Editorial Roundup: Florida

Orlando Sentinel. September 12, 2022.

Editorial: Our schools have problems. Bathrooms aren’t among them

In a functioning Florida Legislature, state Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) would be an outlier.

In this Florida Legislature, he’s dangerously mainstream.

Like Republicans in other states, Florida lawmakers claim that public education’s main problem is not a shortage of teachers and bus drivers or helping students who fell behind during the pandemic. No, the problem is school districts forcing an LGTBQ agenda on children and parents.

The Legislature passed the so-called “don’t say gay” bill (HB 1557) to address that imaginary problem. A similar law (HB 7) prohibits teachers from discussing race while mentioning racism. No evidence supported either bill. They are more contrived grievances — the fuel of Republican campaigns.

Randy Fine didn’t stop when the session ended. He remains unburdened by facts.

The lawmaker sent a letter Aug. 11 to Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz, asking the department to investigate “an alleged sexual assault between a ‘transgender girl’ and another girl” at Johnson Middle School in Melbourne. Fine said the attack occurred in a bathroom.

The attacker, Fine claimed, had been “taking advantage of the open bathrooms policy” advocated by Brevard School Board members Misty Belford and Jennifer Jenkins. Fine has feuded with both board members, especially over their support for a mask requirement. Fine has called Jenkins a “whore.”

That word again: ‘Woke’

Because Belford and Jenkins were under pressure “to justify their ‘woke’ open bathrooms police,” Fine wrote, “I have zero confidence that this alleged assault will be investigated openly.” He warned that “politicians and bureaucrats are already working overtime” to resist any investigation.

School district officials denied the claims. There was no record of a complaint. Fine said only that “multiple parents” had approached him.

Several days ago, after a three-week investigation, Melbourne Police said it found “no evidence” to support Fine’s assault claim. Rather than acknowledge that he was wrong, Fine pivoted.

His letter, Fine claimed in an email exchange with the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board, “exposed a cover-up of a ‘transgender’ sexual assault.”

How can there be a cover-up of an incident that didn’t happen?

Fine then stated that the parents “had the wrong school.” The “sexual assault,” he said, happened at Space Coast High School.

Fine added, “That’s what happens when parents ask questions to their school district about a ‘transgender’ sexual assault they’ve heard about, the bureaucrats refuse to tell them anything, and parents start talking to each other.”

False on two counts

But that second “sexual assault” claim also is false. Sheriff’s investigators found insufficient evidence for criminal charges related to the incident at the high school.

We asked Fine why he sent the letter to Diaz without checking on which school he was talking about. Fine responded, “Since you aren’t bright enough to understand what’s pretty straightforward, I’ll stop wasting my time.”

Ideally, Melbourne Police would bill Fine for the wasted three weeks. His 2019 financial disclosure showed a net worth of $24 million. He can afford it.

The wider problem is that Fine embodies the ongoing strategy by Republican politicians nationwide to discredit public education. A recent Gallup poll showed that 14% of Republicans have “a great deal or quite a lot of confidence” in public schools. That’s down 20 points in two years.

The GOP campaign is based on lies. Polls show support for not teaching about gender identity in grades K-3, a key part of the “don’t say gay” law — but no such teaching was taking place.

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Miami Herald. September 12, 2022.

Editorial: Is a fetus a ‘person’? A fringe idea could be the next post-Roe v. Wade chapter

A pregnant woman walks into an emergency room experiencing a miscarriage, or she gives birth to a stillborn. Someone becomes suspicious and notifies police. They want to know: Is the woman at fault? Everything she’s done during her pregnancy comes under scrutiny. Did she take any drugs or medication? Did she research abortions on the internet?

A “pro-life” prosecutor decides to make her a pariah. She might face criminal charges, child endangerment or, worst-case scenario, manslaughter or murder if prosecutors believe she intended to end her pregnancy.

This is a dystopian scenario — what could happen if anti-abortion zealots take their positions to an extreme. And it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Abortion-rights groups fear the next frontier in the fight to take away reproductive rights is to grant fetuses “personhood” status. Anti-abortion groups such as Americans United for Life are pushing for a federal executive order that would recognize “preborn persons as constitutional ‘persons’ ” entitled to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio recently introduced the ‘’Unborn Child Support Act,” which would grant child-support payments to women “at any stage of development” of a pregnancy. The legislation appears to be a way to make fetal personhood more palatable to Americans.

In Florida, the “Human Life Protection Amendment” is trying to put fetal personhood on the 2024 ballot. The proposed amendment to the state Constitution would create a “God-given right to life of the preborn individual.” The citizen initiative recently cleared its first hurdle but still needs almost 900,000 petition signatures to make it on the ballot. Voters would have to give it 60% approval for final passage. It’s a long shot this will ever happen.

