Editorial Roundup: Florida

Orlando Sentinel. February 6, 2022.

Editorial: One invoice’s reply to corruption: Extra secrecy

There was a time when Florida prided itself on essentially the most accessible public-records and open-meetings legal guidelines within the nation. However yearly, the Sunshine State will get just a little shadier, due to a unending flood of laws meant to lock governmental data away from the individuals these governments are presupposed to be representing.

This yr is not any totally different. Some unhealthy concepts that handed in earlier years are again for evaluate — together with one which took on ludicrous life as Florida schools and universities wrestled with a pandemic. Some unhealthy concepts which have did not go, yr after yr, are again as nicely. And as at all times, there are new assaults on the general public’s proper to know what their very own authorities is as much as.

Political Cartoons

There may be one, nonetheless, that’s extra harmful than any pro-secrecy laws we’ve seen in a very long time. If it passes, HB 1547/SB 1848 might tunnel new and secretive channels in Florida’s already corrupt marketing campaign finance system by hiding the names of big-money donors.

There’s a bitter irony right here. For the previous yr, information retailers throughout Florida, together with the Sentinel, have been making an attempt to pin down the sources, and paths, of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in “darkish cash” that flows by means of chains of obscure committees with innocuous names. Every time these streams of {dollars} mingle and separate, they wash away extra of the fingerprints of the unique donors. That makes it unimaginable to attach the upstream sources of the money to particular actions taken by teams which can be a number of steps eliminated — even when these teams push the boundaries of respectable and authorized habits.

However when Florida’s greatest company gamers — theme parks, utilities, big agricultural operations — dump hundreds of thousands into the dark-money pipelines, solely a idiot would consider they don’t have any particular targets in thoughts. Did they imply to underwrite one committee’s misleading meddling in three state Senate races? We might by no means know, although we’re nonetheless engaged on it. Did they intend for big quantities of this money to finally make its solution to committees affiliated with a lot of Florida’s prime elections officers? Nearly definitely.

As scandals performed out, requires the Legislature to do one thing about darkish cash grew louder.

Effectively, if these payments go, lawmakers can have performed one thing: They’ll have made the scenario a lot, a lot worse, by wrapping a cloak of secrecy across the names and different figuring out info of these big-money donors.

You learn that proper: These payments would make it even simpler to flood Florida’s election system with secretive money, hiding the names of donors from the general public and even from state companies which may suspect extra tangible corruption. Actually, any state worker who let donor info slip would face prison expenses.

“It’s nearly like cash laundering,” says Pamela Marsh, government director of Florida’s First Modification Basis and a former U.S. district legal professional. Moreover, she says, this laws is drafted to evade the part of the state structure that requires a two-thirds vote to approve new public-records exemptions.

We’d prefer to take consolation in understanding that neither the Home nor the Senate model of this laws has but to be heard in a committee. Nevertheless it might thrash into malignant life at any time. Voters ought to contact their lawmakers and demand that they defend the integrity of Florida elections with a “no” vote.

South Florida Solar Sentinel. February 4, 2022.

Editorial: ‘A recipe for catastrophe’ for voting by mail in Florida

What number of envelopes does it take to return a mail poll in Florida?

4, in keeping with the Senate’s newest scheme to frustrate the desire of Floridians who wish to vote by mail.

A secrecy envelope. A certificates envelope. A return mailing envelope. All tucked inside a fourth essential envelope. Now throw in complicated and sophisticated new necessities to be imposed on voters beneath the guise of stopping fraud, after essentially the most orderly election in Florida’s historical past, and you’ve got a recipe for catastrophe.

5 Republicans on the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voted for this intentionally clumsy and cumbersome system, and an analogous plan is being cooked up within the Florida Home, regardless of no proof of irregularities in voting by mail, which was the popular technique of voting by practically 5 million Floridians within the 2020 statewide election. The three Democrats on the committee voted towards.

Almost half these 2020 mail ballots, or 2.2 million, had been solid by Democrats, in comparison with 1.5 million solid by Republicans, and that’s what this newest politically motivated assault is about. Merely put, too many Democrats prefer to vote by mail in Florida.

