Florida editorial roundup

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Oct. 30

The Palm Beach Post on regulating vape products:

We applaud Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody for launching a much-needed investigation into how companies are marketing and selling vape products in Florida.

Her action is welcome, because the state is doing too little to regulate e-cigarette companies. And the health problems are getting worse -- even deadly.

But the state -- read that, the governor and legislature -- must go further.

Moody is looking into the reasons kids are getting addicted to tobacco through the heedless use of e-cigarettes -- and that's a crucially important thing to fight against.

Since becoming AG in January, the former circuit court judge says she has discovered that at least one in four Florida high school students admit to vaping; that they are attracted to products flavored like cotton candy, bubblegum and Cap'n Crunch; and that some advertising seems to be intentionally targeting young people.

"I refuse, as attorney general and a mother," she told reporters, "to sit on my hands while the next generation becomes addicted to nicotine."

Good for her.

But this health crisis is even more urgent.

As of Oct. 22, there have been 1,604 cases of vape-related disease including 34 deaths nationally, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). At least 52 of those people getting sick this year, and one death, was in Florida.

These diseases are serious. Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea. Most troubling, Mayo Clinic researchers say patients showed signs of chemical burns similar to victims of mustard gas.

Some 86% of all cases involve vapes containing THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana; 34% of patients vaped THC exclusively; and many of the products were obtained on the street. But 64% of patients used tobacco products, with 11% using tobacco exclusively, according to information the CDC gathered on almost 870 patients.

The CDC has recommended that no one use e-cigarette products that contain THC. Yet vape pens and cartridges are being sold in Florida medical marijuana stores -- which require a state license to operate.

The state should waste no time in placing at least a temporary ban these sales.

If that's too radical a step, the state should at least require warnings to be posted in medical marijuana stores. Such as this, from the CDC website: "The CDC recommends that you do not use e-cigarette, or vaping, products that contain THC."

And every store that sells tobacco-vaping products should bear a warning like:

"The CDC says that E-cigarette, or vaping, products should never be used by youths, young adults, or women who are pregnant. Adults who do not currently use tobacco products should not start using e-cigarette, or vaping, products."

But with our children at risk, Gov. Ron DeSantis should take a close look at what Massachusetts' governor, Charlie Baker, has done. Last month, Baker declared a public health emergency and imposed a four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products, those that deliver nicotine or cannabis alike. The idea is to give medical researchers some time to figure out what is going on.

A pause to give researchers the chance to find out what's happening is a good idea. Right now we have very little understanding of what's making people sick. Some suspect that the devices may overheat vaping liquids to produce toxic chemicals. Or, it's the devices' heating element that's introducing toxic metal substances like chromium, nickel and lead into the e-liquid. Or, amateur manufacturers are unwittingly adding harmful additives to the liquids.

The research is still in early stages. The CDC, for instance, is just now collecting samples from patients' lungs to try to figure out what their diseases have in common.

One problem to consider with a ban on tobacco e-cigarettes: you will be pushing many people who have quit smoking to go back to cigarettes. This prospect dismays public health officials who say that e-cigarettes have done more to curb smoking than just about anything, ever.

For the record, it has been illegal in Florida since 2014 to sell nicotine-dispensing devices to people younger than 18. You'd hardly know it. From 2015 to 2019, Florida high schoolers' use of e-cigarettes increased 62%, according to the Florida Youth Tobacco Survey. A dire enough statistic for the Palm Beach County School Board to ban vaping from school campuses as part of its code of conduct.

Moody, commendably, wants the state to look for ways to strengthen that ban on under-age sales.

And, as she says, Florida legislators should take the obvious step of banning flavored e-cigarette products. Plus, more money should be allotted to Tobacco Free Florida to get the message out about the serious risks to health.

It's time to heat up this fight. Our young people are at stake.

Online: https://www.palmbeachpost.com

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Oct. 27

The St. Augustine Record on proposed divorce and custody laws making a return to the legislative session:

Since Gov. Ron DeSantis took office we think it fair to say he's been a "strong" governor in terms of manipulating, coercing, or otherwise bringing lawmakers to his side of an issue. He hit the ground running, demanding the legislature pass the medical marijuana amendment voted in overwhelmingly by Florida voters. Most recently he involved himself in the ouster of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, over the recommendation of a state panel.

One of the more contentious series of bills over the past decade have had to do with alimony and custody in divorces. Lawmakers have attempted to rewrite the rules several times. Former Gov. Rick Scott vetoed two bills during his time in office — for different reasons.

News sources are reporting that another effort may be launched in the coming session. While no bill has yet been filed, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee heard arguments on the issue in a workshop last week.

But the real "tell" comes from the high-powered lobbyists hired by competing interests in divorce law. Families for Fairness has hired the Southern Group and Ballard Partners to twist arms for its efforts at ending "permanent alimony."

On the other side, The Florida Bar's Family Law Section has hired Bryan & Myers. And former House Speaker and now Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran's brother, Michael Corcoran, has been hired by the Florida Chapter of Matrimonial Lawyers. Both support the status quo of divorce law.

A spokesman with the Family Fairness group told news sources the group is not out to end alimony. Alan Elkins says the group has a "philosophical" problem with permanent alimony because it creates a "culture of dependence" and it acts as a "disincentive for ex-spouses to seek employment."

They seek more of a mathematical model, based on length of marriage and combined income of spouses.

Those opposing changes counter that judges have discretionary powers that take much more into account than an equation. They say judges already have very specific guidelines in terms of a spousal needs and ability to pay.

