Editorial Roundup: Florida

South Florida Sun Sentinel. June 4, 2024.

Editorial: Veto these bills, Governor. Don’t make matters worse

Florida’s 2024 legislative session ended three months ago, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has not yet decided the fate of dozens of bills, some of which would go into effect July 1.

Some of these pieces of legislation are good, some are bad, and some are downright dangerous. We have chosen 10 bills. Five of them deserve the governor’s signature and five should be rejected. This is what a veto pen is made for.

First, let’s start with the good news.

Sign here, Governor

Balloon ban: Releasing helium-filled balloons would be a violation of Florida’s anti-litter law and could carry a $250 fine. They can kill birds and are a serious threat to the environment (HB 321).

Condo reform: Thousands of volunteer directors at condo complexes would face closer state scrutiny, which is long overdue, and it will now be a crime for condominium board members to refuse to provide records, willingly destroy them, or accept kickbacks (HB 1021).

Criminal histories: Barbers and cosmetologists could not be denied state licenses for most criminal records that are more than three years old. The current standard is five years (HB 133).

Dozier victims: Victims of abuse over four decades at the state-run Dozier School for Boys in Marianna could finally receive compensation, if they live long enough (HB 21).

PACE reform: Needed consumer safeguards could help reduce rip-offs in a loosely regulated home loan program known as PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy, that has become notorious for predatory practices (SB 770).

Whip out the veto pen

Bears targeted: Floridians could claim self-defense if they kill bears that wander onto their property. This idea is “disastrous,” the Sierra Club Florida chapter said. If more people would secure their garbage containers, this wouldn’t be a problem (HB 87). Save the bears, Governor, and kill this bill.

Consumer loans: Cash-strapped consumers could be charged up to 36% interest on loans of up to $25,000, up from the current 30%. A few minimal consumer protections that were sought by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops were left out of the bill. Six conservative Republican senators voted against this bill, and it passed by just three votes (HB 1347).

Ethics laws: A gutting of Florida ethics laws would require complainants to have personal knowledge of the circumstances of every case, an impossibly high threshold that would allow corruption to flourish. The weakening of watchdog oversight would also apply to local ethics commissions such as the one in Palm Beach County (SB 7014). If we were to choose the worst of the worst among this list, this bill would be it.

Gambling secrecy: Most information about members of the Florida Gaming Control Commission — politically well-connected people chosen by the governor who oversee casinos and race tracks and award or deny slot machine licenses — would be kept secret (SB 692). More secrecy is never good.

Vacation rentals: The latest stick in the eye of Florida cities and the people who live there, this bill would impose new restrictions on how communities regulate vacation rentals (SB 280). This issue features two powerful and opposing lobbying forces, with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association supporting the bill and the Florida Association of Realtors opposing it.

This was a terrible legislative session for the people of Florida, and the cumulative impact of the damage is not yet clear.

The Florida Constitution gives the governor sole power to veto a bill, even if it passes the Legislature unanimously. It’s the supreme use of executive power.

DeSantis has already approved bills that eliminate heat protections for outdoor workers, strip away workplace protections for 16-year-olds, abolish civilian review boards to monitor police, prevent homeless people from camping outdoors, and erase mentions of climate change from state laws.

Follow these simple instructions, Governor, and don’t make things worse than they already are.


Tampa Bay Times. June 1, 2024.

Editorial: Hey, Florida, hurricane season is here. Expect an active one.

Residents must prepare, get an evacuation plan and stay engaged.

Few traditions are as important in Florida as preparing for the Atlantic hurricane season. And forecasters largely agree that the 2024 season, which begins this weekend and runs through Nov. 30, could be unusually active. Floridians need to prepare early and stay engaged. That’s the price of living in a coastal state where only a single storm could be devastating.

Storm experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are calling for an “above average” hurricane season this year, with up to 25 named storms. Forecasters say as many as 13 could churn into hurricanes and up to seven could reach major status of Category 3 strength or higher.

The storm outlook is the most aggressive in the federal agency’s history and squares with predictions from other experts for an above-average season. Blame warmer-than-usual Atlantic water temperatures and an emerging La Niña weather pattern, known to be more friendly to hurricane formation than its counterpart, El Niño. The result is that Floridians face a potentially long vigil this hurricane season. That makes it essential to begin preparing now and to stay informed as the summer progresses.

Why more storms?

The federal forecast echoes some of the most ambitious hurricane season outlooks ever produced by renowned climate experts. Colorado State University issued an early outlook that calls for 11 hurricanes — the most that university has ever predicted. The University of Pennsylvania also issued an aggressive forecast of its own, predicting a record 33 named storms, also citing the warming Atlantic and La Niña.

