfortunately they likely will continue to be with or without him in Washington.

More likely, Rubio calculated that returning to the Senate gave him the best platform to run for president again in four or eight years. History suggests the opposite.

Nevertheless, despite his failed presidential run and his naked flip-flop on running for re-election, Rubio still proved to be the 800-pound gorilla of Florida Republican politics. His entrance into the race swept the field of all other Republicans seeking the seat except one, Manatee County businessman Carlos Beruff. Beruff, who is running as a political outsider in the mold of Rick Scott and Donald Trump, is wealthy enough to self-finance his campaign and need not worry as others did about party donors gravitating toward Rubio.

Rubio’s entrance had an immediate impact on the U.S. House District 6 race and Volusia and Flagler counties. The current District 6 representative, Ron DeSantis, had been running for Rubio’s Senate seat. Now he’s decided to defer to Rubio and run instead for re-election in a newly drawn district - one that no longer includes his current city of residence, Ponte Vedra Beach.

The new District 6 includes all of Volusia and Flagler counties and less of St. Johns County, making it more favorable to electing a local resident with roots in this community. But those calculations have changed. State Rep. Fred Costello businessman G.G. Galloway, both of Ormond Beach, who are running in the Republican primary now have to contend with an incumbent DeSantis entering the race, whose campaign war chest runs much deeper than theirs.

State Rep. David Santiago also had been seeking the congressional seat but chose not to oppose DeSantis when he returned, so the Deltona Republican will seek re-election to his Florida House seat. But that bumped former Deltona City Commissioner Zenaida Denizac and Orlando attorney Bill McBride out of the District 27 GOP primary.

If not for the fact that most local offices are nonpartisan, those races also might be reshuffling more than a deck of cards at a casino because of Rubio’s about-face.

Even after suffering a humiliating defeat in Florida’s presidential primary in March, which forced him out of the race for the White House, Rubio has proved he still has enough mass to influence the state GOP’s gravitational field. It will be interesting to see how many voters he can pull into his orbit.

Online: https://www.news-journalonline.com/

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