Editorial Roundup: Florida

Palm Beach Post. May 15, 2024.

Editorial: Florida is one of America’s highest generators of plastic waste

Littering, particularly plastic pollution, remains a bigger Florida problem than most of us think. The recent viral video depicting a group of young boaters polluting the waters off Lake Boca during the annual Boca Bash event has brought the problem into clearer focus. Here are three reasons why Floridians should care about littering and its impact on Florida and the world:

1. Florida, according to a 2023 study by Florida International University, is the nation’s third-highest generator of plastic waste. The state produces more plastic waste than the current recycling system can process. Its 8% recycling rate has gone down, despite increasing initiatives to improve recycling.

2. Florida remains among 19 states that, according to 2023 data compiled by the Retail Industry Leaders Association, have placed restrictions on regulating plastic carryout bags.

3. Some 33 billion pounds of plastic enter oceans every year, according to Plastic Free Florida, an organization of volunteers taking action to curb plastic pollution in the state. That amount is roughly the equivalent of dumping two garbage trucks full of plastic into the oceans every minute. At that rate, the 2016 World Economic Forumreport predicted, the world’s oceans could soon hold more plastic than fish.


Orlando Sentinel. May 19, 2024.

Editorial: Florida voters win a few victories against the assault on rights

Voting is the foundational right of America’s democracy — one that should be exercised not just lawfully, but freely and joyously. But over the decades, Florida’s leaders have sought ways to narrow the path to the ballot box, and raised the specter of harsh punishment for those accused of evading myriad rules when voting or assisting others to vote.

Many Floridians believe the dark days of voter suppression are over. But the tactics of the Jim Crow era are resilient things: They keep creeping back, dressed in the new garb of “election security” but clearly intended to make people anxious to vote — or even unable to do so.

This past week saw progress against two of those modern-day threats. The most promising, but nebulous, victory is a promise by the state to develop clear guidelines for ex-felons who want to restore their voting rights, a pledge that put the brakes on a Miami lawsuit. Meanwhile, a North Florida judge has permanently disabled a 2023 law that barred non-citizens from helping qualified voters register, sign petitions and vote.

Both are welcome developments, benefiting people who very much want to participate in our democracy.

Regaining personhood

In 2018, when Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to people with prior felony convictions, many thought the tough fight for redemption was over. But after years of obstruction and downright dirty tricks on the part of Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers, the Florida Rights Restoration was forced to file suit last year.

The main complaint: Florida officials have decided that many “returning citizens” cannot vote unless they can prove they’ve cleared several hurdles — including payment of all outstanding fees and restitution. But there’s no easy way for would-be voters to be sure those conditions have all been met — though the state has had more than five years to organize and provide that information. Instead, DeSantis went through the performative nonsense of creating a special elections-related police force, and arresting a handful of voters on charges that they registered to vote even though they were not eligible.

Last week, the state agreed to find a way to make that information available. The Department of State, which oversees elections, will hold a workshop June 11 to discuss ways for ex-felons to seek “advisory opinions” on their eligibility. In turn, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition agreed to drop the pending lawsuit. It’s a courageous show of faith in a state where justice has been delayed for so long — and the state should respond by declaring that it will not prosecute former felons for petitioning for rights restoration before those rules are developed. That action will allow ex-felons to vote without fear in 2024.

Protect helping hands

Meanwhile, a North Florida federal judge has struck the final blow against a discriminatory 2023 state law that prevented non-citizens from collecting or handling voter registration forms, threatening any group that uses them with up to $50,000 in fines.

These non-citizens are, of course, barred from voting themselves. But they should have the right to work in voter-registration drives, especially since many long-term permanent residents have close ties to their communities and would be effective ambassadors to those who are eligible. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker made the right call.

Fight for your right

Meanwhile, all eligible voters need to make sure they are ready to vote in the 2024 election cycle, which includes an August primary and November general election. (That includes updating any changes of address or party affiliation, which affects which primaries voters participate in).

But the most important task falls to those who expect to vote by mail — who should be aware that, due to a 2022 law change, all mail-ballot requests are now expired. Renewing that request via the local elections office will ensure those voters can cast their ballots with convenience and confidence.

