Editorial Roundup: Florida

Palm Beach Post. October 26, 2021.

Editorial: Florida Senate must reject Dr. Ladapo confirmation

In Dr. Joseph Ladapo, Gov. Ron DeSantis not only hired a hardline sycophant but found a miscreant of a medical professional who apparently doesn’t care about an individual’s health. His recent visit with State Sen. Tina Polsky should be reason enough for the Florida Senate to reject his confirmation as the state’s next surgeon general.

Ladapo had scheduled to meet the senator as part of his confirmation process. The short version of what happened next is that Polsky had asked him and his aides to don masks because of her medical condition. They refused and were asked to leave. The uglier version: a reportedly “smug” Ladapo telling the senator, “That’s OK,” when she repeatedly told him she wasn’t comfortable speaking to him without a mask. As he left, she said, he told her: “Sometimes I try to reason with unreasonable people for fun.”

You don’t have to be a doctor to know to don a mask when asked by a person with a serious medical condition; Any decent human would do it.

Polsky later revealed she had breast cancer, a diagnosis that puts patients at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. If you think this was just a crass political play by Polsky, ask yourself: Would Ladapo wear a mask if the governor’s wife, who also has breast cancer, requested it? You’d better believe he would.

The affront became national news and Ladapo’s office initially confirmed the meeting but denied the “unreasonable people” comment. On Tuesday he issued a statement on Twitter that was neither an apology nor a credible explanation. “Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist,” he wrote. “It is important to me to communicate clearly and effectively with people. I can’t do that when half of my face is covered.”

His office declined to tell a reporter whether he’d even been inoculated for COVID. “It’s private,” an aide told Politico.

“What occurred in Sen. Polsky’s office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate,” Senate President Wilton Simpson wrote in an Oct. 23 memo to senators and professional staff. “While there is no mask mandate in the Senate, senators and staff can request social distancing and masking within their own offices. If visitors to the Senate fail to respect these requests, they will be asked to leave.”

We thought the previous surgeon general, Dr. Scott Rivkees, was problematic only because he became a figurehead. Early on during the pandemic, he was unceremoniously escorted out of a cabinet meeting and was ultimately replaced for advocating social distancing. We didn’t think a worse replacement could be found.

Boy, were we wrong.

Florida surgeon general backs DeSantis

As the state’s top health official, Dr. Ladapo should be leading the charge in promoting public health and addressing the pandemic that has surpassed 3.6 million cases and 58,000 deaths in Florida. Instead he’s been a pit bull for a governor whose political aspirations have turned the once venerable health department into an agency that seems more interested in opposing sensible initiatives that could stem the the virus.

In his short stint, Dr. Ladapo has criticized the efficacy of COVID vaccines, accused the public health community of scientific dishonesty and backed the governor’s call for a special session to craft laws to fight federal vaccine mandates. He’s gone after the governor’s opponents, particularly Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner-turned Democratic candidate for governor. His health department fined Leon County $3.5 million for violating a ban on vaccine mandates and passed an emergency rule that emphasizes parental choice over school COVID-19 protocols.

Gov. DeSantis has until 2023 to submit Ladapo’s name to the senate, giving the good doctor time to do more damage to public health and anyone who wishes he’d wear a mask. Senate President Simpson took the first step. He, or his successor, must go further and lead the Senate to reject Ladapo’s confirmation.

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Orlando Sentinel. October 22, 2021.

Editorial: Florida politicians suddenly like protesters who threaten, intimidate school board members

Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins made national headlines recently, describing a campaign of harassment and threats of violence over her position that students should wear masks during the pandemic.

She’s not alone. School boards across Florida and the nation are facing loud, unruly crowds at meetings, threats on social media and protesters who gather in front of board members’ homes.

Protests are a fundamental American right, whether they’re directed at police for brutality against Black people or at school board members over their decisions on masks.

Parents absolutely have a right to voice their displeasure over mask mandates.

They don’t have the right to use weedkiller to etch obscenities into a school board member’s lawn, or make phony child abuse claims about a board member’s kid. And they don’t have the right to threaten someone’s well-being because they don’t like how an elected official voted.

That’s what Jenkins said happened to her.

“I don’t reject people coming here and speaking their voice, they do it all the time,” Jenkins said at the Oct. 12 School Board meeting. “We don’t stop them from doing that. I don’t reject them standing outside my home. I reject them following me around in a car, following my car around. I reject them saying that they’re ‘coming for me,’ that I need to ‘beg for mercy.’”

