- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Feb. 7

The Florida Times-Union on prison reform legislation:

Florida’s brutal prisons have gotten even more violent.

At least that’s the message coming from a report by the state of Florida’s Inspector General regarding the 2015-16 fiscal year.

It revealed that the number of times correctional officers had to use force with an inmate was at an eight-year high.

And that came despite the fact that the inmate population is dropping.

Lest you think that an eight-year high is insignificant, it’s not.

In that one year alone, officers used force over 7,300 times. That equates to nearly 21 times each day that force is being used against an inmate somewhere in the prisons of Florida.

How and why?

Over half of the incidents happened because an inmate physically resisted a command, according to the Inspector General’s report.

The next largest group of incidents occurred when there was a need to quell a disturbance.

Other reasons listed included the need for self-defense, to prevent a suicide and during a cell extraction.

In a story in the Miami Herald, Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones attributed the increase in violence to two factors: the rise of prison gangs and the relative inexperience of correctional officers.

Jones noted in particular a 41 percent increase in the number of gangs operating in prison.

She weighed the gang activity against the fact that nearly half the state’s correctional officers have fewer than two years’ experience.

It’s a potentially volatile combination certain to be made even worse by the state’s difficulty in hiring and retaining enough officers to fully staff its prisons.

Pay is low and working conditions difficult amid facility understaffing.

However there’s another factor that Jones didn’t mention.

That’s the state of Florida’s prison system itself.

While the rest of the country has been making great strides in reforming its prisons - making them more efficient, more successful and more humane - Florida has been stuck in the miasma of inaction.

It’s not that there haven’t been attempts at reform.

Prison and inmate advocates have repeatedly pushed the Legislature to make needed changes.

Even Gov. Rick Scott, when he took office in 2011, gave advocates great hope that he would instigate reforms.

Those hopes have since diminished as Scott seems to have forgotten his early promises and the Legislature has made little forward movement.

We hope that this rise in prison violence will tip the legislative balance in favor of real prison reform.

Quite literally, there are lives resting in the balance. But apart from the lives, there is great waste in the prison system.

There is too little use of alternatives to prison that involve rehabilitation for those who are not a risk to public safety.

Inmates themselves are at risk.

Last year 356 inmates died while in the custody of DOC, although it’s extremely hard to parse out many of the causes of death as it can take years for the state to conclude its investigations.

But correctional officers are at risk as well.

In fact, the entire system is broken. Prison violence is just the canary in the coal mine.

However, the state can take the first step toward stemming the violence, brutality and economic waste within Florida’s prison system by engaging in a determined look at the current state of affairs.

The findings should then be used to make needed adjustments in the system.

Two pieces of state legislation, House Bill 387 and Senate Bill 458, have already been introduced that would do just that.

They call for the state to put together an impressive 28-member task force made up of state officials, prison reform advocates, representatives of the legal community and others.

The task force would engage in a year-long comprehensive study of the system and render its report and recommendations to the 2018 legislature.

This legislation is urgently needed and we encourage all state senators and representatives to back these bills. The governor and Legislature both failed to do that in 2011.

This 2017 Legislature must not go home without dealing with the monster that is its prison system.

Lives are wasted.

Taxes are wasted.

The public is not being protected by a system that doesn’t rehabilitate prisoners.

Enough is enough.




Feb. 13

The Miami Herald on the high cost of housing in Miami:

The swift transformation of Miami into a first-rate metropolis has had an undesirable consequence for many: the soaring cost of housing and the threat of a “brain drain.”

Yes, the rapid increase in residential prices is a boon for those who have acquired property for investment purposes, especially in places of international appeal, like the Brickell area and Miami Beach.

But as 2017 gets underway, a 2016 problem remains with us: for many of our local residents, finding affordable housing in Miami and other parts has become a mission impossible. If renting is hard, finding an affordable home to buy is out of reach. And that will bring unexpected consequences to our economy.

According to a recent article by Miami Herald reporter Nicholas Nehamas, “Buying a home in Miami-Dade is so expensive, it could hurt the economy.”

How? Well, hiring professionals from other less expensive places and convince them to come to work and live in Miami-Dade has become a problem.

According to a Bloomberg study, Miami ranks eighth among the nation’s cities with the greatest inequality between its residents’ incomes and housing prices, surpassed only by some California cities.

The difficulty of finding affordable housing in Miami is even greater than in expensive cities like New York and Boston, because although in these cities home prices are higher, so is the average income.

At the same time, the high cost of housing and the low increase in wages are increasingly squeezing the middle class. Not to mention recent college graduates who can’t find affordable apartments in Miami. Many choose to continue living with their parents. And other local college graduates look for new horizons away in other states.

Now, business leaders are starting to worry that the skilled workers who power Miami’s diversifying economy will be lost under the tide of rising home prices, the article said.