These provisions are just the tip of the iceberg. Lawmakers have also passed restrictions on drop-off ballot boxes; tightened rules and raised fines for many other get-out-the-vote activities; and even discussed measures that would stifle citizen initiative ballot questions — such as the rights-restoration amendment.

By now, many readers may be wondering: Why has the Legislature passed so many laws that stifle the rights of Floridians and make some fearful to cast a ballot? That’s a good question to ask state lawmakers responsible for these draconian new laws — especially those who will be on the November ballot themselves.


Miami Herald. May 21, 2024.

Editorial: New sordid details in Ziegler’s Florida case show hypocrisy of ‘parental rights’ zealots

We’ll give it to Bridget Ziegler: It takes a lot of guts — yet little intellectual candor — to continue to push anti-LGBTQ stances while recently released police records describe her sending her husband to bars to secretly take photos of women the couple might be interested in.

Ziegler is a member of the Sarasota County School Board and co-founder of Moms for Liberty — the “parental rights” organization that egged on lawmakers to pass laws like the one critics call “Don’t say gay ” banning classroom instructions on sexual orientation and gender identity. Her husband, a former Florida GOP chair, was accused last year of raping a woman with whom the Zieglers previously had consensual sex with, according to police records.

The Sarasota Police Department opted against filing charges against Christian Ziegler, but more notes from their investigation were released last week. The Zieglers are suing to block the release of additional records.

Those notes aren’t just salacious details about a couple’s private sex life. They describe behavior that, if true, appears to be downright creepy, especially coming from people who purport to uphold high moral standards by pushing policies that target people who don’t fall in line with their world view.

A memo written by a police investigator states “numerous” text messages exchanged between Bridget and Christian Ziegler show they were “on prowl for a female.” Bridget Ziegler directed her husband to go to different bars to find a woman they would both like.

“During these conversations Christian is secretly taking photographs of women in the bars and sending them to Bridget asking her if she wants this one or that one,” the memo states. “Bridget is telling him to pretend to take pictures of his beer, so they don’t see him taking pictures of them.

“She tells him ‘Don’t come home until your d—k is wet.’”

There is nothing wrong with Bridget Ziegler having sex with women or engaging in sexual threesomes, as long as they are consensual. The Ziegler debacle should serve as a lesson to the self-appointed guardians of traditional values in Florida that people’s sexuality often falls outside the “norm,” no matter how much they try to push that simple fact of life out of public education.

Despite all this, Bridget Ziegler has continued to soldier on — the faithful cultural warrior that she is.

Just earlier this month, she sponsored, and the Sarasota School Board adopted, a resolution to reject new federal protections against gender identity discrimination, putting the district at risk of losing about $50 million in federal funding, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.

Her profile on X, formerly known as Twitter, is also filled with anti-transgender rhetoric — from her rants about a “gender ideology cult” to a photo of her posing in a T-shirt that reads, “Real women aren’t men.”

Could Bridget Ziegler engage in sex with other women while also being opposed to giving transgender people visibility and rights? Sure. But it’s how she has used her very public platform to demonize a group of people that puts into question how much she — and other politicians who jumped on the “parental rights” wagon — truly believe their own cause.

How much of their zealotry is genuine and how much of it is borne in this instance out of political expediency, a calculated move to stay relevant and pander to Gov. Ron DeSantis? DeSantis too was quick to latch onto the parental rights movement when it began gaining steam during the pandemic.

Bridget Ziegler has faced calls to resign from her position on the Sarasota School Board. The Herald Editorial Board in December disagreed with the pressure campaign to make her leave her post given that she never faced criminal charges and that being a hypocrite doesn’t necessarily disqualify one from holding elected office.

If she chose to leave on her own volition, that would give DeSantis the opportunity to appoint her replacement.

In a democracy, voters, not the governor, should decide the fate of her election office. Voters also should signal to the state’s Republican leaders that the vitriol and bigotry disguised as “parental rights” has run its course in Florida.