If state leaders were acting in good faith, the would defend the right to protest and denounce threats and intimidation directed at elected officials.

That’s not what’s happening.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had zero tolerance for protesters in 2020 when the cause was racism and police brutality, is giving a full-throated defense to protesters targeting school boards in 2021.

DeSantis is not only ignoring the threats being made against board members he’s declared he’s not going to lift a finger to help the Department of Justice, which is drawing attention to the threats of violence against school boards stemming from controversies over masks and critical race theory. The governor, unsurprisingly, is falsely claiming the feds are targeting everyday parents merely expressing their opinions. No, governor, it’s targeting people who make illegal threats.

Siding with the governor are legislators like state Rep. Randy Fine, who published Jenkins’ personal cellphone number on his Facebook page in late July, and followed that up with a Facebook live post where he urged his 37,000 followers to call Jenkins, saying, “I encourage you to melt those lines down.”

Ironically, Fine’s call to action against the School Board member has him facing a criminal complaint, brought by Jenkins, alleging “cyberintimidation,” which is illegal under the so-called “anti-riot” law that Fine and other Republicans introduced earlier this year.

That law made it a first-degree misdemeanor to publish someone’s personal information, like a phone number, with the intent that someone else will “threaten or harass the person, placing such person in reasonable fear of bodily harm.”

When Fine isn’t painting a target on Jenkins’ back, he’s questioning her honesty. He recently demanded on Facebook to see the police reports of vandalism at Jenkins’ home and wrote that he suspects “it’s all fabricated.”

Good thing we have newspapers and not just lazy, self-serving politicians firing off Facebook posts. Florida Today on Thursday published an article detailing the police reports of vandalism, a fake child abuse allegation and neighbors of Jenkins’ who said they’ve seen protesters brandishing firearms.

It’s one thing for protesters to go beyond the bounds of the law, but it’s another thing when state and national elected officials are egging them on, which is what we’re seeing.

Leaders of the state House and Senate would never stand for the kind of disorder they seem to now think is perfectly fine at School Board meetings, where people refuse to follow rules requiring they speak in turn and wear face masks.

Both the state chambers outline specific rules of decorum that empower the House speaker and the Senate president to clear the chambers if they feel the need. When the Brevard School Board did that recently after a meeting got out of control, Fine filed a criminal charge alleging a Sunshine Law violation.

Never mind that the state Legislature conducted most of this year’s lawmaking session outside of the public’s presence, ostensibly because of COVID restrictions.

The hypocrisy of these politicians is enough to induce a bout of vertigo.

Imagine these politicians who are so vigorously defending school board protests in this year doing the same last year when Floridians took to the streets to protest the police brutality that cost George Floyd his life. Instead, their response to the Floyd protests was to pass a law so sweeping that even people who don’t riot could face arrest for rioting.

But today’s mask protesters are singing a tune more to the politicians’ liking, so now protests — even when they turn ugly — are suddenly a good thing.

Which is it?

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Tampa Bay Times. October 24, 2021.

Editorial: A Florida school punishes students for getting a COVID vaccination

That was one of the lows in the this weeks roundup of hits and misses from Tampa Bay and beyond.

Inflaming COVID fears. The U.S. has three authorized vaccines against COVID-19, but none against misinformation. That painful truth was underscored recently after a Miami private school made news again with another mind-boggling COVID policy. In April, the Centner Academy, a nearly 300-student school from Pre-K to eighth grade, warned staff not to take the vaccine and announced that those who did would risk losing their jobs. Now the school is raising alarms about child vaccinations just as the U.S. prepares to authorize vaccines for those aged 5 to 11. As the Miami Herald reports, the school notified parents last week they’d have to keep their children home for 30 days if they receive the vaccination. David Centner, who founded the school with his wife, Leila Centner, in 2019, called the policy “a prudent precautionary measure after much thoughtful deliberation” aimed at easing parental fears. But the COVID vaccine does not make a person infectious. And as experts note, suggesting so could dissuade skeptics from getting the potentially-lifesaving jab. Yet another irresponsible move as Florida tries to turn the corner.

Guilty plea in Parkland. The families of the victims were graced with one shred of relief this week when Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to murder in the 2018 high school massacre in Parkland that left 17 dead. Cruz, 23, was charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder in the Feb. 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School outside Ft. Lauderdale. A penalty trial will determine if Cruz will receive a sentence of death or life in prison without parole, and juror screening is scheduled to begin next month. We’ll leave it to the attorneys, judge and jury to ably manage the penalty phase. But at least for now, the pleading spares those closest to the tragedy a huge emotional toll. Their loss will never go away, but here’s at least one fewer time they will have to relive it.

