- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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April 23

The Gainesville Sun on the legalization of marijuana:

State constitutional amendments aren’t suggestions. When at least 60 percent of voters feel strongly enough about an issue that they approve putting it into the Florida Constitution, they expect state lawmakers to implement the measure without revisions.

Attempts by Republicans in the Florida Legislature to rewrite recently passed constitutional amendments are an insult to the people they’re supposed to serve. From amendments dealing with redistricting to land conservation to medical marijuana, state lawmakers have time and again put their own political beliefs over the priorities of voters.

Florida’s medical-marijuana amendment was approved in November by more than 71 percent of voters. It was supposed to provide access to medical marijuana to individuals with debilitating medical conditions such as AIDS, cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

The state’s role should be setting up a system to help sick individuals get medical marijuana, not putting roadblocks in their way. Yet lawmakers are considering restrictions such as requiring patients to have a 90-day relationship with a doctor to get marijuana and banning smoking marijuana and other methods of its use.

The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee bureau reported that many of these restrictions were suggested by the St. Petersburg-based Drug Free America Foundation and its lobbying arm. The group’s founders spent $1 million to try defeat the amendment and are now being allowed to determine how it should be implemented.

The Legislature is playing games with people’s lives in doing so. That was illustrated last week during a state Senate hearing on medical marijuana legislation, when a epileptic man suffered a seizure in the middle of the debate. He had come to speak about marijuana’s effectiveness in treating his condition.

Some lawmakers pushing excessive limits on medical marijuana say they’re trying to avoid the problems that lead to an opioid crisis, but they’re really just worsening that crisis. Medical marijuana provides an alternative to prescription painkillers that are responsible for addictions and overdoses.

Medical marijuana is now legal in 29 states, with seven states allowing marijuana’s recreational use. Two former Florida state lawmakers now serving in Congress - Matt Gaetz, a Republican, and Darren Soto, a Democrat - have introduced legislation to move marijuana from a classification alongside heroin to a more proper classification allowing for medical access and research.

Florida, with its huge retiree population, should be at the forefront of studying medical marijuana’s effectiveness. State lawmakers should focus on promoting such research rather than trying to rewrite an amendment that already passed.

Unfortunately the Legislature has a lousy track record in following the will of voters. Lawmakers have repeatedly failed to fund land conservation, despite a voter-passed mandate to do so, and are considering rules on solar installations that conflict with another amendment recently approved by voters.

They tried to ignore an amendment putting rules on redistricting until the Florida Supreme Court stepped in. Such obstinance goes back even further, with lawmakers repeatedly trying to circumvent an amendment limiting class sizes and using money from the voter-approved Lottery to replace state education funding and not supplement it.

Lawmakers should simply follow the state Constitution in implementing voter-approved amendments, not try for after-the-fact rewrites. The medical-marijuana amendment will provide another test showing whether lawmakers will again defy the will of the people.

In the end, it is up to voters to hold the Legislature accountable. We’re to blame if we keep approving these amendments, only to also elect people who don’t respect us enough to implement them as written.

Online: https://www.gainesville.com/

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April 24

The Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale on legislation to reform school testing:

It can be maddening to watch the Florida Legislature waste so much time and energy bickering over issues like the sliver of the state budget dedicated to economic development when more fundamental and far-reaching concerns deserve more attention. But legislators, to their credit, are on the verge of taking action on a problem that has been festering for years: a glut of standardized testing in public schools.

Testing has been a cornerstone in Florida’s system of holding students, teachers and schools accountable for results. It has helped drive improvements in academic performance, especially for minority and low-income students. It’s an essential tool for gauging how students compare with their counterparts in other states and other countries.

But students, parents, teachers and administrators have long complained about the sheer number of tests - 3.6 million statewide last year - and the hours in the classroom that are dedicated to preparing for them and taking them.

Besides the volume of tests, Broward County school leaders would like end-of-course exams to carry less weight. And for years, Palm Beach County school leaders have complained that test scores are given too much weight in evaluating teachers, and determining whether students are promoted or allowed to graduate.