Fortunately, polls have shown broad support for abortion rights in Florida, and voters in other states have rejected similar ballot initiatives. But this is an example of the extremes to which the anti-abortion movement can go without Roe v. Wade — struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in June — and it’s the type of next step that could pick up steam in conservative state legislatures, as it has in Georgia and Arizona.

The rationale goes that, if life begins at conception, then ending a pregnancy is no different than murder. This might seem like a fringe belief to most Americans. But, until just a few months ago, banning abortions with no exception for rape and incest was also a fringe idea. Yet here we are: Florida now bans abortions after 15 weeks without those exceptions, and many other states have done so as well.

Mark Minck, chairman of Protect Human Life Florida, the group sponsoring the proposed constitutional amendment, told the Herald Editorial Board he wants to fix what he believes is an inconsistency in state law. Florida law says the killing of “an unborn child” by injuring the mother “shall be deemed murder in the same degree” as if the mother had been killed. Yet women who voluntarily end a pregnancy are exempt.

If approved by voters, the proposal would effectively ban abortions at any stage of a pregnancy, according to Caroline Mala Corbin, a University of Miami School of Law professor who specializes in reproductive rights.

While the proposed amendment makes an exception “to save the life of the mother,” it also requires “reasonable steps to save the life of the preborn individual.” Whatever “reasonable” means could create a chilling effect among doctors fearful of their medical judgment being second-guessed, putting women’s lives at risk.

The proposal also makes an exception for “spontaneous miscarriage, or spontaneous fetal demise.” This is considered the most common type of pregnancy loss, often occurring because the fetus isn’t developing normally. But, Corbin explained, when a fetus is considered a person, that opens the door for any miscarriage to be investigated as a possible abortion or as neglect by the mother.

Could a woman be charged with child endangerment if she took, for example, aspirin, some types of antidepressant or any medication that doctors advise against during pregnancy? It’s uncharted territory.

CHARGES OF ‘FETICIDE’

Between the 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court ruling and 2020, the nonprofit National Advocates for Pregnant Women documented more than 1,700 instances across the country in which women were “arrested, prosecuted, convicted, detained, or forced to undergo medical interventions because of their pregnancy status or outcomes.” Those women were disproportionately Black and brown and usually poor.

In 2012, an Indiana woman faced feticide charges after she attempted suicide while pregnant. Last year, an Alabama woman faced felony charges for taking prescription medication for debilitating back pain while pregnant. The charges were later dropped. Many others have been charged for drug use during pregnancy, according to the NAPW.

At least 11 states have “extremely broad” fetal personhood language on the books, according to the NAPW. Most of these laws were passed while abortion rights were protected in the Constitution. They were mostly symbolic, but with that protection gone, questions arise on how these laws can be applied, NAPW acting Executive Director Dana Sussman told the Editorial Board.

Georgia is about to test that. Under the state’s abortion ban, a fetus is considered a person after cardiac activity is detected, roughly at six weeks, making it eligible for child support and state income tax exemptions.

A similar law in Arizona was put on hold by a court pending a lawsuit by abortion rights groups who argue that women and doctors could be exposed to charges of child abuse if a pregnant woman undergoes medical procedures that can harm a fertilized egg.

Think of a pregnant woman with cancer. Would she be forced to hold off on chemotherapy? Corbin said that’s unclear under Florida’s proposed constitutional amendment.

Also think of in-vitro fertilization, a popular method to help couples conceive that often involves disposing of unused, fertilized eggs. Could IVF be criminalized?

Criminalizing the actions of women and medical providers seems to be at the core of “personhood” measures. It’s surreal that such extreme ideas could gain traction in Florida and the United States, but we dismiss these efforts at our own risk.

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Tampa Bay Times. September 13, 2022.

Editorial: Are Florida prison guards essential or not?

Florida has chronic shortages because the state won’t pay for this core public service

In Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Florida, we’re hiring soldiers to work as prison guards and former cops to work as teachers. The reason is simple: We’re not paying our guards or teachers enough to retain who we need. These are not plug-and-play professions. The state should get serious about its priorities.

State lawmakers approved a request last week from the Department of Corrections to free up $31.25 million that, at least in part, will pay the costs of deploying Florida National Guard members to prisons. The agency’s CFO told legislative leaders the money would be used to pay up to 300 guard members to be deployed to prisons until July.

Guard members will help with several jobs including securing prison perimeters and issuing supplies to inmates, which should free up more correctional officers to move into the prison compounds to serve in direct contact with inmates. The guard expects to have enough volunteers to fulfill the correction department’s request. Guard volunteers will be paid for the work. The plan will also allow the department to “contract with Florida county facilities for additional staffing” if necessary.

This Band-Aid is no substitute for a real strategy to adequately staff Florida’s prisons, where low pay, high officer turnover and deteriorating facilities have for years posed a danger to inmates and correctional workers alike. As the News Service of Florida reported, lawmakers have approved pay raises and hiring bonuses for corrections workers over the past year, hiking starting pay from $16.40 to $20 per hour for officers and offering retention-pay increases of up to $2,500 for employees who remain on the job. Officials say that hiring is currently moving “in the right direction,” but the department has a 24% employee vacancy rate statewide — rates at some facilities are higher — and more than 4,000 positions remain unfilled.