Told you it was nice. The national media are getting wise to an open secret: Tampa Bay’s a great place to retire. The metropolitan area landed as the sixth best place to retire in America, according to new rankings by U.S. News and World Report. The company evaluated the 150 most populous metropolitan areas in the U.S., including Puerto Rico, for 2021-22, and measured six indexes, from housing affordability and taxes to the quality of health care. U.S. News credits the Tampa Bay metro as a “diverse region,” offering everything from “a thriving Hispanic community” in Tampa to the fine arts in St. Petersburg and the Clearwater beaches. “Residents of the Tampa Bay area enjoy both a laid-back beach lifestyle and the amenities of a large metropolitan area,” the publication notes. The distinction is a reflection of the many varied reasons that people are attracted to Tampa Bay. And with eight of the top 10-ranked retirement spots located in Florida, it’s also a reminder of the need to remain competitive in the Sunshine State.

Thanksgiving returns. Before COVID, retailers had all but bombed Thanksgiving into submission. Who wants a sit-down dinner with the family when laptops and baby dolls are half priced? But major retailers like Best Buy and Target announced recently they will again close on Thanksgiving Day this year, in what could be a long-term reshaping of the Thanksgiving/Black Friday marathon. Many retailers closed last Thanksgiving out of pandemic-related public health concerns. This year, hiccups in the supply chain and a shortage of workers has also taken its toll. Companies recognize that Americans’ buying habits are changing. And while the Thanksgiving scrum was for many part of the experience, it also became a tiring, stressful and artificial way of attracting customers and moving products. The good news is that Americans can relax, nap and have that second helping. The bad news is that their Uncle Billy may still be there.

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South Florida Sun Sentinel. October 22, 2021.

Editorial: On insurance, it’s time for Florida to try something new

Florida’s state-run property insurer of last resort faces a crisis.

What else is new?

Florida has no helpful ideas for this crisis.

What else is new?

In fact, Florida has no helpful ideas for the wider crisis of rising property insurance rates by all companies.

What else is new?

Barry Gilway is CEO of that last-resort insurer, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. This month, he told a Florida House panel that the state’s property insurance industry faces “a sea of red ink” because of all the coverage it has been writing. Citizens had 708,000 policies as of Sept. 30, about 200,000 more than last year. The supposedly last-resort carrier is Florida’s largest property insurance company.

Obviously, it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. But it’s happened before with Citizens, and it will happen again.

Florida’s property insurance market has not been normal since 1992, when Hurricane Andrew tore through southern Miami-Dade County. Companies such as Allstate and State Farm, which had competed for business by cutting premiums, shed hundreds of thousands of policies.

Since then, governors of both parties and state legislators have done favors for the insurance industry. Among them:

— Creating, along with Citizens, state-subsidized reinsurance, which carriers buy to protect themselves against big losses. Everyone in Florida who buys hurricane coverage pays into the fund;

— Exempting perils from required coverage. Companies now basically don’t have to cover damage from mold and sinkholes;

— Offering incentives to state-based startup insurers. When the national firms began bolting, legislators saw homegrown alternatives as the answer;

— Allowing companies to seek rate increases of up to 15 percent without a full rate hearing. Last year, there were 105 rate filings with the Office of Insurance Regulation. Fifty-five of them were for more than 10 percent.

Again this year, Tallahassee claimed to have found the solution: Make it easier for companies to deny claims when they suspect fraud. Make it easier to push homeowners out of Citizens and into more expensive private coverage.

If that sounds like a solution devised by the insurance industry, you’re right. The bill sponsor was Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. He’s in the insurance business. He’s chairman of the Banking and Insurance Committee.

Gov. DeSantis said the law will “give consumers more opportunities to have policies that are affordable and that will protect them from whatever Mother Nature throws our way.” Boyd said it will take between 12 and 18 months for the changes to “filter through the system.”

Then rates will come down? Don’t bet on it. The insurance industry always has an excuse.

Despite that state reinsurance fund, companies claim that they still have to buy private reinsurance, rates for which are unregulated. Even when Florida has quiet hurricane seasons, the companies say disasters elsewhere are driving up their costs. The new thing is requiring homeowners to replace roofs that might be less than 20 years old but which insurers consider inadequate.

