Editorial Roundup: Florida

Palm Beach Post. April 9, 2024.

Editorial: It shouldn’t take 2024 storm season to prompt Florida insurers to address climate change

Well, well, well. On the eve of another hurricane season, the insurance industry finally came out and said what almost everyone in Florida expected. Industry experts recently acknowledged that insurers may be forced to raise the property insurance premiums of Sunshine State customers to protect themselves from major storms.

“When most of the modelers are indicating it’s going to be (a) very active season, that’s going to trigger the global reinsurance markets to reassess risk,” Mark Friedlander, the Insurance Information Institute’ s spokesman said after Colorado State University released its preseason hurricane forecast and climate’s impact on reinsurance rates.

Uh, duh!

It’s too easy to chastise an industry that’s focused so heavily on fraud and litigation, while the state soft-pedals how the warming climate is impacting storms and the seas surrounding Florida. Last week’s admission, however, could — and should — start a new approach in addressing climate change and providing property insurance. The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board has urged government officials to think outside the box in developing new ideas. The property insurance industry — instead of just scaling back coverage, dropping customers and hiking premiums as much as 100% — should do the same.

Insurance crisis isn’t exactly news

It’s not like the precariousness of Florida’s insurance market is new. In recent years, the state has seen shifts in the market due to rising claims costs and reinsurance expenses. This has prompted a growing number of homeowners to explore alternative options, including going without coverage.

The property insurance crisis isn’t just a Florida problem, either. One in 13 homeowners across the U.S. is uninsured, according to a recent study by the Consumer Federation of America. For years, government officials and the industry have walled off Florida, leaving it largely to the state and its residents to figure out ways to cope with the risks and the impact of ever-higher insurance premiums. It’s time to admit the crisis is much bigger than Florida.

How can the industry help? Releasing better data on access to coverage and on coverage gaps would be a good start. It’s not like our elected officials, here and elsewhere, have the information that would produce better policies to help homeowners. Rising premiums, an ongoing concern here for tens of thousands of frustrated homeowners from Palm Beach to Pensacola, is a national one that will call for a far wider effort to address than simply passing it off as a “Florida problem.”

Last year we asked Insurance Information Institute officials how long might it take before our state’s homeowners would see reductions in their premiums. Florida lawmakers after holding two special sessions to address the problems had promised changes within two years. Industry officials weren’t that optimistic.

“Years,” Sean Kevelighan, the institute’s president and CEO said after a brief silence and a bit of prodding.

Litigation, Kevelighan and his colleagues contend, remains the big problem, despite the fact that, after two special sessions of the Florida Legislature in 2022 and again in the 2023 regular session, the industry pretty much got everything it said it needed to reduce the impact of lawsuits, which supposedly would lead to lower rates.

That hasn’t happened.

Now the problem is re-insurance, the a form of insurance insurers have, to protect them from financial risks. Re-insurers obviously get skittish with the likelihood of any events that threaten payouts. Nerves frayed when Colorado State predicted an extremely high number of storms — 23 named storms compared to the average season of 14 — for the upcoming 2024 hurricane season.

“It is a very ominous forecast, and certainly one of the most significant in terms of potential events that we’ve ever seen in April,” Friedlander said during an interview with WJXT-TV in Jacksonville.

There’s no doubt, at least here in Florida, that the insurance industry has the clout to get the preferred policies that it wants out of government. For years, the industry has gotten its way with the Florida Legislature and the Governor’s office, in curbing what many policyholders see as normal remedies in pursuing claims. It shouldn’t take another scary storm-season prediction to get the industry to take both climate change and its customers more seriously.


South Florida Sun Sentinel. April 8, 2024.

Editorial: Democracy delayed is democracy denied

There can’t be a more diabolical gerrymander than what Gov. Ron DeSantis contrived to strip Black voters across North Florida of their ability to re-elect Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

It’s even worse because the Legislature’s original congressional redistricting plan, based on the 2020 census, had respected the Florida Constitution by preserving Lawson’s District 5.

But DeSantis vetoed it and the Legislature played dead.

The gerrymander scattered Lawson’s 370,000 Black constituents among four districts, a plan contrived to elect more white Republicans. Sure enough, most people in the heavily Democratic and racially diverse capital city are illogically represented by a white Republican from Panama City, more than 100 miles away.