This crisis has been in full view for years, and now this neglect of duty has fallen on the guard. The response mirrors the same gimmick that Florida is using to fill thousands of vacant teaching positions. The governor announced in August he wanted incentives to create an easier path for retired law enforcement officers and other first responders to enter the teaching field. A smarter strategy would be to recognize that a teacher deficit nationwide means that a state that ranks 48th in the nation in average teacher salaries needs to start paying teachers what they’re worth.

DeSantis has bragged for months as he seeks reelection about Florida’s record $21.8 billion surplus in the 2021-22 fiscal year. But he’s scraping for teachers and prison guards, as if education and public safety were not essential public services. The state should be paying guards adequately for this dangerous work, and longer term, looking to curb the prison pipeline and the need to operate so many of these costly facilities. Turning to the guard seems like another exercise in buying time while continuing to fund Florida on the cheap.

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South Florida Sun Sentinel. September 11, 2022.

Editorial: Rick Scott’s reckless spending finally catches up with him

As a first-time U.S. Senate candidate four years ago, Rick Scott said he’d go to Washington to shake up the system — not to make friends.

He was true to his word. He shook things up, all right, and he has no friends in sight.

Scott’s botched handling of the Senate Republican fund-raising operation has all the earmarks of a disaster in the making. If Republicans don’t regain a Senate majority in November, Scott will bear all the blame — as he should.

As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Scott’s tactical mistake was to refuse to take sides in Republican primaries. That enabled Donald Trump to flex his cult-like grip over his party’s base and play kingmaker in key races.

The resulting freak show should surprise no one.

Rick Scott’s guys

Because of his refusal to pick sides, Trump’s guys are now Scott’s guys.

In the battleground state of Pennsylvania, Republicans offer Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor who mocked Democratic opponent John Fetterman for suffering a stroke and has been pilloried on social media as both effete and a New Jersey carpetbagger.

In Ohio, a MAGA maniac, J.D. Vance, endorsed the policies of brutal Hungarian dictator Viktor Orban, only one example in a long string of ever-further rightward stances. As a result, Ohio is in tossup territory after being reliably Republican for several electoral cycles.

In Georgia, former football star Herschel Walker criticized absentee dads, then acknowledged he’s the father of at least two more children. He also claimed he graduated in the top 1% of his class at the University of Georgia, but he never actually graduated. He has outrageously exaggerated his business “successes.” The list goes on.

This deeply flawed field is the best Senate Republicans have, and the incumbents are no better. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson wants to end Medicare and Social Security as entitlement programs and make these lifelines subject to annual whims of senators. “Ron Johnson’s going to win,” Scott told Fox News.

Let that sink in, voters in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Scott, whose state trails only California in Medicare and Social Security recipients, is promoting the re-election of a senator who would put those programs at risk for millions of his Florida constituents — many suffering from cancer, dementia or heart disease.

A record burn rate

Scott hired a team of former Trump consultants who built a massive digital fund-raising operation, then burned through nearly all of their $181 million haul, forcing the NRSC to scrap scheduled TV ad buys.

The question all over D.C. is, what did Scott do with all that money?

The spending spree and its money-grubbing use of text messages to juice fund-raising is documented by The New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher. The Times said the NRSC spent $225,000 alone on Google ads featuring Scott, which raises questions of motives because of his presidential aspirations.

With the NRSC cupboard bare, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who’s in the fight of his life against Democrat Val Demings, is reduced to panhandling on Fox. A two-term incumbent grovels for cash on TV while his in-state colleague controls fund-raising for GOP Senate candidates.

Facing a torrent of criticism, Scott whined about leaks and anonymous sources undercutting him and the NRSC (Welcome to Washington, Senator). He wrote an op-ed for the conservative website the Washington Examiner, blasting Republicans who “secretly (or not so secretly) loathe Republican voters,” but named no names.

“If you want to trash-talk our candidates to help the Democrats, pipe down,” Scott wrote. “That’s not what leaders do.”

Leaders?

The screed was clearly aimed at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., but true to form, Scott denied that his nemesis McConnell was the target.

McConnell had goaded Scott, telling a Chamber of Commerce group in Kentucky that Republicans are more likely to retake the House than the Senate and that one reason is “candidate quality.”

With Scott’s credibility tanking, critics found another opening. He vacationed on a luxury yacht in Italy after criticizing President Biden for taking time off in Delaware. Scott said he and his wife Ann took the excursion to mark their 50th wedding anniversary.

Scott is no stranger to the sea. He never misses a chance to promote that he’s a veteran, appearing in those Google ads in his Navy cap.

The optics are perfect. After all, the senator spends money like a drunken sailor.

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