Only once has Tallahassee stood up to the insurance industry. That happened during a special session in January 2007. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist said he wanted rates to “drop like a rock.” Then-House Speaker Marco Rubio agreed.

Legislators made significant changes, over the industry’s objections. Analysts stated that the changes, if the Legislature kept them in place, would have brought rates down and kept companies solvent.

But that attitude change didn’t last. Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, sits on the committee that heard Gilway’s presentation. Jenne first went to Tallahassee in 2007. Those changes from 14 years ago, he said, “have been rooted out.”

The result, Jenne said, is a potential “economic crisis that not enough people are keeping an eye on.” That crisis could have “dire ramifications for the state, especially South Florida.”

Anyone with a mortgage must have property insurance. If coverage becomes unaffordable for all but the wealthy, Florida’s real estate market could suffer. Rising costs for hurricane insurance come as some homeowners find that they must buy flood insurance or pay more for their flood policies.

During that committee hearing, Jenne asked, “Should we be trying something new?” Well, yeah.

Florida could require insurers operating here to write all lines of coverage, not just lucrative auto policies. Florida could require that companies pass along savings from anti-fraud legislation to customers. The industry would fiercely oppose such consumer-minded bills.

And Florida could join with other disaster-prone states and urge Congress to create national catastrophic insurance. That’s Jenne’s preferred option to spread risk to a larger pool.

But Tallahassee, where lobbyists rule, remains stuck on insurance reform that doesn’t offend the insurance industry. What else is new?

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Miami Herald. October 27, 2021.

Editorial: ‘Bats--t insane.’ Florida attorney general’s own lawyers gave early warning of worse to come

It was strangely refreshing to hear the words that appellate lawyers in the office of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody used, in newly released emails, to describe the desperate attempt by the Texas attorney general to overturn the results of the 2020 election by suing four swing states in 2020.

“Weird,” said one.

“Bats--t insane,” wrote another.

Honesty. Wow. We’d forgotten what that sounds like in Florida, with Ron DeSantis as our governor and his patron, Donald Trump, lurking in the wings.

Not that the lawyers were offering those assessments publicly. They were discussing the case in emails that wouldn’t have seen the light of day except that they were obtained by American Oversight, a progressive-leaning group that requests public records from governments, and then published by the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau.

And not that their words made any difference at the time. A day after the lawyers had that discussion, Moody signed Florida up to support that very same lawsuit. Because no claim is too extreme, no lawsuit too ridiculous for Florida if there’s the potential for a GOP win or a chance to placate Trump.

OVERTURN THE ELECTION

The suit was filed on the flimsiest of legal grounds. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin in December 2020 claiming that voting “irregularities” in those states had harmed Texas. He wanted the legislatures in the four states — all Republican controlled, of course — to decide how their state voted in the Electoral College. (Joe Biden won all four states.)

The suit immediately got national attention — and was just as quickly called a waste of tax dollars. The lawyers in Moody’s office — they worked for the solicitor general, within the Florida attorney general’s office — were alerted to it by an email from Evan Ezray, deputy solicitor general. He said it was “interesting” that the case didn’t appear to be coming from Texas’ solicitor general’s office.

Christopher Baum, senior deputy solicitor general in Florida, called the case “bats--t insane, which is why (Texas’ solicitor general) is not on it.”

Another lawyer, Chief Deputy Solicitor General James Percival, wondered how one state could make that kind of claim against another — that they are being harmed by another state’s “unconstitutional” vote. Couldn’t that open up all sorts of election litigation, Baum wondered: “So Massachusetts has standing to sue Mississippi for illegally gerrymandered districts?”

You can almost hear them shaking their heads in disbelief.

COURT REJECTS CASE

It’s unclear if Moody consulted with the lawyers but if she did, she ignored them. The next day she co-signed a brief, with 16 other Republican attorneys general, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear Texas’ case. She tweeted with great solemnity and, apparently, a straight face: “The integrity and resolution of the 2020 election is of paramount importance.”

But two days after Moody signed on, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

This week, Moody spokesperson Lauren Cassedy dismissed the comments, published in a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times story, as “water cooler conversation by a few employees.” She also insisted there was “strong legal analysis” to support the need for a Supreme Court hearing.

Nice try. And yet the Supreme Court apparently didn’t agree. And neither did those lawyers who, we should note, made their comments even before supporters of Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in a much worse and more horrifying attempt to overturn the election. In retrospect, their words look like an early warning system we should have heard.

“Bats--t insane?” Oh yes, and then some.

END