Partisanship at its worst

It was partisan politics at its worst, with Black voters as victims, which makes it so offensive that a three-judge federal court recently upheld it.

The court rationalized that the Legislature wasn’t motivated by racism but by obedience to the governor. Even if his motives were impure, the panel said, “the unlawful motivations of others — whether constituents, the Governor, or even a single member of the body itself — do not become those of the decision-making body as a whole.”

That lack of common sense has been absent from Florida’s courts, too. At Tallahassee, the First District Court of Appeal upheld DeSantis’ vote-stealing despite its clear violation of the Fair Districts initiatives that voters put in the Constitution in 2010.

Under Fair Districts, no district, state or federal, shall be drawn to favor one party or another, and none may be designed “with the intent or result of denying or abridging” the ability of racial or language minorities to elect representatives of their choice.

In other words, even if the governor and Legislature had acted out of pristine motives, which they didn’t, the result was wrong.

The state court case, filed by Common Cause and others, is on appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, where the ill-fated Congressional District 5 won the court’s blessing a decade ago.

A graveyard for precedents

It should be a slam dunk, but DeSantis’ right-wing appointments have made the high court a graveyard for its own precedents. Moreover, it has been in no hurry to decide the case in time for this year’s election, having just granted Secretary of State Cord Byrd’s lawyers an unwarranted 30-day extension to file their brief. The reason? The attorneys say they face “multiple competing deadlines.”

So let democracy wait.

The federal panel’s ruling, which could — and should — be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, is yet another reminder that our “government of the people, for the people, by the people,” as Abraham Lincoln memorably defined it, does not even guarantee the right to vote.

The Constitution originally left voting eligibility to states. Four subsequent amendments said voting could not be denied on account of race, sex or failure to pay poll taxes, and lowered the voting age to 18.

But none of these defined voting as an inalienable right — which it should be — and left the states free to find ingenious schemes to undermine it.

A weakened Voting Rights Act

Gerrymandering leads the way. The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to interfere and has weakened the Voting Rights Act, making it easier to disenfranchise minorities by rigging districts and by creating roadblocks to voting.

But not in Montana, where the state Supreme Court recently rejected four laws that state’s Republican legislature had enacted to interfere with registering and voting. The court majority said voting is “a clear and unequivocal fundamental right under the Montana Constitution,” quoting a passage that says “All elections shall be free and open.”

Regrettably, no such language is found in Florida’s Constitution; only a declaration that “all political power is inherent in the people.”

But even that should be enough for any court to establish voting as an inalienable right in Florida.

Treating it as such, the Montana court threw out a 2021 law denying absentee ballots to voters under 18 who would mark that birthday before election day. It restored same-day voter registration, which Republicans had eliminated despite Montana voters having defeated a referendum to abolish it. It restored student IDs as valid for registering, and overturned part of a law that barred anyone being paid to collect and submit absentee ballots, which it found had been a common and necessary practice in rural areas, especially on Indian reservations.

“This court,” said Montana’s state Supreme Court, “can diverge from the minimal protections offered by the United States Constitution when the Montana Constitution clearly affords greater protection — or even when the provision is nearly identical.”

That used to be the rule in Florida, too, before our Supreme Court voted 6-1 a week ago to reverse the precedent unanimously set by its more enlightened predecessors in 1989 that Florida’s constitutional guarantee of personal privacy protects abortion.

But unlike the privacy provision, the Fair Districts amendments are unmistakably specific. The DeSantis gerrymander was unquestionably unconstitutional. That’s how the court should rule, and the sooner the better.

Democracy delayed is democracy denied.


Tampa Bay Times. April 3, 2024.

Editorial: On abortion, Floridians have chance to remedy Supreme Court’s tortured logic

The November referendum is a rare chance for Floridians to enshrine reproductive rights in the state constitution.

The Florida Supreme Court ruling on abortion Monday marks an uncertain future for reproductive rights and privacy more generally. While the court allowed a statewide referendum on abortion to proceed, it cleared the way to further restrict the procedure while overturning decades of precedence on privacy protections. The November ballot measure was already poised to be defining; the court’s decision only raises the stakes.

