Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
Miami Herald on the suicides of two student survivors of the Parkland school shooting:
The recent suicide deaths of two Parkland shooting survivors renewed the trauma of last year’s horrible tragedy. State officials must step up again with the resources necessary to survivors and their families move forward safely. These deaths, though especially painful, are not unique in a state where the suicide rate is on the rise.
After the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School last year, lawmakers approved $69 million for mental health services and dedicated $4 million of it to Broward County School District, where the shootings occurred. The two new deaths demonstrate that more help is required still. No bright line delineates the end of a tragedy.
Students might return to school, but the psychological and emotional impacts linger, often unseen until it’s too late. State Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, who is a former state representative from Parkland, has called on the lawmakers to do more this year. They should heed his advice and not allow partisanship and divisive gun debates to interfere. This is about the health and wellbeing of Florida’s young people.
Nothing should be more important or partisan-free. As much as Parkland requires extraordinary assistance under its extraordinary circumstances, it is just one community among many. Recent suicides illustrate widespread suicide and mental health challenges in Florida. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked a 30 percent increase in suicide rates among all Americans from 1999 to 2016 (the most recent year for which the CDC has data). More than 45,000 people took their own lives in 2016.
The increase in Florida was not as dramatic at 10.6 percent over the same period, but that was in part because Florida consistently has a higher suicide rate than the national average. The rest of the country is catching up. Young adults were not immune to the trend. The Florida Department of Health reports a rate of 10.9 suicides per 100,000 Floridians aged 16 to 21. A decade earlier, the rate was only 8.5.
The greatest challenge in reaching people before they make that fateful decision is identifying who needs help. More than half of people who kill themselves don’t have a recognized mental health condition.
That difficulty is magnified among marginalized communities, where trust in government already is strained. As lawmakers consider devoting new resources to mental health services, they must include intensified outreach to those groups. They also must ensure that resources remain available to help families suffering through tragedy.
The state can’t do it all, though. The first line of defense to prevent teen suicide remains parents and other adults. That’s a lesson learned in Parkland, where officials are encouraging parents to have uncomfortable but essential conversations with teens. Other adults should always be on the lookout for warning signs such as extreme mood swings, substance use, increased anxiety and isolation.
The odds are that teens who display one of those signs are not about to commit suicide, but what adult would want on their conscience the knowledge that they’d seen a warning sign and not intervened?
Sometimes all it takes is a sympathetic ear or pointing a troubled young person to resources that can restore hope.
South Florida Sun Sentinel on a panel of appellate judges deciding to allow an exploratory oil well in the Everglades:
It’s a common assumption that the Florida Supreme Court has the last word about law and justice in this state. But a deeply disturbing decision to allow an exploratory oil well in the Everglades shows that impression is largely false.
The ruling came from a three-judge panel at the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee. Its content appears to leave little, if any, room for an appeal to the seven justices at the state Supreme Court.
In an act of judicial arrogance, the appellate panel refused without comment to refer the case to the entire 15-judge district court or certify it to the Supreme Court as a “question of great public importance.”
If protecting the Everglades from the messy consequences of oil drilling isn’t a matter of great public importance, it’s hard to imagine what would be.
That’s why the Department of Environmental Protection, the City of Miramar and Broward County - the parties fighting to prevent it - asked the panel to rehear it, refer it to the full appellate court or give the Supreme Court an option to review it.
Their motions were initially promoted by the three-judge panel that favored the oil drilling applicant, Kanter Real Estate LLC. And when the court withdrew the opinion as erroneously issued this week, our community’s hopes were raised for a moment. But a day later, the court re-issued the pro-drilling opinion, minus the push for a fuller vetting.
The ruling is a threat to restoration of the Everglades and to the aquifer that supplies drinking water for Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach Counties.
If oil were found, Kanter would then claim the right to drill more wells throughout its 20,000-acre holding. The symbolism is as ominous as the environmental dangers. If state law cannot protect the Everglades, of all places, nothing is safe.
Fortunately, the court case is only the first step. Kanter also needs permits from Broward, including a land-use change. It also needs permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to invade wetlands and from the South Florida Water Management District to drill a water well needed to operate its oil rig. These should be resisted with every force at the public’s command. And the Supreme Court should be asked to take jurisdiction, however dim that prospect might be.
Orlando Sentinel on transparency in the University of Central Florida’s search for a new president:
The University of Central Florida has bested rival University of South Florida on the football field and basketball court this year.
Now, as UCF gears up to start looking for a new president later this year, it has another chance to school USF. This time by showing it’s possible to choose an excellent university president without playing games designed to keep the public in the dark and, in the process, violate the spirit of open government laws.
USF’s choice for its new president, Steve Currall, is scheduled to be confirmed on Thursday by the state Board of Governors.
Congratulations are in order, but like too many other presidential searches, Currall’s selection was clouded by the school’s obsession with secrecy.
USF used the standard secrecy playbook. It promised transparency, then hired an outside consultant that communicated with potential candidates and the university, essentially using its role as an intermediary to keep information from going public. USF’s dodge was to say that the candidates hadn’t actually applied for the job (wink, wink).
None of that should matter. Florida law is very clear that documents obtained by a consultant working on behalf of a public agency are public. Period.
USF had nothing on the University of Florida, which during a 2014 presidential search booked hotel rooms under phony names, used charter jets, communicated with private email accounts and used codes to avoid references to UF, according to a Gainesville Sun account. UF ended up hiring Kent Fuchs.
Why the tradecraft? University leaders worry Florida’s public records law makes it hard to find people who want to apply knowing their names will be made public.
Got that? They want to find people who would rather keep their bosses in the dark about applying for a job instead of being open and honest about pursuing what may be the opportunity of a lifetime.
We’re not convinced that’s a desirable quality in a job candidate.
It also sounds like a fallacious argument judging from the presidents Florida has attracted over the years to lead its public universities - from John Hitt at UCF to Sandy D’Alemberte at FSU. We’re very interested in hearing universities name names of the second-tier cast-offs they had to settle for because of the public records law.
UCF is in a particularly unsettled position as it sets out to hire a replacement for Dale Whittaker, who resigned in February amid a spending scandal.
Whittaker was president for less than a year, following decades of remarkable leadership by John Hitt.
Even still, we don’t think the school needs to cut any public information corners to attract top candidates.
UCF is not a hard sell. It’s one of the biggest universities in the country, working to open a new campus in downtown Orlando. Its incoming freshmen are crazy smart and the campus is swarming with National Merit Scholars. The sports program is getting serious national buzz, especially after the basketball team nearly beat Duke on Sunday.
And while Whittaker had to succeed an iconic figure in Hitt, he wasn’t there long enough to leave much of a mark. The next president will represent a fresh start…
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