- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Aug. 12

The Miami Herald provides a checklist to the Miami Marlins’ new owners, who include Derek Jeter:

Is that a dark cloud rolling away from Marlins Park in Little Havana? It there a double rainbow arching above its futuristic dome?

Yep. It’s a new day for the Miami Marlins. The team and stadium are getting new owners, pending approval of Major League Baseball. This shouldn’t be anything but a slam dunk when the team owners meet in October to consider the sale, the mixed sports metaphor aside.

This is an opportunity for South Florida fans to forgive and embrace - and fill that beautiful stadium.

Welcome Derek Jeter and New York/Naples businessman Bruce Sherman, who a decade ago played a pivotal role in the sale of the Miami Herald, then owned by Knight-Ridder, to McClatchy.

Jeter and Sherman have tentatively purchased the Marlins and its stadium for $1.2 billion.

We have a wish list for the new owners:

? We need to you to help us fall in love with the Marlins again - as we did during their World Series days.

? We need you to make the team feel like it’s part of the community.

? And we need you to help heal the wounds between fans and the team.

There are those who have never forgiven Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, the most reviled local team owner, from finagling a stadium out of Miami and Miami-Dade so that his privately owned, money-making team got a shiny new place to play largely financed with taxpayers money. Well, they can put the hatchet away.

For those who never forgave Loria for the fire sale of talent following the 2003 World Series win? It’s time for them, too, to chill. Ditto for those who disliked the ownership’s dismissive attitude toward fans.

Jeter now stands to become the face of the Marlins. He had the staying power to best former Gov. Jeb Bush, businessman Jorge Mas, apparently still looking to get in on the deal, and other boldface names. It’ll be a boost to have an owner who is baseball royalty. Throw NBA crown prince Michael Jordan into the mix as a minority owner and the star power is undeniable.

The betrayal taxpayers felt from the Marlins ownership rattled the community when they learned that the bulk of the stadium debt fell on them, thanks to the sweetheart deal approved by both Miami and Miami-Dade politicians who feared Loria would take his team and leave.

The 2009 deal said the Marlins would contribute only a fraction of the cost. But the team’s financials were leaked, revealing it was, in fact, making money on taxpayers’ backs.

There’s still fallout: David Beckham is still trying to get a stadium built for a Major League Soccer team, but repeatedly hit a wall over the cost - even though he says it would be privately financed. Ironically, the Beckham group didn’t want to build next to Marlins Park, calling the venue “spiritually tainted.”

The same happened to Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross in his efforts to get state money to overhaul Hard Rock Stadium. Ross found closed doors in Tallahassee, and the billionaire had to personally pay for the stadium’s renovation.

But now the community should start with a clean slate for Jeter and Sherman, even though the horrible death of ace pitcher Jose Fernandez will be one bit of sadness that will be near impossible to wipe away.

The Miami Marlins just need to start winning. There’s great karma sweeping out the bad. Let’s rally ‘round under that rainbow.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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Aug. 12

The Ocala Star-Banner on the opioid crisis:

This week President Donald Trump provided welcome emphasis on the opioid crisis in the United States, appropriately referring to it as a “national emergency.”

Overdoses and deaths from opioids, which include heroin and fentanyl derivatives, have continued to rise in our region, in Florida and across America, according to the most recent reports.

Unfortunately, it was unclear following Trump’s statements - as is too often the case - whether his rhetoric matches the positions taken by his advisers. For instance, although a commission formed by the president recommended that he declare an official national emergency, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price indicated that the administration would not do so.

There are risks associated with a state of emergency: Civil rights, for instance, can sometimes be in peril, a concern in light of Trump’s stated focus on using law enforcement to win the “battle.” Nevertheless, the declaration of an emergency could enable states and local governments to seek additional, much-needed federal funds for drug-addiction treatment, overdose-reversal medicine and other services. Furthermore, those governments could seek federal waivers of rules that restrict the use of Medicaid for treatment.

The use of law enforcement agencies to interrupt the flow of heroin from Mexico into the United States, and to similarly stop the importation of fentanyl derivatives from China, must indeed be one of the priorities of an effective, comprehensive national strategy.

But as most local law enforcement officials - who encounter the real-world challenges associated with the crisis - have publicly stated, communities, states and nations cannot arrest their way out of this emergency.

And consider this: A draft of the presidential commission’s report includes eight major recommendations, and only one involves law enforcement activities such as border control and interception of illegal drug shipments.

The draft report recommends rapidly increasing treatment capacity nationwide by changing Medicaid regulations. It calls for additional “prescriber-education initiatives” and enhanced interstate data-sharing among physicians.

Regarding those proposals, two thoughts: 1. Proposed caps or reductions in Medicaid should be off the table in a “national emergency.” 2. Many general and specialist physicians not only need more education about substance abuse and mental health but could benefit from direct assistance in their practices by experts in these fields.