Waters stretching between the Caribbean and the coast of Africa are at record-hot levels, driven in party by human-induced climate change and the developing La Niña pattern. Experts also expect that fewer shearing winds this year will help tear storms apart. And because rapid intensification, which occurs when a storm’s top wind speeds rise by 35 mph in a single day, is tied closely to ocean temperatures, the result could mean not only more storms, but more intense ones.

More people, too

Emergency managers aren’t worried only about more storms, but more people, too. Florida’s population has exploded in recent years, and many new residents didn’t grow up in hurricane alley. That presents a challenge in educating the public about the impacts of these storms and in getting those in danger out of harm’s way.

Florida has more than 22 million people, about 5 million more than during the active hurricane season 20 years ago. That’s millions more at risk of catastrophic winds and inland flooding, which is why every Floridian anywhere needs a hurricane plan in advance. Check your evacuation zone. Get a grab-bag for important documents like insurance policies. And make an evacuation plan in case you have to leave. Take special consideration if you’re caring for a child, senior or pet. In most cases, moving just a short distance to sturdier shelter with friends or relatives is all it takes. But these aren’t plans to pull together at the last minute.


Palm Beach Post. May 31, 2024.

Editorial: Racial gerrymandering tilts election fairness, denies equal protection in South Florida

A lawsuit, filed May 23 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleges that state leaders improperly reconfigured four congressional and seven Florida House districts.

Last week in this space, we targeted efforts by Florida’s governor and legislature to dilute Black voting power in northern Florida. This week we shift sights to South Florida, where the same state leaders have redrawn political maps improperly along racial lines once again to solidify their Republican supermajority.

A lawsuit, filed May 23 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleges that state leaders improperly reconfigured four congressional and seven Florida House districts, in a way that, they would have us believe, just coincidentally accrues benefits to the Republican Party.

The techniques employed to cheat voters out of equal say in our democracy were different in each region but served the same purpose: to tilt elections even before the first vote is submitted.

In northern Florida, the gerrymandering dispersed Black voters, who tend to vote Democratic, by attaching their addresses to surrounding districts to weaken the electoral impact of their community.

In South Florida, the new maps stretched district lines acrobatically, to string together Hispanic voters. Congressional District 26, held by Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, now leaps from the Gulf of Mexico, near San Marco Island, to the Intracoastal Waterway in Miami-Dade County – almost to the Atlantic Ocean.

The South Florida case was filed by Cubanos Pa’lante Corp., a Miami-Dade nonprofit that describes its mission as educating and mobilizing progressive Cuban Americans. Joining them were Engage Miami Inc., a nonprofit aiming to fight corruption in local politics and develop a culture of civic participation; a Florida International University-based affiliate of the ACLU; and five individual plaintiffs. The plaintiffs are suing the Florida House of Representatives and Secretary of State Cord Byrd.

Electoral district maps are tweaked once a decade, based on demographic changes identified in the U.S. Census. Abdelilah Skhir, senior strategist for ACLU of Florida, notes that caselaw surrounding the federal Voting Rights Act and Florida’s Fair Districts Amendments allow race to be considered in redrawing the maps but only in narrowly tailored circumstances. The South Florida suit alleges however, that the legislature and governor used race as their overriding factor, to connect disparate neighborhoods, divide communities and create districts of non-compact shapes unjustified by law.

Hispanic voters were lumped together on the basis of their race, Skhir says. However, the Hispanic community – made up of Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans, Venezuelans and many others – cannot be considered as one politically cohesive group in South Florida. That community “is nuanced, multifaceted, and diverse with respect to political behavior and preferences,” the lawsuit argues. “The legislature ignored this diversity and assumed that Hispanic voters in South Florida were politically homogenous and monolithic. This assumption was false. The legislature was not entitled to draw race-based districts based on uninformed assumptions of racial sameness.”

This racial gerrymandering undermines democracy by signaling to elected officials that they represent a racial group rather than their constituency as a whole, the suit asserts under a 1993 case, Shaw v Reno. It causes further harm, the suit says, because “lawmakers sacrificed genuine communities of interest, unnecessarily dividing some that share commonalities and lumping others together that diverge.”

The suit alleges the redistricting deprived voters of their constitutional right to equal protection of the law in Florida congressional districts 19, 26, 27 and 28; as well as in Miami-Dade’s Florida House districts 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 118 and 119.

Meanwhile, a separate racial gerrymandering suit is challenging Florida Senate districts 16 and 18 in the Tampa Bay area. The northern Florida case is headed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Tilting elections by ignoring the fairness required in plain English by the Florida and U.S. constitutions is undemocratic. Just as troubling is that those who perpetrate this injustice feel justified in doing so by the reality that it takes years to sort out these inequities. And while the courts work at their regular glacial pace rather than expedite the proceedings, illegally seated representatives make law in Tallahassee and Washington for years. Florida voters deserve better.