- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Sept. 19

The SunSentinel on cracking down on Florida’s distracted drivers:

The Legislature can start to make driving in Florida cheaper by making it safer.

Based on new information from the National Safety Council, the state’s roads have become more dangerous. In a report showing that traffic fatalities rose 9 percent in the first six months of this year compared to 2015, the group noted that the upward trend began in late 2014 and calculated where the increase has been highest.

Unfortunately, Florida stands out. Traffic deaths are up 43 percent during that period, the most dramatic jump among large states. Even in California, where cars dominate even more than in Florida, the increase was less - 31 percent. In 2014, Florida’s rate of traffic deaths per 1,000 residents was nearly double that of California.

Researchers believe that the improving economy is one factor in the rising highway death rate. Americans drove less during the recession and just afterward. Also, oil prices dropped sharply at the end of 2014 and have not spiked, so gasoline has remained relatively cheap.

Though excessive speed and alcohol also contribute, the new problem is distracted driving. In this area, Florida trails much of the nation.

Not until 2013 did the Legislature ban texting while driving. Even then, legislators made it just a secondary offense, meaning that a law enforcement officer can issue a ticket only if the driver is committing another violation.

In most states, texting while driving is a primary offense. Thirty-seven states prohibit teenagers from using cell phones while driving. Florida also does not require hands-free devices for drivers who use cell phones.

All this must change. Multiple studies show that using smart phones while driving is even more dangerous than drinking and driving. There’s even a new DWI acronym for it - Driving While Intexticated. And texting may be the least of it.

Last year, as part of the company’s “It Can Wait” campaign, AT&T; surveyed 2,000 customers between the ages of 16 and 65 who admitted to using smart phones and driving at least once a day. Though 61 percent said they had texted while the car was moving, another 33 percent said they had emailed. Twenty-eight percent had browsed the Internet, 27 percent had been on Facebook and smaller segments had been on other social media.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies distracted driving in three categories: Visual, taking your eyes off the road; Manual, taking your hands off the wheel; and Cognitive, taking your mind off the driving. According to the CDC, eight deaths and roughly 1,000 injuries occur on American roads each day because of crashes related to distracted driving.

Another problem is car navigation systems. Drivers fumble with them. That’s why some systems won’t work if the car is in motion. As with texting, drivers should pull over. While sending an average text, the CDC found, a driver at 55 miles per hour can travel the length of a football field. Teens who text while driving are more likely to ride with a driver who has been drinking than those who don’t text and drive.

Given all the research, why hasn’t Florida passed tougher laws? Misplaced political ideology.

It took five years just to get that secondary texting ban in 2013. Key legislators had blocked previous attempts, declaring themselves to be libertarians and characterizing the ban as an impingement on freedom. Former House Speaker Dean Cannon called it “one more layer of prohibitive behavior.” Former Gov. Jeb Bush struck a similar tone when he signed legislation to repeal the law that required motorcyclists to wear helmets.

The “freedom” to act irresponsibly behind the wheel, however, affects more than the driver. Higher rates of traffic crashes and fatalities mean higher insurance rates for all drivers in Florida. After Bush gave bikers their freedom, fatalities and head injuries increased.

After taking action on distracted driving, the Legislature can reduce auto insurance costs more by abolishing the no-fault system under which motorists must buy $10,000 of Personal Injury Protection. Instead, the state would require Bodily Injury, which most drivers already purchase as part of their coverage. In a study for the Office of Insurance Regulation, the consulting firm Pinnacle predicted savings for drivers if Florida repealed no-fault insurance and did not require PIP coverage.

Gov. Rick Scott likes to talk about the cost of living in Florida when it comes to college tuition. He and the Legislature can cut costs for drivers and make driving safer. That’s the ticket.

Online:

https://www.sun-sentinel.com

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Sept. 20

Bradenton Herald on affordable housing in Manatee County:

One community-wide imperative issue has defied a viable solution. Affordable housing.

We can also call it attainable housing, as has been rightfully stated. Unaffordable housing is unattainable.

This summer, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Manatee County stood at $950 a month. Two bedrooms? $1,520. Those figures are up from last year. Is that affordable on a minimum wage salary?

That is nothing less than a joke.

Turning Points, a treasure to the community, is Manatee County’s primary and premier center for the delivery of services to the homeless, at the Bill Galvano One Stop Center.

The service offers rent and utility assistance. Case managers oversee this. No blank checks here.

But if you meet eligibility requirements and the ability to meet funding guidelines, you may qualify for financial assistance of up to $1,000 for rent, deposits, and/or utilities.

