Florida editorial roundup
Posted November 23
Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The Miami Herald on climate change and South Florida:
In a way, it's a shame that President-elect Donald Trump's resort here is located in Doral, rather than Miami Beach. If his property were closer to the water, we might be able to say: Welcome to our world, Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump said during the campaign that climate change is a hoax. But no amount of denial can shield those of us who live and work here, or visitors, from the visible impact of rising seas. Flooded streets are not a hoax. Just ask the folks in Miami Beach, who have to navigate underwater neighborhoods with increasing frequency.
But don't feel too smug if your home or business (or golf course) is located safely on the mainland. The rising water is coming your way — to Doral and to every other part of Florida close to the ocean. Even in a post-truth world, as some have called the new era of make-believe "information," only the most obtuse would deny that the long-feared effects of climate change have arrived in our peninsular paradise.
This is our today, our everyday reality, our future. The question is whether we fight it — and how — or whether we ignore it. For most of us, denial is not an option. Local governments are on board. How could they not be? At the state level, Gov. Rick Scott seems like a lost cause. He won't even let state agencies employ the phrase "climate change."
But the federal government is the most important force in shaping environmental policy and climate change strategy. That's where broad national standards are created, where national policy is set and where policies can have the most widespread and lasting impact. It's where the nation sets an example for the rest of the planet. And, yes, it's where the money is.
As a candidate, Mr. Trump could afford a wink-and-nod approach to climate change. As president, he has to become a pragmatic realist. In the real world, actual facts matter. Like the fact that October 2016 was the second warmest October on record, according to data released Tuesday by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, falling just behind October 2015 by 0.18 degrees Celsius. Like the fact that 2016 is likely to be the third consecutive record-warm year in a row for the globe, topping 2015 and 2014, which currently occupy the No. 1 and 2 spots, respectively.
And while that data was being released, world leaders meeting in Morocco doubled down on plans to implement the groundbreaking Paris Agreement that at long last committed the United States, China and other countries around the world to an action plan to fight climate change.
If Mr. Trump withdraws from it, as he has promised during his campaign, it won't kill the agreement, but it will make the United States an outlier among the world's leading countries. Even presidents can't turn back the rising tide. But, acting in concert with the rest of the world, they can halt its ascent and find a long-term strategy to avoid its worst effects before it's too late.
So come on down to our beaches, Mr. Trump — preferably during a full moon, at king tide. It might awaken you to the scary truth. You would see how beaches narrow, if not altogether vanish, when the tide comes in. How streets that used to stay safely dry are now chronically in danger of flooding. How the ocean is creeping in.
You might just discover that climate change isn't a hoax, after all. In the process, you might go from climate change denier to climate change realist. From ignoring the peril to our planet to helping heal the planet.
The Naples Daily News on the Florida Commission on Ethics:
"A public office is a public trust," proclaims the Florida Commission on Ethics motto.
Recent decisions continue to convince us the best enforcement of the ethical principles that we expect elected officials to follow comes not in the form of any designated panel, but from an enabled public. An expeditious process for voters to decide whether to remove an offending elected leader from office seems a reasonable alternative to us.
Ethics questions arose on Marco Island as the Ethics Commission threw out complaints in October and September against Councilman Joe Batte and police Chief Alfred Schettino, both related to whether undue influence was used to crack down on a neighbor of Batte. Also in October, the state panel dismissed a seven-point complaint against then-Councilman Larry Sacher, who wasn't on the ballot and left office with the Nov. 8 election.
Questions about ethical conduct also surfaced recently in discussions by the Naples City Council, including whether to relax its city ethics law that some say is stricter than the state's -- or to beef it up further with a local, independent investigative arm. The city's attorney this fall suggested doing away with the city's ordinance and following state law. Reasonable points were raised about whether the city even has the ability to enforce its ordinance.
An ethics law or ordinance that can't be vigorously enforced loses value.
Based on its track record, we're not convinced local ethics decisions are best left to the state panel.
Complaints can be specious, so all don't progress to become public before the nine-member Florida Commission on Ethics. According to summaries of its 2016 meetings, nearly 150 cases have come forward so far this year into the public eye. More than half were summarily dismissed as legally insufficient. Among cases considered, many officials faced multiple allegations of wrongdoing. The ethics panel determined "no probable cause" existed in about 100 matters compared with some 20 allegations that were sustained for probable cause of wrongdoing. Among those, however, many then ended up with the panel deciding to take no further action.