The commission also recommended enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which is intended to prevent health insurance plans from offering less favorable benefits for mental health and substance-abuse diagnoses than they provide for physical-health ailments - a proposal that directly contradicts efforts by congressional Republicans to promote stripped-down insurance options that provide minimal coverage.

A national strategy should also include examination of alternatives to inpatient treatment facilities that are expensive and create stigmas. And there should be consideration of a humane and cost-effective response employed in some other nations: supervised injection facilities. These facilities have the potential to protect users against tainted drugs and transmittable diseases, and can facilitate treatment.

In all, the report and its recommendations are better than any plan Secretary Price or Congress have offered up.

Finally, one caveat: A national strategy should take into account unintended consequences. After all, the well-intended crackdown on prescription painkillers unintentionally drove legions of former pill users to heroin and fentanyl.

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

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Aug. 10

The Sun Sentinel says Florida’s system for selecting utility watchdogs is broken:

Florida used to elect the people who are supposed to protect you from sky-high rates for water and electricity, but because utility companies became their biggest campaign donors, it didn’t work out so well. That said, today’s appointment of members to the Public Service Commission is working no better.

The process of selecting PSC members has become a theater of the absurd, for which utility customers are paying an intolerable admission price.

The problem was evident again Wednesday when the nominating council cut former Comptroller Robert Milligan from a list of 24 candidates for three board positions.

The 14 who survived include a sitting legislator and four former legislators. That’s no surprise, considering that legislators occupy half the seats on the nominating council. Nor will it be a surprise if Gov. Rick Scott selects one or more of those five cronies. Legislators find the post especially attractive because it pays $131,000 a year and generously pads the pension credits they earn for their part-time service in the Florida House or Senate.

The deliberate omission of Milligan, who didn’t get a single vote, is unforgivable. In modern times, no Florida public servant has earned more of a reputation for independence, intelligence and integrity than the retired Marine lieutenant general whom the Republican Party recruited in 1994 to take on and defeat a five-term Democratic incumbent.

Among other things, Milligan helped put an end to the seedy practice of allowing the banking and securities industries to contribute heavily to the campaigns of incumbent comptrollers, who then served as the state’s banking commissioner.

A similarly seedy situation exists today, with utility companies contributing heavily to the campaigns of state lawmakers, who in turn serve on the PSC nominating council or appoint those who do. History shows these lawmakers favor applicants friendly to the utilities they are supposed to watchdog.

As just one example, after four of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s PSC appointees turned down rate increases for Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy in 2010, the Senate refused to confirm two of them and the nominating council refused to renominate the others.

Sighs of relief undoubtedly erupted in corporate boardrooms across Florida at the news that Milligan won’t be on the PSC, even though he sought to serve only the remaining 15 months of the unexpired term of Jimmy Patronis, another ex-legislator. Scott recently appointed Patronis, a Panama City restaurateur, to be the state’s chief financial officer.

Until 1978, the PSC’s three members were elected. Then, Gov. Reubin Askew and House Speaker Hyatt Brown lobbied intensely to switch to an appointed five-member board. Askew believed wisely chosen appointees would better serve consumers than career politicians.

But the price of that reform was to accept legislative control of the nominating process, and it didn’t take long for the process to turn sour. In short order, the council refused to renominate Askew appointee Robert Mann, a former legislator and judge with a luminous reputation for integrity. Instead, the council nominated a powerful senator’s haberdasher who was grossly unqualified.

In that instance, press coverage and public outrage shamed the council into putting Mann back on the list and he was reappointed. If outrage still had teeth in Tallahassee, Milligan would be back on today’s list, too.

All this matters because the PSC is supposed to safeguard consumers from unjustifiably high utility rates, but has developed a reputation for cozying up to the companies it regulates.

It’s time to revisit how PSC members are selected.

Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years, is meeting now to consider structural changes in state government.

We’ve heard some support for returning to an elected PSC, with a strict ban on donations from regulated companies. We don’t favor this approach because even if you were to bar utility money, it could still seep in through the back door. Besides, utility regulation is highly technical and requires people who have knowledge of what they’re doing. Appointments made on merit are best, as Askew tried to show.

One possibility would be to have a merit screening panel appointed by the governor, legislative leaders and members of the Cabinet, so no one entity controls who gets nominated.

Another would be to eliminate the Legislature altogether and have the governor and Cabinet select PSC members from among the recommendations of a merit retention panel. That way, if the utilities get everything they want, it’s easier to fix blame.

The chances of this happening are a long shot, given that legislative leaders have appointed 18 of the commission’s 37 members.

But someone needs to speak up for everyday consumers, not just the special interests in Tallahassee. History shows Milligan would have done so. And he didn’t get a single vote.

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

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