Inside a kind of envelopes, beneath the proposed adjustments, each vote-by-mail voter must write down their driver’s license quantity, state ID quantity or the final 4 digits of their Social Safety quantity. Sure, in an age of rampant id theft, the state of Florida would drive individuals to ship their distinctive private identifiers by means of the mail, or else their vote received’t depend.

As Senate Invoice 524 says: “A vote-by-mail poll will likely be thought of unlawful and never be counted if the quantity offered doesn’t match a quantity within the supervisor’s data.”

What quantity within the supervisor’s data? you ask.

A sweeping overhaul the Legislature handed final yr, SB 90, the legislation that additionally cracks down on using drop containers, additionally requires the motive force’s license quantity or final 4 digits to be part of each voter’s file.

That info just isn’t on file for lots of older voters as a result of it wasn’t required on the time they first registered to vote. They’ve voted for many years with out issues, however now swiftly, they need to confirm their id once more.

As mail poll voters kind out which envelope is which, additionally they could be required to supply a kind of numbers for his or her votes to depend. They can’t be off by even a single digit, lest they danger their poll being tossed out. Throughout the state, election supervisors are deeply frightened about how badly this will end up, and a few privately inform us they concern the Legislature is intentionally establishing the system for failure.

It’s scary, and it’s pointless.

‘A recipe for catastrophe’

“A recipe for catastrophe” is what one supervisor predicts will occur if the availability turns into legislation.

That dire warning comes from Lake County’s Alan Hays, a former Republican senator, who informed senators he despatched notices to about 11,000 voters reminding them to supply the numbers, however solely about half responded, in a closely Republican county simply north of the I-4 hall in central Florida.

This proposed change would take impact Jan. 1, 2024, simply earlier than a statewide presidential desire major that certainly will appeal to DeSantis’ consideration.

The broader Republican technique right here is clear, and it’s to undermine religion in democracy by making a false narrative that voting by mail just isn’t reliable, regardless that a number of safeguards are in place, together with signature verification necessities, to guard the legitimacy of the depend.

What has captured extra consideration in Senate Invoice 524 is one other case of outrageous overreach.

It’s the creation, on the insistence of Gov. Ron DeSantis, of an Workplace of Election Crimes and Safety within the Division of State, staffed by non-sworn investigators, to probe “irregularities” concerning elections and subject complaints to a hotline.

As well as, a separate cadre of sworn and armed brokers within the Florida Division of Legislation Enforcement, appointed by DeSantis, would examine election crimes.

Pressed by senators, the invoice sponsor might not likely outline what “election irregularities” are. Does it embody pulling down an opponent’s indicators? Mendacity on a junk mail piece? Democrats concern, as all voters ought to, that the elections police drive might interact in partisan witch hunts and intimidate voters.

However 4 envelopes to submit one poll? The Publishers Clearing Home sweepstakes is so much easier.

Tampa Bay Instances. February 9, 2022.

Editorial: Is open authorities nonetheless the legislation in Florida?

So why is the state well being division blocking the discharge of public info?

The Florida Division of Well being undermined the battle towards COVID-19 by halting detailed experiences on the pandemic final June. That was strike one. Strike two is the division’s effort to scuttle a lawsuit that seeks to carry the state accountable for making that poor choice. It’s one other reminder of the place Gov. Ron DeSantis stands on open authorities.

Attorneys for the division filed a petition this month on the 1st District Courtroom of Attraction searching for to protect company officers from having to clarify why the state stopped releasing the experiences. The transfer was in response to a lawsuit filed in August by the Florida Middle for Authorities Accountability and state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, that seeks to acquire the data beneath Florida’s Public Data Legislation. (Instances Publishing Co. and a number of other different media retailers have intervened within the case in help of the plaintiffs.)

Smith and the nonprofit sued after the division denied requests for detailed, county-level experiences, together with COVID case counts and different metrics, that as much as June 4 had been posted day by day on a DOH web site. Of their lawsuit, the plaintiffs stated the state restricted the discharge of knowledge as a part of its plans to reopen the financial system, “portray the illusory image that the virus had been defeated.”

“Floridians have a direct want for entry to details about the virus and its influence on and unfold particularly communities,” the lawsuit states. “This info is important to the power of residents to grasp the dangers and make knowledgeable selections about their lives.”

