Editorial Roundup: Florida

Palm Beach Post. October 15, 2021.

Editorial: Voters should pick Democrat Sharief in U.S. 20 primary to succeed Hastings

Democratic Primary: Barbara Sharief

The voters in Florida’s 20th congressional district can take solace in the fact that a number of credible Democratic candidates are seeking the nomination to replace the late U.S. Rep. Alcee L. Hastings. With some exceptions, most of them can easily step into the role and learn how to become the district’s next congressperson.

The Palm Beach Post believes Barbara Sharief is the best choice in the Nov. 2 Democratic primary, and we recommend Democrats choose her as their nominee. She possesses the life experience and professional and political backgrounds that best meet the district’s needs. Her work as a Broward County commissioner has resulted in good working relationships with local, state and federal elected officials — connections that should help in Washington. Her work ethic as a candidate is also impressive and speaks well as to how she would represent district constituents.

Sharief has threaded the needle on one issue that is important to The Palm Beach Post — sugar cane burning. She has vowed to push the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a comprehensive study on the effects of cane burning in the Glades while working with the sugar industry to develop alternatives to the practice. “Big Sugar” and other agricultural interests remain a significant employer and industry in the 20th congressional district. Her approach offers the best chance of bringing badly needed change while maintaining an important economic engine.

A longtime resident of Miramar, Sharief is a nurse and CEO of South Florida Pediatric Homecare. She’s represented the community on both the Miramar City Commission and the Broward County Commission, a body she headed twice as county mayor.

Those 11 years as county commissioner have made Sharief the best-prepared candidate in the race. In that position, she has taken the time to learn and work on a variety of issues, from outside activities as the first Black female president of the Florida Association of Counties, past chair of the National Association of Counties’ Health Steering Committee to serving on the County Coalition for Responsible Management of Lake Okeechobee, a board on which Hastings once served.

In Washington, Sharief would be a moderate member and a reliable Democratic vote. She believes the federal government should negotiate drug prices for Medicare and would work to create a Medicaid program that the federal government could use to bypass recalcitrant state agencies to ensure residents receive benefits. She supports greater funding for PELL grants for higher education, STEM programs and for students who choose education as a profession. As someone whose father was a victim of gun violence, issues such as gun safety, criminal justice and voting rights are also important to her.

The district is fortunate to have several good candidates in the race, including state Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, reps. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale and Omari Hardy, D-West Palm Beach, Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness and former Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor. Rounding out the field are political newcomers, Elvin Dowling and Dr. Imran Siddiqui, along with Sheila Cherfilus McCormick, Phil Jackson and Emanuel Morel, who have sought the seat before.

Hastings was unique; he grew into the job as both an advocate and lawmaker. His successor must do the same to meet the district’s needs without the luxury that seniority gives. We believe Sharief is the candidate with the ability to do just that.

Republican Primary — No Endorsement

There are two Republican candidates in the Nov. 2 primary. Jason Mariner, 35, a business owner in Jupiter and Greg Musselwhite, a 55-year-old construction worker from Fort Pierce. Both are reliable Republican standard bearers who hold similar viewpoints on abortion, immigration, the Second Amendment and school choice.

It would have been nice to have heard more details about their views and how they would represent the estimated 802,000 residents in the district. However, neither candidate participated in the newspaper’s endorsement process. That’s unfortunate since it’s our readers — the voters — who will miss out by not hearing where the candidates stand. Not knowing how these candidates might address the important issues facing the district, we endorsed neither for the Republican primary.

___

Orlando Sentinel. October 18, 2021.

Editorial: Go figure: Florida’s insanity lets schools oust vaccinated kids, but protects the unvaccinated

Only in a bizarro state like Florida would it be illegal to deny services to people who are not vaccinated, but perfectly fine to turn away people who are.

Sure enough, that’s what a private school in Miami is doing.

Centner Academy, which calls itself “The Brain School,” made the brainless declaration last week that parents who get their kids vaccinated had to keep them at home for 30 days.

If this private school had told parents to keep unvaccinated kids at home for a month, they would run afoul of Florida’s “vaccine passport” law. But while the law protects the rights of the unvaccinated at schools, governments and businesses, it does nothing to protect the rights of those who are vaccinated.