South Florida Sun Sentinel. May 21, 2024.

Editorial: Another illegal voting restriction is struck down

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker has knocked down a key element of the Republican-backed state law sharply curbing voter registration efforts for the anti-democratic measure that it is.

HB 7050 was born of cynical fictions, a near-textbook example of Tallahassee’s effort to keep people from voting this November for anyone from any party.

To do so, it kneecaps third-party voter registration groups such as the League of Women Voters of Florida, which suspended use of paper applications in its registration work, which was what the Legislature wanted all along.

Judge Walker’s May 15 decision permanently bars enforcement of one part of that effort: Under HB 7050, non-U.S. citizens could not register citizens to vote.

But did you know this? Non-citizens already handle mail ballots at post offices. Non-citizens are allowed to work for the Florida Elections Commission.

Conspiratorial visions

This section of the bill seemed designed to conjure up conspiratorial visions of undocumented immigrants itching to undercut American voters.

Ignored were people legally in the country such as Veronica Herrera-Lucha, who supported her family of four by helping register Florida voters.

Had she been asked, Herrera-Lucha might have used her expertise to help pinpoint the constitutionally dubious provisions of the bill: She has a law degree and an additional master’s in international law.

Legislators spouting platitudes about election integrity made sure that no one had time to understand what was in the sprawling elections bill, though, and if they did, would not have enough time to raise questions and propose fixes.

Instead, the 98-page bill dropped late in the 2023 session. Lawmakers had only hours to read it before the first public hearing.

On the House floor, where leaders waived rules to rush it through, lawmakers had two minutes and 40 seconds to pitch amendments.

So, exactly what fraud justified this legislative sneak attack and slamming the brakes on registering voters in a presidential election year?

Backers struggled to name even one.

Fake registrations: 0.0003%

To put the performative outrage into perspective, consider the hard-right Heritage Foundation’s voter fraud database. Heritage has for years played fast and loose with data, mixing inadvertent mistakes and cases where a single vote was involved with cases of serious fraud.

Even Heritage could scrounge up only three Florida cases of criminal voter registration fraud since 2020.

The cited cases involved no more than 30 voter registrations confirmed to have been faked by registration fraudsters in three years. That’s 0.0003% of the roughly 11 million registered Florida voters who cast ballots in the last presidential election.

On the other hand, Heritage cited five Floridians living at The Villages who were popped for voting twice in the same election.

Lawmakers are not expected to clamp down on voting in the GOP stronghold, however: Curbing voting for many based on wrongdoing by a few would be foolish.

To their credit, 21 of 26 Broward and Palm Beach County legislators voted against the bill.

Outrageous fines

It’s true that there are known problems with third-party voter registration groups. But it’s hard to tie them to the intimidations underpinning HB 7050.

Failing to turn in a registration within 10 days triggers a $50 a day fine.

Aggregate fines incurred by a voter registration group for late-returned applications topped out at $1,000 in 2021. Now, those fines go as high as $250,000.

Further, groups can face felony charges and risk prison time for keeping identifying information about voters, undercutting get-out-the-vote efforts as election day nears.

It’s easy to quantify the impact. It’s easy to pinpoint who is being disenfranchised, too. Eligible Black and Hispanic citizens are five times more likely to register through third party groups than prospective white voters.

It’s already illegal

Look for the fact-free crowd to try and score talking points off Walker’s decision anyway, conflating non-U.S. citizens legally registering U.S. citizens with new calls to criminalize voting by immigrants here illegally.

It’s already illegal for undocumented immigrants to vote in federal elections. It was illegal even before voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2020 to prohibit the practice.

This kind of misleading rhetoric goes beyond a bad-faith law. It’s dangerous.

Every time a Florida politician uses their bully pulpit to insist, without evidence, that the election system is in some way broken, overrun with scheming immigrants and serving no decent American, they are encouraging Floridians to believe that elections can’t be trusted at all.

A little scapegoating, a couple of shibboleths, a few moments of microphone-ready bluster and it’s a short trip back to January 6: After all, if elections can’t be trusted, they will claim, neither can the results.