- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Sept. 26

Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale on cleanup after Hurricane Irma:

The “We’re in this together” spirit Florida summoned in preparation for Hurricane Irma has disappeared in the cleanup.

Capitalism is trumping cooperation as communities compete for cleanup crews needed to clear mountains of tree limbs, toppled fences and other storm debris.

Hollywood, Plantation, Dania Beach and other Broward County cities say they can’t get the help they lined up before the storm because Miami-Dade County, the Keys and other states are paying more - more than double, in some cases - in contracts negotiated after the storm.

In other words, communities that planned ahead are finding themselves at the back of the cleanup line.

Also, equipment and crews from out of state, which could provide reinforcements, are in high demand because of Irma’s far-reaching effects and the ongoing Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts in Texas. That adds to the cleanup costs and delays.

“The morning after Hurricane Irma, these contractually obligated debris-removal contractors were ‘activated,’ but they did not show up,” Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy wrote on Facebook on Sept. 21. “If we don’t pay what the haulers can get in other counties, they will not show up to Broward.”

Given its rebuilding challenges, the hard-hit Keys ought to be first in line, we get that. Its people need some sense of normalcy to begin putting their lives back together. And Florida’s economy needs the Keys back up and running. Gov. Rick Scott made the right call on Sept. 25 in sending in 400 Florida National Guard members to jump-start debris removal there.

But the governor looks weak in addressing the debris-pickup poaching war now waging among counties and cities.

When the issue arose, Gov. Scott released a statement saying the behavior was unacceptable, that he would not tolerate it and that pickup companies willing to work for a fair price should contact the Florida Department of Transportation.

In the same press release, Attorney General Pam Bondi called on contractors to honor their promises. “Regardless of whether something is unlawful, this is a morality issue impacting fellow Floridians in a time of need,” she said.

Scott and Bondi can do better than that. It’s time to toughen up.

For starters, debris pickup companies should be held responsible for the contracts they signed before the storm.

Sure, some haulers complain they’ve lost needed subcontractors to communities willing to pay more. That’s too bad. We feel for them. But they signed a contract and they need to deliver. If that means paying their crews more, then that’s what they need to do.

If these contractors fail to deliver, they should be taken to court. While litigation is never the preferred option, government needs to hold companies accountable for contractual obligations, especially those related to emergency response. Otherwise, what’s to stop this from happening again? This is a public safety issue.

Meanwhile, Gov. Scott should better address these bidding wars.

Communities expect to be reimbursed for the cost of responding to a natural disaster. The Federal Emergency Management Agency typically reimburses about 75 percent of their costs, sometimes 90 percent. State and local taxpayers pay the rest.

As we understand it, FEMA sends the reimbursement money to the state, which deals the money out to local communities.

Here’s where Gov. Scott appears to have some leverage. Here’s where he could impose some consequences. Here’s where he could refuse to reimburse those counties and cities that pumped up prices to poach their neighbors’ pickup crews.

We tried to speak to state emergency management officials about how all this works, but apparently they’re not allowed to talk to the media. They asked us to put our questions in writing, which we did. Instead of providing specifics about how the state would resolve the cleanup disputes, we were given a two-sentence statement from the governor’s office saying the governor was fighting for consumers.

As before the storm, the governor is tightly controlling the dispersal of post-storm information, though dispersal is hardly the right word. The governor should let those closest to the work answer questions about how it all works. That’s called transparency.

Meanwhile, he should answer the call from Broward leaders and push FEMA for more flexibility in the federal reimbursement rate.

Counties and cities that did things right - with debris cleanup contracts signed before the storm - shouldn’t be penalized for the system’s breakdown. If contractors cannot be found, those who followed the rules should be able to pay more for replacements. The governor should secure the assurances they need.

It’s these emergency deals that are triggering the spikes in cleanup costs South Florida now faces.

For example, Miami-Dade County pre-qualified cleanup companies before Hurricane Irma, but waited until after the storm to get their bids to do the work, the Miami Herald reported on Sept. 29.

Now some Miami-Dade municipalities - struggling to get their contractors to show up - are matching what the county agreed to pay after the storm, worsening the challenge in Broward and elsewhere in Florida.

So far, FEMA has failed to address the dispute about cleanup costs. Instead, the agency is leaving it to the state to sort things out.

Scott should push FEMA to clarify an acceptable rate, since the problem extends to work in Texas, too. If FEMA refuses, the governor should at least extract a commitment that communities forced to pay more won’t be penalized.

Mounds of debris are not just neighborhood eyesores. Rotting vegetation and other debris attract rats, roaches and other pests. Plus, they provide potential projectiles for storms that could still come.

South Florida communities are right to want these hazardous mounds gone. But consequences are warranted for those who failed to follow the rules and seek to stick taxpayers with the tab.