One state senator, Democrat Jason Pizzo of South Florida, recognized that absurdity last spring when the law was being debated. Pizzo was opposed to the bill in general but offered a perfectly logical amendment that expanded protections to include people who do choose to get vaccinated.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican who supported the amendment, pleaded with his colleagues, “Let’s show the Senate is not insane.”

Our bizarro Legislature was having none of it. The amendment failed on a 19-19 vote, thanks to opposition that included Seminole County’s GOP state senator, Jason Brodeur.

And that is how we arrived at the point today where Leon County gets fined $3.5 million by the state for making vaccinations a condition of employment, while the Centner Academy gets away with making kids stay home if they get inoculated against COVID.

This isn’t the first time The Brain School made an empty-headed, anti-vax decision.

Last spring, it threatened the jobs of teachers who got vaccinated for COVID, issuing a memo that relied partly on unfounded rumors that vaccinated people were somehow interfering with other women’s reproductive functions if they got too close.

And a fifth grade math and science teacher — yes, a science teacher — told students to limit hugs with their vaccinated parents to five seconds.

The school’s leaders buy into the myth that vaccinated people can “shed” the virus, even though the vaccines approved for use in the United States don’t contain any live virus, unlike some vaccines that have a weakened version of the disease, including smallpox.

While it’s true that vaccinated people can contract the virus and spread it, they’re less likely than unvaccinated people to get the disease in the first place. Plus, vaccinated people are likely to carry the virus for a shorter time if they do have a breakthrough case.

None of these COVID facts square with a school policy of singling out vaccinated teachers and students for quarantine, while giving the unvaccinated a free pass.

Hardly surprising, though, at a school where co-founder Leila Centner is known for spreading anti-vaccination information, a school that invited noted anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to give two lectures early this year.

Kennedy worked with Leila Centner’s husband, David Centner, on a film that dishonestly attempted to link the COVID vaccine to the notorious Tuskegee syphilis study, where diagnosis and treatment were withheld from infected Black men.

Your taxes, by the way, help support this pricey South Florida school and its anti-vax policies through publicly funded voucher scholarships.

Nothing makes sense in Florida any longer.

Gov. Ron DeSantis promotes expensive COVID treatments for people who get sick, instead of low-priced vaccines that prevent people from getting sick in the first place. The state’s new surgeon general signs a document that advocates herd immunity through infection. Schools can’t require kids to wear masks to reduce the risk of infection. School boards are threatened and abused for trying to protect children and staff from disease. People recoil at the thought of taking a vaccine approved by the FDA but are willing to ingest an unapproved drug intended to treat infections caused by parasitic worms.

And the state of Florida has a law that allows schools to turn away kids for taking vaccines that keep them healthy.

Sorry, Sen. Brandes, but it’s not just the Legislature that’s lost its mind. Bizarro Florida has gone quite mad.

___

Miami Herald. October 18, 2021.

Editorial: Why are we paying people to abuse youths at Florida’s juvenile detention centers?

At-risk teens in Florida have been sexually abused, threatened, beaten and choked — all while in state custody, all in the name of punishment. One guard at a juvenile detention center broke a boy’s jaw.

Our tax dollars at work.

When the teens tried to report the mistreatment they were suffering at an Okeechobee detention center run by TrueCore Behavioral Solutions, they were barred from doing so, a Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) investigation found.

Trapped, one desperate group of 20 teenage boys at the Okeechobee Juvenile Offender Correctional Center staged a riot in August 2020, violently taking over the detention facility, endangering their own lives and those of staff members. Video footage shows them tossing furniture, smashing light fixtures, throwing chairs at staff members and breaking down doors. A group was later charged, but those charges were dropped.

Miami Herald reporters dug into state Department of Juvenile Justice records and revealed, in an investigation called “Riot without Repercussions” on Sunday’s front page, that in the months leading up to the riot, the boys, ages 13 through 21, reported being threatened, beaten, jumped and choked by staff.

RIOT A PLEA FOR HELP

All those allegations were deemed “inconclusive” or “unsubstantiated” when staff denied them to investigators, and the cases were closed with no action taken.

Some teens later said they participated in the 20-hour riot because it was the only way to call attention to the constant abuse they were suffering.