The justices ruled 6-1 that the privacy provision in Florida’s constitution did not protect access to abortion, letting stand a 15-week abortion ban enacted in 2022. But the conservative court’s ruling has far greater implications. By finding the existing restrictions legal, the court triggered a new six-week ban enacted last year to take effect by May 1. And its sweeping dismissal of the state’s privacy clause could put other personal freedoms under legal jeopardy.

Florida voters added a privacy clause to the state constitution in 1980, which states in part: “Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life.” The Florida Supreme Court first ruled in 1989 that the provision applied to abortion, and in 2012, Florida voters rejected a Republican-sponsored ballot amendment that would have narrowed the state’s abortion-rights guarantee.

But in the ruling April 1, the court majority wrote that Florida voters did not understand abortion would be included in the privacy amendment the state adopted in 1980. “It would require an analytical leap,” the opinion held, to associate “the right to be let alone” with access to abortion. Moreover, the majority added, the Florida courts erred in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion, by reading “additional rights” into Florida’s privacy clause “beyond what the text could reasonably bear.”

The court’s ruling was hardly surprising; Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed both the 15-week and six-week abortion bans into law, appointed five of the court’s seven members, and the justices have shown their comfort in acting as legislators in robes. But the opinion exposed the political lens this court takes toward controversial policy issues and its willingness to pluck arguments from the ether to justify its decisions.

The majority opinion, for example, noted that the phrase “right to privacy” gained “new connotations” after the Roe decision in 1973, including “the choice to have an abortion.” But the majority also dismissed the impact this association between a right to privacy and the Roe decision had on the decision by Florida voters to adopt their own privacy clause. In other words, Florida’s top court appeared to conveniently forget that Florida voters knew full well that enshrining a right to privacy into the state constitution in 1980 would protect abortion rights. Justice Jorge Labarga, the lone vote against, called out this stretch of the imagination in his dissent.

“The public understood the right of privacy to encompass the right to an abortion,” Labarga wrote in a 30-page opinion. “Roe and its extensive coverage informed legislators and their constituents that the right of privacy under the U.S. Constitution protected the right to an abortion.” Labarga called the majority decision “an affront to this state’s tradition of embracing a broad scope of the right to privacy.”

In a footnote, the majority noted that its opinion did not address privacy protections “outside of the abortion context.” But Labarga expressed concern this could be the court’s next logical step. “The majority’s reasoning,” he warned, could spur attempts by future litigants “to undermine the broad privacy protections that are extended in the medical context.”

That’s why the court’s other decision to clear an abortion-rights amendment for the November ballot is so helpful in potentially balancing the fallout. The measure would bar any law that prohibits, penalizes, delays or restricts abortion “before viability,” usually around 24 weeks. But the court approved that referendum by the slimmest 4-3 majority possible, and state Republican leaders have vowed to work against it. Florida voters have a rare chance this November to enshrine reproductive rights before the governor, legislature and high court erode even more of our privacy protections.


Orlando Sentinel. April 4, 2024.

Editorial: Supreme Court smashed silly arguments over recreational pot

For Floridians caught up in the emotional and legal tumult of Monday’s conflicting duo of Supreme Court abortion rulings, we have a suggestion: Take a break, and have some pot.

Or at least take the time to peruse the equally complex — but far more amusing — ruling that will let voters weigh in on whether marijuana should be legalized for all Floridians over the age of 21. (The question, designated Amendment 3, authorizes adults to buy up to three ounces of marijuana for personal use, even if they don’t have a medical condition that qualifies them.)

Monday’s pot ruling: LOL

In her majority opinion, Justice Jamie Grosshans provided a judicial smackdown of epic proportions. She didn’t restrict herself to needling Attorney General Ashley Moody, who asked the court to block the marijuana amendment from the 2024 ballot. In a separate concurring opinion, Grosshans effectively trolled her fellow justices who tried in vain to shore up Moody’s argument.

From the start, Moody’s case for knocking the marijuana amendment off the ballot were weak. She and the “friend of the court” groups who backed her challenge tried and failed to nitpick the ballot question to death. Among their arguments: Florida voters might not understand that marijuana is still illegal under federal law, or that the state will have to write the rules under which pot can be obtained by Floridians over the age of 21.