South Florida seemed to have whipped its “brain drain” problem when housing prices plummeted during the recession. Between 2011 and 2013, the region’s population of 25- to 34-year-olds with a bachelor’s degree or higher grew at the eighth-fastest rate in the nation, according to research by the Center for Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University.

But now home prices have soared 59 percent since the market bottomed out in 2011. And wages have barely budged. Consequently, there is concern that a “brain drain” will happen again. Few new homes are being built in the county, and scarcity is another factor driving up residential prices.

“We start to get concerned about housing prices, and then a cycle comes around and prices start to drop and everyone gets comfortable that affordability is back,” Carlos Fernandez-Guzman, the co-chair of a housing solutions task force at the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce told the Herald. “But the prices always rise again and chip away at our trained and educated workforce.”

One possible solution is that local leaders encourage the construction of residences at prices that are more affordable to the middle class.

Solving the problem of the relationship between income and the cost of housing is not easy, especially since the rise in prices is an effect of the law of supply and demand.

Miami has become a world-class city and that distinction has many advantages, but also a cost that for many residents is costly.

The issue is urgent and we must find a solution. Or at least a relief.




Feb. 9

SunSentinel on repealing Florida’s no fault auto insurance:

Florida drivers don’t get a replacement for the state’s overpriced no-fault auto insurance system this year, it will be Tallahassee’s fault.

Bills in the House and Senate would abolish the nearly five-decades-old requirement to purchase $10,000 worth of Personal Injury Protection as part of the policy. Five years ago, the Legislature tried to reform this outdated system. Now, it’s time to end it - with guidance.

Legislators had good intentions when they adopted no-fault in 1971. The goal was quick compensation for people injured in minor accidents, thus keeping paycheck-to-paycheck employees from needing welfare, and to limit the number of lawsuits. By cutting litigation, the theory went, premiums would fall, and even policyholders without lawyers would get fair recovery.

Unfortunately, bad Florida overcame good government. Fraudsters bilked the system, notably by faking accidents and billing insurers for just up to the $10,000 limit. Lawyers still elbowed their way into the system. Florida remains just one of 12 no-fault states.

In 2012, the Legislature passed the most recent in a series of PIP reforms. This one included 16 provisions to reduce insurers’ costs, with the idea that those savings would mean lower premiums. Examples: PIP no longer would cover massage therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic care.

Legislators, however, rejected the requirement for a 25 percent rate cut by January 2014. Gov. Rick Scott agreed. Savings became just a goal. Meanwhile, most of the special interests that stood to lose under the legislation filed lawsuits. Several are still going through the courts. The Florida Supreme Court just ruled for Allstate in a case involving reimbursement rates.

So Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, have filed bills that would abolish PIP. Brandes is known for wanting to break the china when it comes to the insurance industry. When congressional legislation caused premiums for the National Flood Insurance Program to rise sharply, Brandes worked to start private-market flood coverage in Florida.

As with attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, however, the question is what would come after the Legislature abolished PIP. The bills don’t address that. A September 2016 study for the Legislature calculated that abolishing PIP could cut liability premiums by nearly 10 percent - depending on what drivers bought to replace it.

Michael Carlson is president of the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, a trade group that includes Allstate, Progressive and State Farm, but not Geico. The federation claims that its members make up nearly half of the auto insurance market.

Even the industry isn’t certain about repeal. “There are difficulties with PIP,” Carlson acknowledged in an interview with the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board. “But we are conflicted. We are not in agreement. We need to see what could come next.” The group opposes repeal with no direction for the market.

Few issues directly affect more Floridians, which means that there’s a lot of money at stake. Medical providers, especially hospitals, worry that without PIP, they would get many more uninsured accident victims. Uncertainty over the federal health care law, which has given nearly 2 million Floridians insurance coverage, only exacerbates those worries when it comes to PIP.

The system, however, must change. Two weeks ago, the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee heard a presentation on PIP from the Office of Insurance Regulation. Our reading is that the 2012 legislation has benefited insurers more than consumers. Studies show that Florida drivers pay some of the highest insurance rates in the nation for the least amount of coverage.

One much-discussed alternative would be to require that drivers purchase Bodily Injury coverage. Many drivers already buy it, to buttress their policy if they have more assets. The issue then would become how much coverage to require. Carlson said his companies worry that if the requirement is too high, more drivers will forgo insurance. Hospitals also dislike that scenario.

The legislative study, by Indiana-based Pinnacle Actuarial Resources, is a mind-numbing 416 pages. It examines the 2012 law and what repeal would bring. We will save you the reading time:

What Florida did in 1971 hasn’t worked for a long time. What Florida did five years ago isn’t working. Those 38 states that have abolished PIP know something that Florida doesn’t. So end PIP and switch to mandatory Bodily Injury, with policy limits high enough to provide adequate coverage, but not so high that people don’t buy it.



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