Strange way to reform at-risk teens, Florida.

Incredibly, TrueCore still is a central player in Florida’s largely privatized juvenile- network. It runs nine other facilities and holds contracts with the state totaling $350 million.

This year, at one of those facilities in Miami-Dade, a TrueCore staffer was arrested on a charge of sexually abusing a female detainee.

Enough is enough. DJJ needs to get its head out of the sand, stop protecting politically connected contractors and, instead, do its utmost to protect the troubled youths in its care from such horrendous brutality.

We understand that many of these teens in detention are not an easy group to discipline. But mistreatment and abuse is another matter, and so deeply wrong given their young, tattered lives.

TrueCore came under the spotlight after the riot. A DJJ probe found that one staff member allegedly broke a youth’s jaw in a camera-free observation cell where youths say perceived troublemakers were taken with special staff for punishment. Some youths who reported being isolated just for asking to report abuse to the state’s child-abuse hot-line said they were coerced into not doing so, either through threats or bribes in the form of coveted snacks.

After an investigation by the inspector general found “possibly systemic problems,” DJJ quietly replaced TrueCore as the facility’s operator.

___

Tampa Bay Times. October 18, 2021.

Editorial: Why doesn’t Florida trust its residents with basic COVID information?

The lack of easily accessible information makes it harder for Floridians to make decisions on how to navigate the COVID pandemic.

You’re not smart enough to be trusted with basic COVID-19 numbers. Not just you, but all regular Floridians. How many Pinellas residents died from the virus? How many Hillsborough nursing home residents went to the hospital with COVID? How many white or Black people got vaccinated in Pasco County? Don’t look for that information in the weekly state report. Leaders in Tallahassee don’t think you can handle those numbers. That’s the message they send when they withhold basic information about how the pandemic has affected individual counties. The policy is insulting and shortsighted and makes it harder for people to gauge the severity of the crisis.

Early in the pandemic, the Florida Department of Health released daily COVID reports, including county-level details on deaths. The public releases eventually included infections among patients and staff in long-term health care facilities, infections among students and school staff, and vaccinations by race, age and gender, among other details. That stopped in early June after Gov. Ron DeSantis said the pandemic had waned and daily reports were no longer necessary. The state also took down its online COVID dashboard, an easily accessible breakdown of COVID information. Florida was “returning to normal,” a spokeswoman said.

Just a few weeks later, Florida’s COVID cases and deaths spiked. In fact, since that announcement, Florida’s COVID death rate is the highest in the nation. Still, state officials refused to return to daily reports or to release the previously available information. The state stuck to its weekly reports, which no longer included a breakdown of county-level deaths, a decision detailed in a recent article by Times reporter Ian Hodgson. To sum up: The same governor who claims that individuals — not government or schools — should make the decisions about vaccinations and wearing masks doesn’t believe those same individuals should have easy access to county-level information to help them make those very decisions.

The information the state released to the public also came in a format that was hard to collect and analyze. So as COVID exploded in Florida this summer, residents could not easily assess what was happening in their counties. Hernando and Citrus residents, for instance, could be forgiven for not knowing that since June 5 their counties had two of the highest COVID death rates in the state. State officials, however, should not be excused for being so opaque with such important information.

Basic COVID numbers aren’t a state secret that need guarding at all costs. Nor are the numbers so complicated that the general public will misinterpret what they mean. Evaluating cases, hospitalizations, deaths and the number of people vaccinated doesn’t require the public to possess Newtonian math skills. Sure, it’s worth knowing that deaths will likely rise for a few weeks even after new cases have peaked, and a one-day spike in any category does not make a trend. But the average eighth-grader can understand those nuances. Instead, state officials decided to leave those eighth-graders ― and their parents and everyone else — in the dark as a dangerous virus ravaged their counties.

The state encouraged the public to find some of the information on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. But when the state took down its online COVID portal in June, the CDC’s site no longer included important information like the number of people dying in each Florida county. The information was missing for 105 days from June 4 through Sept. 17, Hodgson’s article showed. The federal agency must take some of blame for failing to pivot to another available means for compiling the Florida data. But the federal mistake doesn’t absolve the state’s dangerous refusal to return to a more transparent release of COVID information. Floridians should not have to navigate the CDC’s website to find information the state used to easily provide on its own dashboard.