That would cover a one-bedroom apartment at today’s lease rates. Got a family?

Many of the best minds in this community have come up with ideas, good ideas - such as expanding affordable health care to the working poor so they are not evicted from minimal existence homes because of health bills.

But there is one question without a genie-bottle answer that would solve Bradenton and Manatee County’s never-ending challenge with our homeless.

That begins and ends with one answer: affordable housing. Not substandard residences. Decent, safe places to raise children. And walk the neighborhood without a handgun in your waistband.

Manatee County has been at the center of this tough, years-long challenge to government policy: How to promote accessible housing. There is no question that a political power cannot demand private enterprise build affordable housing - at truly affordable rates, not the current market conditions that make the cheapest homes out of reach of the poor.

Government can create a friendly atmosphere that creates a friendly atmosphere for less expensive housing, with favorable land development codes and comprehensive plan ordinances that don’t handcuff infill and other development.

And that is what’s happening with the current rewrite of county rules on development.

In one of the latest, coming this week, is the county Affordable Housing Advisory Committee’s presentation to county commissioners, in which the board recommended what has been on the minds of everyone in the know on this issue: ease density and elevation restrictions that totally hobble the development of affordable housing.

The idea that high vertical structures such as apartment buildings will be the ruination of neighborhoods - when they could very well be the savior, infusing new life and vigor - should be a thoughtful point of debate as Manatee County moves forward with new policies.

The county can no longer encourage suburban sprawl with low-rise policies that force taxpayers to eventually invest in future expensive services, from law enforcement to public safety.

Vertical development is happening across the nation as cities and communities realize they cannot afford to be suburban-oriented places. Manatee County has finally embraced that inevitable reality.

Online:

https://www.bradenton.com

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Sept. 13

Orlando Sentinel on the recent burning of a mosque in Fort Pierce:

After an arsonist torched a mosque in Fort Pierce on Sept. 11, a leader in Central Florida’s Muslim-American community posed a pointed question in a letter we published Saturday: Where is the outrage?

Where, indeed? All Floridians - no, make that all Americans - have good reason to be outraged over an attack on a house of worship in a country whose early settlers came here for the right to practice their faith in peace.

The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce became a target after it was widely reported that Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen had occasionally worshipped there. On June 12, Mateen gunned down 49 people and wounded more than 50 others in the worst mass-shooting in modern U.S. history.

Leaders at the Islamic Center expressed shock and sorrow at Mateen’s actions. They said he wasn’t radicalized at the mosque.

Even so, the Islamic Center and its 100 worshippers have been collectively marked for vengeance since then by haters. First came vitriolic phone calls and abuse shouted from passing cars. Then a member was beaten in the parking lot by an assailant who reportedly told him, “You Muslims need to go back to where you came from.”

This month saw the arson on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, less than an hour after the last worshipper had left the mosque at the start of a Muslim holiday. The fire caused more than $100,000 in damage.

A suspect, 32-year-old Joseph Schreiber of Port St. Lucie, was arrested Wednesday by the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office and charged with a hate crime. He had ranted against Islam in postings on his Facebook page. The Sheriff’s Office said he admitted to setting the fire.

The Florida Region branch of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization founded to fight anti-Semitism, has been a steadfast and eloquent supporter of the Islamic Center. “When hate targets any one community,” the ADL declared in a news release, “we must all stand together to denounce bigotry.”

That clarion call is especially important lately. A study just released by researchers at California State University in San Bernardino found that hate crimes against American Muslims rose 78 percent last year to the highest level since the 9-11 attacks.

Researchers blamed a series of more recent terrorist attacks both abroad and in the United States, and anti-Islamic rhetoric on the 2016 campaign trail. The attacks have been carried out by radical Islamic extremists. Muslim leaders have repudiated them. Yet Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called last year for a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants before altering his proposal this year to a halt on immigration from countries where terrorists are operating.

This past weekend, a deadly knife attack in Minnesota and bombings in New York and New Jersey both were allegedly carried out by Islamic extremists. Another backlash in response could intensify the cycle of hatred and violence directed toward peaceful, law-abiding Muslims like the ones at the Islamic Center.

Indiscriminate retaliatory attacks on Muslim communities in response to the murderous acts of a handful of extremists sow fear and division. They’re not only outrageous; they threaten the cooperation between those communities and police that is essential to preventing more attacks.

So standing together to denounce bigotry, as the ADL urges, isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do.

Online:

https://www.orlandosentinel.com

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