- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Oct. 20

The Florida Times-Union on protecting Florida’s environment:

Florida is a place like no other with natural enchantment stretching from white sand beaches to azure springs to rivers of grass that extend as far as you can see.

But the backdrop to that environmental beauty involves the houses, offices and shopping malls that gobble up too much of Florida’s green and blue treasures. Most of that development is driven by the pressure built by an increasing population.

And the state’s population, now estimated at about 20 million, is on an uphill climb.

By 2050, there will be some 31 million people making their homes here, making this state one of the fastest growing in the nation.

Jacksonville will be at the forefront of that population and development growth. It is one of four mega-regions here where growth will be most intense, according to America 2050, a project of the American Planning Association. The others are Dade-Broward-Palm Beach counties, the Orlando area and the Tampa area,

That’s why it’s so crucial for Floridians to advocate for the preservation and protection of Florida’s natural places.

Now!

“There are some questions that Floridians need to be asking themselves, and the first is, ‘How can I make a difference?’” former Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham says. “Our democracy was based on citizens actively getting involved in their communities.”

What Graham and other environmental advocates would like to see is Floridians becoming more involved in protecting this beautiful state. He was in town for the recent Speak Up for Florida Forever event,

In fact, he helped lead an advocacy training session here for people who want to make their voices heard.

Although the former governor, who is the founder and current chairman of the Florida Conservation Coalition, has been active for decades in preserving Florida, he admits this is a pivotal point for the state.

Not only does an increasing population mean more vacant land will be paved over and built upon, it also means a fight for clean water. While the state is crisscrossed with rivers and rests upon a gigantic aquifer, water is becoming both increasingly polluted and increasingly limited.

That can easily be seen in Jacksonville, where a ticking time bomb of septic tanks, many quite antiquated, threatens to pollute.

It’s also here that waterfront industries, which once thrived along the St. Johns River, have left toxic footprints that leach into the waterways.

Meanwhile, an increasing city population has done relatively little to conserve what clean water there is.

Every Floridian should be concerned - appalled - at the situation.

Graham, who has 11 grandchildren, says he always thinks of them and their offspring when looking toward the protection of Florida’s water and land.

“This state is a treasure. God has given us the privilege of living here for a period of time, and we really have a Biblical responsibility to protect it.”

But first, Floridians should make themselves aware of the treasures all around them.

Hike the many trails available across the state.

Kayak or canoe its pristine waterways. Duval County is dotted with them.

Explore the countryside that still exists much as it did centuries ago.

Visit this state’s parks, preserves and historic sites.

And be amazed at what still exists here despite the 20 million of us who call Florida home.

Then take a stand for wild Florida.

Join one or several of the many organizations that are fighting for wild Florida. Then gather like-minded people around you and push for preservation.

Talk to your local elected representatives. Talk to your state representatives.

Now!

Tell them that you’ve joined the battle to protect Florida and that you plan on winning.

After all, we can’t afford to lose this battle.

Online: https://jacksonville.com/

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Oct. 25

The Bradenton Herald on the Affordable Care Act:

Higher prices and fewer choices are dogging the Affordable Care Act. Premiums are projected to rise 25 percent nationally next year, and fewer insurers will offer coverage in the marketplace exchanges. But the law, while still a work in progress, has already extended health coverage to millions of Americans and saved countless people from catastrophe by eliminating lifetime limits on coverage and banning exclusions for pre-existing conditions. It needs a president and a new Congress willing to fix its flaws and ensure that its notable progress is not reversed.

The Obama administration confirmed Monday that premiums in mid-level health plans will have large increases in most states next year, although the range varies wildly from a 116 percent increase in Arizona to a 3 percent decrease in Maine and Indiana. In Florida, a mid-level plan for a 27-year-old will go up 14 percent in 2017, according to federal data - from $238 a month to $270 a month. That’s less than $8 a week.

Even the increases come with caveats. Most people who buy insurance on the federal insurance marketplace qualify for tax subsidies and other cost reductions to keep their out-of-pocket expenses down. In Florida, 91 percent of enrollees get subsidies, which are also projected to rise.