The COVID battle isn’t over. The virus killed more than 1,100 Floridians last week, raising the state’s grim tally to nearly 58,000. Residents deserve a thorough, daily and easily accessible accounting of the COVID numbers, for the state and for their counties. During a pandemic, anything less smacks of negligence.

___

South Florida Sun Sentinel. October 15, 2021.

Editorial: Blatant gamesmanship by DeSantis on county vaccine fines

Gov. Ron DeSantis is punishing a Florida county for fighting the deadly COVID-19 virus by requiring vaccines. His action smacks of extreme partisanship, selective enforcement and reckless disregard for human health.

It’s vindictive and wrong, but it’s not surprising, coming from an anti-mandate governor and his lapdogs in the Legislature who passed a law that encouraged this.

DeSantis’ public flogging of a pro-vaccine county occurs as a new study in the scientific journal The Lancet shows how vaccinations save lives. The study found that if Floridians got vaccinated at the same rate as in higher-performing New England states,16,000 more people would still be alive here.

But DeSantis is the law in Florida, so forcing people to get vaccinated is illegal. Applying a new law he championed, the newly weaponized Department of Health slapped a fine of $3.57 million on Tallahassee’s Leon County for requiring proof of vaccination to work there.

Fourteen county employees were fired for refusing to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and 700 others got shots to keep their jobs. The law (SB 2006) allows $5,000 fines for each violation of a ban on vaccine passports and the Leon County cases, 714 in all, added up to a fine of $3,570,000.

The county should fight this, and it will, “using any legal remedies necessary,” County Commission Chairman Rick Minor told the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board.

Leon is a medium-sized county of about 300,000 people, about the size of Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood combined, with a budget of $281 million.

To give you an idea of the impact of a multimillion dollar fine on the Leon treasury, the county parks and recreation budget this year is $3.2 million. As the home of state government and the three public higher education institutions of Florida State, Florida A&M and Tallahassee Community College, more than a third of all property in the county is tax-exempt.

In Leon, like all counties, firefighters must be tobacco-free for a year and swear to that or they don’t get hired, period. That has been a state law since 1989, with the support of a firefighters’ union. Yet DeSantis decrees a vaccine mandate illegal — even though it’s the best defense against the worst public health crisis in our history. The recklessness is astounding.

DeSantis’ attack on vaccine mandates is meant to inflict fear and it will. Punishing one county sends a chilling message to the other 66. Orange County, with a requirement like Leon’s, could be next; the city of Gainesville dropped its vaccine mandate.

DeSantis is unmistakably discouraging people from being vaccinated against COVID-19 and frames it as an issue of personal freedom. Bunk. This pushes Florida closer to a police state run by a powerful central government, where DeSantis outlaws local mask mandates and bullies counties and school boards that challenge his dangerous, politically motivated policies. Disagree with DeSantis? You’ll pay a price.

Florida’s calculating governor picks targets with care. Even though the $5,000 penalty applies to businesses as well as governments, DeSantis has not acted against private companies. Disney, for example, requires vaccinations as a condition of employment. Why not punish Mickey? Because he’s big and powerful and likes Republicans. Selective enforcement.

The political tension between red and blue is no greater than in Florida’s capital city. Leon County’s government is literally across the street from the Capitol building, where Republicans repeatedly show contempt for local government with preemption laws that strip counties and cities of legitimate home rule authority.

Little Leon is too inviting a target for DeSantis’ red-meat wrath, and so far, this couldn’t have played itself out any better for him. Politically, Leon is a miniature version of Broward as a reliable source of Democratic votes. DeSantis got 36% of the Leon vote in 2018 against former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and the governor will get trounced there again in 2022. The reason it looks so partisan is that it is.

Leon County’s help wanted ads carry a disclaimer: “We are committed to providing a safe and healthy workplace for all our employees. Therefore, COVID-19 vaccines are required for both current and newly hired employees, unless a medical or religious accommodation has been approved.”

A simple, reasonable common-sense condition of employment will come at a steep price, if DeSantis has his way. The governor picked a fight with Leon. The county should give him one.

END