- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


May 4

The Florida Times-Union on health issues facing the state and Jacksonville:

When it comes to health needs in Northeast Florida, the list is far too long.

According to a lengthy Community Health Needs Assessment, there are numerous and major “lacks:” lack of affordable care; low usage of preventative care; lack of transportation; lack of access of affordable insurance; lack of physicians and specialists; lack of access to affordable dental care.

Overlaid on this list is a lack of transportation and a lack of knowledge about services. These are handicaps for the elderly, the poor and others without reliable transportation.

In many cases, the health care consumers are on their own, fending for themselves while consumers in other states have much more access to health care.

Mental illness is a prominent example. For instance, people suffering from eating disorders, the most fatal form of mental illness, have to cobble together a network of therapists and nutritionists and physicians.

Take all the handicaps involved in the physical health care system, then double them when it comes to mental health.

But the report notes that knowledge of available services also is an issue for providers and others within the health care system.

It’s all so backward.

In a state that has stubbornly refused to take millions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid, health care has taken a hard hit, especially mental health care.

This creates problems for groups, such as teens, sexual minorities, the elderly, people with disabilities and veterans.

“Vision, ambulatory, independent living and self-care difficulties are more prevalent for those 65 years of age and older in Duval County than elsewhere in Florida,” the report stated.

While emergency rooms are required to stabilize patients, people with chronic conditions need good primary care. Chronic conditions include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Often people have more than one chronic condition.

Health, of course, can’t be segregated from life generally. Those with basic needs, such as food, housing and utilities, find health care more complicated.

In Duval County, rates of smoking, obesity, asthma and stroke exceeded Florida averages.

For low-income people, there are higher rates of smoking, inability to visit doctors due to cost, obesity, asthma, stroke and poor mental health.

The infrastructure of the city was designed and built for cars, not people. There are too few sidewalks, too few bicycle lanes, too few recreational activities for youth, too few neighborhoods safe to walk in and too few parks with good access.

No wonder that wealth, education and health go together.

But there is a system here, as well. And the system is failing for the less fortunate.

This report must be viewed in light of the mayor’s attempt to raise the fitness level of people in Duval County. He emphasizes what people can do themselves to eat right and exercise.

But tendencies aren’t fate. We must continue to press for both individual and societal improvements in health.




May 1

The Tampa Tribune on cutting taxes to boost solar energy:

Voters have good reason to be confused about proposed ballot initiatives concerning solar energy this fall.

But they should take care to support a measure that would give commercial operations a tax incentive to invest in solar.

If approved by voters, the straightforward measure, championed by Pinellas Sen. Jeff Brandes, would empower the Legislature to extend to commercial property the same renewable energy tax break now given to residences.

Thus, installing solar or other renewable energy devices on commercial properties would not increase property taxes or tangible personal property taxes.

This makes sense if we are going to transition to clean energy sources. Solar, in particular, has the potential of becoming a major energy source in sunny Florida and will create local jobs at the same time.

Brandes says he believes the substantial tax exemption “will really drive solar” and bring thousands of jobs to the state.

Amendment 4 will appear on the August primary ballot to avoid confusion with another solar initiative that will be on the November ballot.

Some background: Last year consumer and clean energy groups attempted to put a pro-solar initiative on the ballot. Floridians for Solar Choice sought to allow businesses and homeowners to sell up to 2 megawatts of solar power with some restrictions.

But the utility industry launched its own referendum campaign, the deceptively named Consumers for Smart Solar, that would codify in the state constitution existing laws that now prohibit consumers or businesses from selling solar power.

Alas, the devious utility-backed amendment collected enough signatures to be put on this year’s ballot, while the pro-consumer effort initiative failed to qualify, though backers are working to put it on the 2018 ballot.

So the Consumers for Smart Solar amendment, aimed at protecting the status quo, will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

Brandes rightly worked to move the solar tax-exemption plan to the Aug. 30 primary election ballot.

It is an unusual move, but one that should prevent confusion.

Though many Florida companies are beginning to invest in solar power, the state’s solar production ranks near the middle of the pack - and far behind other more enterprising states, including New York, Massachusetts, Arizona and New Jersey.

Brandes is right when he says, “The Sunshine State should be the leader in solar energy.”

Easing the tax burden on commercial investment in solar will generate more energy and jobs while cleaning the environment. The referendum merits voters’ support.




April 29

The Daytona Beach News-Journal on minimizing distraction in state standardized testing:

School districts give their students standardized tests. But they don’t give tests to standardized students.

Some will walk into the testing room nonchalant and relaxed; others will be so nervous they couldn’t finish breakfast. Some will work their way through questions methodically. Others will constantly hit the “back” arrow on their keyboard, or scrub at their test paper with an eraser as they second-guess their answers. And some will race - either confidently or carelessly - through multiple-choice and writing assessments, while others feel they’re watching the test clock speeding ahead in double-time as they struggle with each question.

Florida State Assessment and end-of-course testing sessions can be up to two hours long, and as each session winds down, some students will be finished early. Under district policy in Volusia and Flagler counties, students are told to sit quietly with their test book or computer terminal until the time for the test elapses. But some parents are challenging whether students who have completed their tests should be allowed to quietly read until the session is over, as is permitted in other districts including Seminole County.

There are arguments on both sides. Certainly, it’s a good idea to encourage students to go back over their answers at least once; a 2005 analysis of 40 years’ of educational research found that students who rethought their answers on multiple-choice questions were far more likely to end up with the correct answer. And written work almost always benefits from a close second read.

But there are students who will still be done early. And it’s not realistic to expect these quick-thinking students to switch themselves off and sit, perfectly quiet and still, while their classmates labor on - especially when students take two or more tests in a day. As the inevitable fidgeting sets in, the early finishers could prove to a potent distraction for other students who need every minute allotted to do well on their own tests.

Volusia school administrators told The News-Journal’s Dustin Wyatt that they plan to re-examine the ban on allowing students who have finished their tests to read books. That makes sense, with one important caveat: Students should be encouraged - to the extent allowable under state policy - to go over their answers one more time. But after that, there’s no reason to force bored students to “sit and stare” - and every reason to minimize the dangers of distraction to their classmates.



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