That was true because the delta variant ripped by means of Florida, and it’s nonetheless true right now, because the omicron variant poses a seamless risk. But the state continues to tangle over the experiences and over the trouble to depose company officers to grasp how the choice happened. The information is especially useful for native authorities to determine COVID hot-spots and to focus on assets on the native stage. And it presents residents a fuller image of how the virus threatens them in their very own communities.

However the division doesn’t wish to present the data and even clarify itself. Leon County Circuit Choose John Cooper issued an order final month rejecting the division’s request for a protecting order to stop a deposition of a division consultant in regards to the company’s decision-making course of. The division contends it’s performing beneath its rulemaking authority; “(the rule) supplies, unambiguously, that the division has the authority to find out when the exception to the general public data exemption at situation needs to be utilized,” its petition to the appeals court docket claims. In his Jan. 3 order, Cooper rejected such arguments, citing the state constitutional assure of open authorities, and ruling that “solely the Legislature can create statutory exemptions from disclosure beneath the Public Data Act.”

The division’s actions are unhealthy coverage, unhealthy religion and unhealthy legislation. Why not give Floridians the data they should make extra knowledgeable well being selections? The place is DeSantis’ ordinary clamor about private freedom? And why are state officers making an attempt to dodge accountability for his or her selections?

The appeals court docket ought to put an finish to this nonsense, the earlier the higher. The general public wants well timed entry to this knowledge as a lot as the data itself.

Palm Seashore Submit. February 6, 2022.

Editorial: When cash talks louder than motive

The sugar cane {industry} continues to argue towards the plain, contending its open-burning, a harvesting technique to rid the stalks of outer leaves, causes no ill-effects.

Trade spokespeople say the burns make harvesting and replanting extra environment friendly, bolstering the financial system and serving to help as many as 12,000 jobs, in a area in any other case bereft of {industry} and employment, whereas producing greater than half the nation’s cane sugar.

As right now’s front-page article by Palm Seashore Submit reporter Hannah Morse demonstrates, the {industry} makes that argument not simply with phrases. Marketing campaign contributions flood small-town races within the Glades and state-level races the place legislators sweeten payments in Massive Sugar’s favor, payments that make it tough, for instance, for anybody to sue the businesses over alleged well being impacts of cane burning.

In Belle Glade Metropolis Fee races, which pulled in about $3,200 in contributions per candidate in 2018, three sugar industry-backed candidates pulled in additional than $15,000 every when the lawsuit laws was pending in 2021, a rise of 370%.

A lot of the cash these three candidates collected got here from the identical 28 people, committees and companies. “Agriculture pursuits represented the one largest pool of cash, making up about 40% of those contributions,” Morse reported.

The {industry} garners influential help. Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson and Metropolis Commissioner Joaquin Almazan, amongst others, traveled to Tallahassee to foyer for the payments.

Not passing these Proper to Farm Act provisions would decimate the Glades, Wilson asserted at a legislative listening to. “Farming and the sugar {industry} are key to the Glades group. It’s our No. 1 financial engine. And for those who cease that, belief me, you cease the group, a striving group.”

Wilson continued: “Do you assume the individuals within the Glades are that naive, they are going to put themselves, their relations, their youngsters in danger for the sake of {industry}?”

Steve Messam, a Belle Glade fee candidate who opposed open burning, in favor of inexperienced farming strategies utilized in Brazil and different cane-growing areas, discovered himself focused by a smear marketing campaign, demonized as an environmentalist Devil. “Steve Messam is a part of the Sierra Membership!” stated one mailer. “We don’t want Steve Messam and outsiders who wish to see our jobs and us go!”

The Submit Editorial Board has by no means advocated for eliminating the sugar {industry}, a lot much less agriculture. That could be a straw man propagated by the sugar {industry} and its advocates. As has been famous repeatedly, the difficulty is the alleged hurt to the general public and setting of harvesting sugar cane by means of burning. Halting that follow wouldn’t bankrupt the multibillion-dollar {industry}.

Messam did win help from the Sierra Membership however his fundraising saved tempo due to many small contributions from grassroots supporters. Nonetheless, he misplaced to Almazan by a lopsided margin of 60% to 40% within the March 2021 race, which drew all of 1,943 voters.