But what's more likely to become the real issue come January is the resurgence of a child custody portion of a bill vetoed in 2016. It would have directed judges to begin custody deliberations on the "premise" of equal custody rights in terms of sharing time with minor children.

We'll have to see what iteration of the former bills comes out of the legislature.

The Record is never keen on "boxing in" judicial purview by lawmakers. For example, mandatory sentencing guidelines handed down by Tallahassee have hamstrung real justice in too many instances. One-size-fits all lawmaking is rarely if ever a "fix." Judges sitting in front of couples and attorneys, and taking into account so many nuances of family situations are in a much better position to make things right.

We have "irreconcilable differences" with lawmakers meddling in our courts or our communities. Let's call it what it is: judicial preemption.

But the wildcard in this deck will be Gov. Ron DeSantis. You can be certain he's not looking forward to wading into this mess in 2020.

Online: https://www.staugustine.com

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Oct. 22

The South Florida SunSentinel on former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel:

Beware, Florida sheriffs. Because of their pique with former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, Republicans who control the Florida Senate are about to establish a precedent that will forever hold you personally responsible for the action or inaction of a single deputy in a single incident. If you're not scared, you should be.

It doesn't matter if you've trained your deputies to do the right thing. It doesn't matter if you have a policy that outlines the right thing to do. It doesn't matter if an accrediting agency has certified that your deputies know the right thing to do.

From now on, if one of your deputies refuses to budge when you tell him to "take that hill," be prepared to get the boot. This is especially true if your political party lacks power in Tallahassee and you're not very popular — factors that can change over time.

Got a deputy who fabricated evidence? A governor could now say, "You're outta here." Got a deputy who roughhoused a suspect? "See ya later." Got a deputy who ignored someone on suicide watch? "Don't let the door hit you in the behind."

What's happening in Tallahassee this week should send shivers down the spines of sheriffs. For if the Senate's chessboard plays out as stacked, it will be a lot easier for governors to throw them out of office.

In removing Israel from office, Gov. Ron DeSantis cited, among other things, a Florida law passed in 1868 — just three years after the Civil War ended, back when Florida was little more than sand fleas and mosquitoes. The law allowed a sheriff, who couldn't be everywhere, to deputize others to act in his stead.

Specifically, Florida Statute 30.07 says: "sheriffs may appoint deputies to act under them who shall have the same power as the sheriff appointing them, and for the neglect and default of whom in the execution of their office shall be responsible."

Never before has this law been used to remove an elected sheriff from office. It has, though, been used in civil cases to make a sheriff's office pay if, for example, a deputy slams a patrol car into a pedestrian and kills him.

But now, the Senate is poised to rule that under this law, the action or inaction of a single deputy in a single incident can be cause for removing a sheriff.

What an over-reach. And what an anti-law enforcement posture. In falling all over themselves to support a powerful governor, Republican senators are sending the message that no sheriff is safe.

We certainly had our concerns about Israel's leadership during and after the mass shootings at the Fort Lauderdale airport and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And we supported DeSantis' decision to suspend him, believing — wrongly, as it turned out — that he had done his homework and could make a binding legal case.

But the governor lost his case, badly. Not one of the 10 charges he leveled against Israel was upheld by Dudley Goodlette, a respected former Republican lawmaker hand-picked by Senate President Bill Galvano to act as the special master in this case.

Not one.

Over and over — on issues of staffing, training, supervision, policies and more — the governor failed to produce any witnesses or evidence that Israel was incompetent or derelict in his duty. "The governor did not meet his burden," Goodlette said in his report. "Insistence is all the governor gives."

But as we said, the governor is a very powerful man, and the Senate is a far different place than it was before term limits, when a presiding officer would have told him: "Governor, you had your shot and you lost. And if I see any retribution to my members, your priorities won't get passed and you can explain to the public why you can't get along with your party. Now, move on."

That's not how Galvano handled it. After saying he wouldn't allow the governor to re-try the case, the Senate president did nothing to stop DeSantis' new lawyer from re-trying the case before the Senate Rules Committee on Monday.

Suddenly, new "evidence" emerged about Israel having given an insensitive interview to CNN, about a union's vote of no confidence (largely driven by pay issues,) and about BSO's sudden loss of accreditation by a state association of sheriffs, whose members aren't particularly keen on Israel.

It appeared the governor would stop at nothing to reverse the special master's decision and fulfill a campaign promise he made the grieving Parkland families, who understandably want someone held accountable for the massacre there.

In a 9-7 party line vote that telegraphed what's to come, the Rules Committee recommended to the full Senate that enough evidence was found to warrant Israel's removal from office.

In doing so, the Senate is ignoring the wishes of Broward's five senators, who unanimously support Israel's reinstatement, despite their nagging misgivings about his past arrogance and their sensitivity to the raw emotions of the Parkland families.

BSO's performance at Parkland was nothing to be proud of, but an antiquated 911 radio system — which sent calls from the high school to the Coral Springs Police Department — added to the confusion. To this day, the system is not up to par, in part because the city of Hollywood has fought putting a giant radio tower in a city park. Does the Senate really blame Israel for that?

And though hours of unnecessary confusion followed the shooting at the airport, let us also recognize that BSO Deputy Jesse Madrigal pursued and captured Esteban Santiago within 90 seconds — because he was trained to pursue an active shooter.

Israel and his team did many things wrong, but his people also did many things right, something the Senate seems to forget.

Nevertheless, the train has left the station. Politics are driving the outcome. With the exception of perhaps one senator, the Republicans will forego checks and balances, don their red jerseys and vote Wednesday to permanently remove Israel from office.

And that should send shivers through us all.

Online: www.sun-sentinel.com