This year much of Florida’s school testing window began in late February and ends in mid-May - a schedule that forces cramming in the middle of the school year, then leaves what many teachers consider “dead time” between the last test and the end of the year. Students in third grade through high school take the language arts and math exams that make up the Florida Standards Assessments, and many also take standardized science and social studies tests. Most tests are taken online, which takes schools weeks longer to administer because computers are limited.

Test results are often delayed, depriving teachers of beneficial information they could use to adjust their lesson plans. Parents get frustrated by scores they often find difficult to interpret.

A Senate bill that recently cleared its final committee hurdle would address these problems without abandoning testing and accountability. It has been widely backed by school superintendents, school board members, teachers and parent advocacy groups.

Sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, the bill would push language arts and math exams to the last three weeks of the school year. It would require results on district tests to be delivered within a week to teachers. It would require the scores on statewide tests to be provided to both teachers and parents in “an easy-to-read and understandable format.”

The Senate bill also would pare back the number of tests by eliminating some end-of-course exams. It would allow students who do well enough on national tests to forgo some state exams. It would call for a study of replacing statewide tests with national exams. And it would give districts the flexibility they deserve to choose between computer and paper-and-pencil testing.

A testing bill moving through the House began as less ambitious. It moved the testing window and called for studying the possibility of using national exams, but didn’t drop any tests. However, it was amended last week in committee to incorporate more of the Senate bill’s provisions. There is now enough overlap between the two chambers to expect them to agree to a compromise that will become law. Florida schools would be better off if legislators end up closer to the Senate’s position.

There is a risk, however, that unrelated and contentious provisions added in committee to the Senate bill could throw a wrench into negotiations between the two chambers. Legislators would be foolish to let those issues prevent an overdue overhaul of the state’s testing system.

Online: https://www.sun-sentinel.com/

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April 25

The Northwest Florida Daily News of Fort Walton Beach on BP oil spill settlement money:

Of the eight counties where this money must go, three are the vibrant homes of the Northwest Florida Daily News’ core readership: Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties.

Our area is on the cusp of possible greatness, we believe, with multiple unique opportunities that simply need to be bound together with the kind of financial super glue represented by the $300 million of your money the state is holding hostage at this writing.

That $300 million in BP settlement money (this year alone), property of Panhandle residents and the result of a lawsuit, not taxes, is in jeopardy as the state Senate and the House struggle to prepare bills that even have a possibility of meshing as the current legislative session winds to a close.

The pieces of economic opportunity right now are a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. But they cannot, and will not, be realized without the potential of Triumph and the BP money to make this a better, more attractive, well-known place to live.

Whether it’s an inability to effectively work as a team, an inability to handle a headstrong speaker of the house, an inability to recognize the significance of the moment or politics uglier than usual, we are left to urging all involved to come to their senses and fix this, and we are calling our House and Senate leaders to make this right.

If they don’t - if leadership and other players throw their hands up in disgust and say they’re tired of it because we can’t play nice and it is delayed until next year - it’s open season on the money once again.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron have pledged the money will make it here; our legislative leaders need to put on their big-boy britches and get it done.

Years ago, then-state Sen. Don Gaetz made it simple with legislation that said the money would go to the eight disproportionately affected counties, dispersed by Triumph Gulf Coast - a board of appointed businessmen and leaders from across the region who are not running for office and who are invested in this area’s future. Some would lose money through Triumph, their businesses unable to compete for work generated by the settlement, but they serve anyway. One of those is former House Speaker Allan Bense, who knows our area and whose pockets need no further filling, but who sees the promise for our area.

Instead, the exact opposite is happening and politicians want to make those decisions. It can’t happen.

Of the eight counties where this money must go, three are the vibrant homes of the Northwest Florida Daily News’ core readership: Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties. We know how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on April 20, 2010 affected us. And we aren’t forgetting our neighbors in Escambia, Bay, Gulf, Wakulla and Franklin counties.

This is our money - your money.

This is not the county commissioners’ money, it is not the politicians’ money, and they need to quit treating it like it is.

Online: https://www.nwfdailynews.com/

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