An investigative collaboration by The Palm Seashore Submit and ProPublica revealed that, whereas tens of hundreds of acres are burned yearly, the one state air air pollution sensor monitoring the Glades was damaged for years at a time, and environmental employees suggestions to conduct in-depth analyses had been ignored. Many residents reported bronchial asthma and different respiration troubles. Mother and father saved youngsters indoors on burn days.

A number of years in the past, after residents of wealthier Wellington to the east complained, the farms agreed to not burn when the wind blew in that path. Belle Glade residents get no such courtesy.

It ought to shock nobody that an {industry} would use political contributions to advance its agenda. Companies are individuals, too, the U.S. Supreme Courtroom tells us, and are inside their rights to “communicate” freely with cash to assemble like-minded residents to run the city and the state. And it’s no shock that many in an economically challenged area would be glad about sugar {industry} jobs and would somewhat avert eyes from the issue than confront a serious employer.

Nonetheless, it’s painful to observe the clouds of “black snow” unfold over the sugar cane fields. Understanding that the cane smoke drifts into the identical largely Black and Hispanic communities the place low-income harvesters increase households makes it all of the extra troubling. So does understanding that the open flames, burning 40 acres at a time, pour a heavy load of carbon and particulates into an environment already overloaded with climate-altering pollution.

Right here in Palm Seashore County, it’s enterprise as ordinary, although. When cash speaks louder than motive, who speaks for the individuals of Belle Glade?

Miami Herald. February 3, 2022.

Editorial: Within the abortion debate, Florida Republicans inform rape and incest victims ‘powerful luck’

There was a time when males who had been anti-abortion didn’t hassle to cover their lack of empathy for girls who find yourself pregnant as the results of rape or incest.

One man, a Missouri Republican lawmaker, as soon as talked about “consensual rape.” One other alluded to “reliable rape” and stated ladies had the organic capability to stop a being pregnant after they had been sexually assaulted.

The blokes have wised up and shut up. In Florida, feminine lawmakers are sponsoring a proposed 15-week abortion ban — and have the nerve to border a invoice advancing in Tallahassee as professional ladies and sexual-assault survivors.

Of their newest show of rhetorical gymnastics, a Florida Senate committee on Wednesday rejected an modification to supply an exemption in Senate Invoice 146 for pregnancies that outcome from rape, incest and human trafficking. Democratic Sen. Lauren Ebook, a survivor of sexual abuse, proposed the modification. She stated it was wanted to stop additional trauma for girls and ladies.

It’s a foul search for a lawmaker to inform pregnant victims of such horrific crimes “powerful luck,” so sponsor Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, tried to border Ebook’s modification as anti-victim and pro-criminal. She stated it could go away room for perpetrators to drive an abortion to cowl up their crime. Offering survivors a little bit of aid after a horrific expertise doesn’t even look like a consideration.

“I believe this modification does nothing to unravel the issues that all of us agree are terrible — rape, human trafficking, incest — and I’ll associate with you to battle these crimes and I’ll associate with you to take the people who find themselves doing that to those youngsters to the furthest extent of the legislation,” Stargel stated, the Related Press reported.

Her fellow Republicans went together with this farce, understanding totally nicely that anti-abortion activists, from the start, pressured lawmakers to go away exemptions for rape and incest out of abortion laws. Stargel then stated victims would nonetheless be capable to get an abortion within the first 15 weeks of being pregnant — how good of her! — which might be calculated from the primary day of a lady’s final menstrual interval. That’s too unhealthy for girls and ladies with irregular durations and who can go months with out menstruating.

Republicans who voted to advance the invoice Wednesday ignored testimony from a health care provider about an 11-year-old woman impregnated by a member of the family and who wasn’t in a position to see a health care provider till the twenty third week of being pregnant. It doesn’t take a lot widespread sense to conclude that sexual-assault survivors, particularly youngsters and teenagers, usually are too afraid to hunt assist, a lot much less to inform somebody {that a} relative is abusing them they usually’re pregnant.

Maybe it was straightforward for lawmakers to dismiss that testimony as a result of that physician works for Deliberate Parenthood, the GOP’s favourite punching bag on the difficulty of abortion. Regardless, lawmakers should reply this query: What sense of morality justifies forcing an 11-year-old to provide start to a toddler by her father, brother, uncle or different blood relative?

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