Grosshans’ response: Perhaps you might want to invest in a dictionary. (She actually recommends a few.) Voters are perfectly capable of figuring this one out for themselves, she wrote, using the common meaning of words like “allow” and “license.” She swept aside another frankly idiotic argument that the amendment doesn’t meet the single-subject requirement because it talks about the sale and use of pot: “Allowing businesses to distribute personal-use marijuana, and authorizing individuals to possess it, are logically and naturally related,” she wrote. “Legalization of marijuana presumes the product will be available for the consumer.”

She didn’t conclude with “Well, DUH.” But did she really need to?

The weedy reality

Nor did she need to recap marijuana’s current status in Florida: Recreational pot is available right now, for anyone with the money and time to pursue it and the moral ambiguity to evade the intent of the amendment.

Ironically that means voters were essentially hoodwinked in 2016, when they signed off on a supposedly highly restrictive amendment allowing very sick Floridians to buy medical marijuana under tightly controlled conditions.

That’s … not how things worked out.

That’s not the fault of voters, or the organizers of the 2016 ballot question. It’s entirely the fault of state regulators and legislators who determinedly looked the other way as Florida’s medical-marijuana industry cranked into high gear. Instead, state leaders focused almost entirely on what they saw as the real issue with medical marijuana — which powerful interests would be allowed to get rich first, and how much they could rake in.

Meanwhile, nobody was paying attention to how the guardrails on the 2016 ballot question were being flattened. That amendment required pot users to get a signoff from a doctor that they met the requirements specified in the amendment, which included debilitating health conditions including cancer, multiple sclerosis and legitimate cases of post-traumatic stress disorder. The 2026 amendment left one loophole, by including ailments “of a similar kind or class.”

At first timid and then bold, the industry stretched that phrase to the breaking point. As we observed in a July editorial: “Questions like ‘Do you have cancer? Multiple sclerosis? Parkinson’s?’ gave way to ‘Do you have depression? Anxiety? Stress? Uh … writer’s cramp?’”

The majority opinion didn’t really go into that, but Florida voters are capable of seeing that reality for themselves. That makes voter approval of the 2024 amendment likely, and further underscores the court’s ruling that voters have a right to expand protections to recreational pot usage.


Miami Herald. April 4, 2024.

Editorial: Creators of Florida’s extreme abortion bans now mislead the public on ballot amendment

The same state leaders who banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy — without exceptions for rape and incest — and barely waited a year to pass a six-week ban, are now calling a ballot referendum to restore reproductive rights “extreme.”

That makes no sense. Constitutional Amendment 4, on the ballot in the November elections, would mostly return abortion rights to what they were for decades in Florida, before the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade in 2022 and the Florida Legislature passed one of the strictest laws in the nation.

And yet, as the Herald reported Tuesday, this is how House Speaker Paul Renner, who ushered in the passage of the six-week ban, characterized the ballot item: “This amendment goes far far beyond where most Floridians would land on the issue and is extreme in its scope”

The standard for nearly 50 years — which is popular with Floridians, according to polls — is not extreme. Banning abortions before most women even know they are pregnant is. Even Donald Trump called the six-week ban a “terrible mistake” last year.

The Florida Supreme Court approved the language of Amendment 4 on Monday. On the same day, it ruled in favor of Florida’s 15-week ban, which will trigger the six-week ban starting May 1.

The amendment will reverse the ban if it’s approved by at least 60% of voters. The measure states: “No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion before viability,” which is a fetus’ ability to survive outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks of gestation.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade in 1973, it also concluded that states couldn’t restrict abortion access until viability.

Under Florida’s Amendment 4, abortions could only happen after viability “when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.” Again, that’s similar to what was allowed under Roe v. Wade.

Unlike Roe, the amendment would preserve a Florida law that requires parental consent for minors to get an abortion. How radical!

Attorney General Ashley Moody unsuccessfully tried to convince the state Supreme Court that voters would be confused by Amendment 4’s viability provision. Now Republicans are confusing voters. They know the amendment has a strong chance of approval.