But even President Barack Obama sees problems with his signature achievement. Speaking at Miami Dade College last week, he referred to the current state of the Affordable Care Act as a “starter home.” ”The question we should be asking is,” he said, “what do we do about these growing pains?” He called for the federal government to provide a “public plan fallback” to create more competition and believes that additional tax credits would encourage more people to buy insurance. And he admonished states, including Florida, that have not expanded Medicaid.

Still, the larger trends are disquieting. In August, insurance giant Aetna announced it was pulling out of the marketplace in Florida and 10 other states. That followed similar decisions by Humana and UnitedHealth Group to pull back, citing multi-million-dollar losses. Broadly speaking, not enough young, healthy people are signing up for health coverage through the marketplaces. Meanwhile, older, sicker people are enrolling and using more health care services, driving up costs. This is not an unexpected outcome, which is why the much-maligned individual mandate was included in the law.

It’s key to remember that the core functions of the law are working. More than 16 million Americans have gained health insurance. Children can stay on their parents’ plans longer. There are no more lifetime caps on care, and pre-existing conditions are covered. These successes should be unifying, but division has been the hallmark of the Affordable Care Act since its passage in 2010. Republicans in Congress have theatrically voted to repeal it dozens of times. They focus on news of price increases and other setbacks while failing to offer realistic alternatives. In Tallahassee, the Republican-led Legislature has steadfastly refused to expand Medicaid, which would cover 800,000 low-income Floridians.

The November election is a chance to elect new leaders who will build on the gains of the Affordable Care Act and craft solutions to control costs, to increase access and to insure more Americans. With premium hikes and fewer plan choices threatening the efficacy of the law, the stakes are high for millions who still lack affordable health care. The nonsensical cry of “repeal and replace” must give way to a sober bipartisan effort to keep the Affordable Care Act and to make it better.

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

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Oct. 26

The Palm Beach Post on Amendment 1:

More than once, this Editorial Board has contended that Amendment 1, the so-called solar energy initiative, is essentially a fraud. Supposedly supporting the growth of solar power in Florida, the initiative is actually a creature of major utility companies that seek to keep a tight grip on the state’s energy market.

Now comes confirmation that we were right.

The policy director of a think tank supported by those utilities admitted at a conference this month that the ballot measure indeed was a deliberate effort to confuse Florida voters.

Sal Nuzzo, a vice president at the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, called the amendment “an incredibly savvy maneuver” that “would completely negate anything they (pro-solar interests) would try to do either legislatively or constitutionally down the road.”

Because “solar polls very well,” Nuzzo recommended that others also use “a little bit of political jiu-jitsu” and “use the language of promoting solar” to protect the electric power industry’s interests.

His remarks, taped Oct. 2 at a conference in Nashville of conservative policy research groups, were first reported by Mary Ellen Klas of The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times.

The political committee behind the amendment, cynically named “Consumers for Smart Solar,” quickly said that Nuzzo “misspoke.” But the group soon erased almost all references to the James Madison Institute on its social media platforms. Looks like someone spoke out of school.

Nuzzo validated Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, who called this amendment “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” in her dissent when the court voted 4-3 to allow this travesty onto the ballot. “Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative,” she said it would allow utilities to raise fees on solar customers.

In his breezy remarks, Nuzzo was gloating over the fact that voters will be confused when they get to Amendment 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot. That because solar power is popular (“solar polls very well”), most people will want to vote for something that would create a constitutional right “for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use.”

The thing is, you already have that right under state law.

The real point of this exercise is the second sentence: “State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.”

This dry but crucial clause writes into the state constitution the utilities’ dubious contention that non-solar users will be “subsidizing” grid access for those who go solar. It opens the door for state and local governments to raise fees on people who install solar.

If enacted, the measure will likely make it much harder for independent companies to lease or sell solar panels with small upfront costs - a business model that has spurred solar’s growth in other states without the participation of such behemoths as Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric Co. and Gulf Power.

It is no coincidence that these companies, along with a few nonprofits funded heavily by Exxon Mobil and the Koch brothers, have plunged $21 million into a campaign to promote Amendment 1.

The opponents of this measure - and we side with them - don’t have anything like this kind of money to fight back with. All they have is the hope that you will see through the jiu-jitsu of this deceptive amendment. And vote No.

Online: https://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/


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