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


Sept. 29

The Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville on United Way being awarded $200,000 to bolster its program helping low-income northeast Floridians:

Congratulations to the United Way of Northeast Florida for receiving major support for a groundbreaking initiative.

The United Way has been awarded $200,000 from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund to bolster its RealSense program during its 2017-18 efforts.

The RealSense program has made huge strides over the past several years in helping low-income Northeast Floridians begin to build assets and financial stability.

Among its numerous accomplishments, the RealSense effort has prepared 175,000 tax returns for low-income residents, resulting in some $226 million in total tax refunds and $68 million in Earned Income Tax Credit refunds.

Bravo to the United Way for continuing to provide this fantastic program and to the Jessie Ball duPont Fund for making such a significant financial commitment toward the initiative’s ongoing success.

This is improving lives in our area.

Let’s spread the good word.

Online: https://jacksonville.com/


Sept. 29

Orlando Sentinel on how legislators can strengthen the fight against opioid addiction:

Central Floridians preoccupied lately by news of the aftermath of two major hurricanes, Irma and Maria, might have overlooked some shocking statistics released by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office: There were 465 opioid overdoses in the county in 2017 from January through August, up more than two and a half times from 179 in the same period in 2016. And deaths from those 2017 overdoses, 31, nearly tripled the 11 deaths from the first eight months in 2016.

Addiction to opioids, including heroin and related legal and illegal painkillers, is a growing epidemic in Central Florida and other communities around the state. An estimated 5,300 Floridians died from opioid overdoses in 2016, up from 3,896 in 2015, according to the state’s Medical Examiners Commission.

So a call from Gov. Rick Scott for legislators to pump $50 million more into the fight against opioid addiction and impose caps on painkiller prescriptions is welcome - but it’s only a start.



In May, declaring opioid abuse a public-health emergency, Scott made $54 million in federal funds available over two years for addiction prevention, treatment and recovery. He also announced several constructive measures to expand access for first responders to naloxone, which reverses the deadly effects of an opioid overdose. Last month, he wisely extended his emergency declaration, opening the pipeline from Washington, D.C., for an additional $20 million.

The $50 million Scott requested from legislators would go to substance-abuse treatment, recovery services and a state council that distributes funds to state and local law-enforcement agencies to work major drug cases. Approval in next year’s budget would be a positive step, but the number needs to be put in perspective. Since taking office in 2011, the governor has signed budgets from the Legislature cutting millions in state funding for substance-abuse programs.

Advocates say lawmakers would have to come up with hundreds of millions more dollars to make up for previous cuts and match funding levels in other states. The supply of drug treatment in Florida doesn’t come close to meeting the demand for it. So the $50 million Scott requested should be the floor, not the ceiling, on additional state funding.

Shortchanging prevention and treatment costs taxpayers more in the long run as the bills start piling up for health care, law enforcement and other expenses associated with addiction and overdoses. The public’s annual cost for treating opioid abuse through Medicaid in just one county, Orange, rose by $28 million between 2010 and 2015.



Scott called for a three-day cap on most initial opioid prescriptions, with limited seven-day exceptions. While shorter prescriptions for painkillers could cost patients more in co-payments, longer ones put them at greater danger of becoming hooked, according to a study from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some patients prescribed painkillers following car accidents or sports injuries turn into addicts and end up resorting to illegal supplies of heroin or heroin laced with fentanyl or even carfentanyl - a drug thousands of times more potent than heroin - when their prescriptions expire, exposing themselves to a much higher risk of overdoses.

Other states have imposed caps on prescriptions, but a bill to establish them in Florida was defeated in the Legislature last year amid opposition from pharmaceutical companies, insurers, medical providers and some consumer groups. If Scott wants his latest proposal to pass, he’ll need to work through any legitimate objections from these groups. Exceptions need to be in place for patients with chronic pain, cancer or terminal illnesses, for example.

Also under the governor’s proposal, anyone writing opioid prescriptions would be required to use the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a database created in 2009 when the state was fighting pill mills. He opposed the program when he entered office in 2011; a spokeswoman for Scott said he now supports the program after signing multiple pieces of legislation to strengthen it. Scott also called for requiring more education for prescribers and cracking down on unlicensed pain management clinics, another pair of positive steps.

As we noted last month, the Florida Drug and Alcohol Abuse Association has recommended that leaders establish a state-level strike force to put together a comprehensive plan to fight the opioid crisis and coordinate efforts among agencies. Other states around the country have taken this approach, but the governor didn’t include it in his proposal. If legislators want to strengthen the proposal, adding a strike force - along with more state funding - is a good way to get started.

Online: https://www.orlandosentinel.com/

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