One 2016 case saw a recommendation to remove a water district official. The time lapse is problematic to us, though, because this lingered based on a failure to file a state-required form in 2013.
Records show $1,500 fines were meted out twice. But for an elected official benefiting from ill-gotten gains, that's a pittance. The maximum allowed fine is $10,000 per violation, but that's an amount not seen.
Perhaps the most notable 2016 case led to a $6,200 fine for Flagler County's sheriff, yet the panel's adviser recommended $19,000. The ultimate sanction wasn't in the hands of the Ethics Commission. It came in August when voters ousted the incumbent sheriff. That's how the public can have its due say on an elected leader's conduct.
We're not suggesting the state ethics panel has no value. It issues advisory opinions on ethical questions. It also can review complaints against top staffers, as with Marco's police chief.
When it comes to sanctioning elected leaders, we point to what could have happened on Marco Island. The city charter prohibits council members from delving into administrative matters, yet creates no penalty for doing so. Marco's charter also doesn't spell out the island's recall procedure - the best potential penalty placed in the public's hands.
Naples and Lee County charters rely on state recall procedures for removing elected leaders. Collier County doesn't have a charter, so it too looks to state law that enables a recall process to commence with signatures of either 5 percent or 10 percent of registered voters, depending on a community's size.
Marco Island citizens in short order got a petition together, and signed, to create the prospect of a vote to repeal the controversial rental ordinance. That suggests to us citizens can tap into a reasonable recall procedure to place the ultimate sanction for an elected official into voters' hands with a quicker, improved chance of removal than through the state Ethics Commission, or a local one.
The Ocala Star-Banner on legalizing marijuana in Florida:
While Florida voters needed two tries to pass medical marijuana, much of the country is moving to legalize recreational pot.
Voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada all passed ballot initiatives Nov. 8 legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. They join a group of mostly western states that had previously done so. More than 63 million Americans now live in places where marijuana's use is fully legalized.
A state constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana in Florida narrowly missed the 60 percent needed for passage in 2014. It was approved convincingly this election with more than 71 percent of the vote. Three other states also passed medical marijuana on Nov. 8, meaning medical marijuana has now been legalized in 28 states and the District of Columbia.
When more than half the states have legalized medical marijuana, the country has passed a tipping point on the issue. The latest Gallup poll found support for full marijuana legalization has reached an all-time high of 60 percent, yet the federal government still lags behind public opinion.
The Food and Drug Administration classifies marijuana among Schedule 1 substances such as heroin and LSD, which have been determined to have a high potential for abuse and no medical use. The listing is an insult to patients who have found marijuana to be an effective treatment for chronic pain, nausea and other conditions that stem from debilitating diseases — and one without the dangers of addictive painkillers.
Some expected a change under President Barack Obama, who said he smoked pot as a teenager. Yet the Drug Enforcement Agency rejected a petition for reclassification in August, maintaining the same failed status quo that has been in place since President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs.
The Obama administration has at least looked the other way as states have legalized marijuana, but that policy could change under a new president. Federal law still restricts banks and credit unions from accepting marijuana profits, forcing dispensaries to take the risk of being all-cash businesses.
Education institutions such as the University of Florida are also limited in the research they can do on medical marijuana without risking federal funding. This creates a Catch 22 in which the federal government claims not enough research has been done on medical marijuana's effectiveness without fully allowing that research to be done.
Worse yet, marijuana arrests continue to ruin people's lives. A conviction for possessing a small amount of marijuana can cause the loss of a driver's license in Florida and a criminal record, consequences that might cost someone a job or financial aid for college.
In neighboring Alachua County, county commissioners took a sensible step in passing an ordinance to allow civil citations to be issued to someone caught with 20 grams of marijuana or less. The Marion County Commission should consider a similar ordinance.
Much like the conflicting marijuana laws across the country, Florida now has a mishmash of municipalities moving toward decriminalization and those still taking a harder line. A statewide approach to eliminating criminal penalties makes more sense, but is unlikely given that the Legislature took half-measures on medical marijuana before the ballot measure passed.
Yet much like gay marriage, which seemed unlikely before becoming widely supported, the wave of marijuana legalization sweeping the nation may inevitably reach Florida. Lawmakers can follow public opinion or wait for voters to push them out of the way.