Florida editorial roundup
Posted January 11
Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The Orlando Sentinel on the shooting deaths of two law enforcement officers:
The shocking and heartbreaking deaths of two law-enforcement officers within hours of each other Monday threw a spotlight on a problem that has been metastasizing for months in pockets across Central Florida — violent crime. It's a problem that cries out for more attention and action from leaders.
Master Sgt. Debra Clayton, a 17-year Orlando police officer known for her commitment to the community — especially to youth — was shot at a Wal-Mart in the city when she tried to detain murder suspect Markeith Loyd, who opened fire. The shooting death of Clayton, who personally organized citizens' marches against violence, echoed April's drive-by-shooting death in Parramore of community activist Gino Nicolas, who had dedicated his life to serving as a mentor for at-risk youth in his struggling Orlando neighborhood.
As the Orange County Sheriff's Office joined city police in fanning out across Pine Hills to locate and arrest Loyd, Deputy Norman Lewis was killed in a traffic accident. "In my 36-year career, this is possibly one of the toughest days for me," Sheriff Jerry Demings said.
There were other bitter ironies Monday. It was the first day of First Responder Appreciation Week, declared by Gov. Rick Scott. Just last week, Scott met with Orlando police officers who responded to the Pulse massacre in June. Clayton had been among the first officers on the scene of the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Even without accounting for the Pulse death toll of 49, Orange County's total of 116 other homicides in 2016 rose from 103 in 2015. Slayings in Seminole County went up faster, spiking to 25 from eight in 2015. While killings fell in Osceola and Lake counties, they rose overall across Central Florida.
A rash of violent crime in Pine Hills last year led Demings and Orlando Police Chief John Mina in mid-December to launch a joint operation in the community to expand patrols and gather more intelligence on crime. Just before the end of the year, the office announced 49 arrests and seizures of illegal guns, drugs and money. Also at the end of last year, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced it had taken more than 100 guns off the street in Central Florida and arrested more than 40 people since June — double the total arrests from a year earlier.
But arrests, seizures and tougher sentences for the worst offenders, though welcome, aren't enough to restore calm to communities where violent crime has dug in its claws. Orlando and Orange County commissioners and the State Attorney's Office have announced plans to open a community outreach center in Pine Hills, work with teens arrested for nonviolent offenses and provide counseling to families on crime prevention. These are positive initiatives, and could reach at-risk youth before some turn to crime. They are a reminder that a long-term, multifaceted approach to crime prevention calls for engagement from leaders across the community, including government, churches, businesses, schools and nonprofits.
Other task forces also have been working on comprehensive strategies to counter violent crime. One formed following a series of slayings in Apopka in May has a set of proposals ready to present to the Orange County Commission. The group and its plan deserve thoughtful consideration from commissioners.
We understand the skepticism of leaders such as Kelvin Cobaris, a bishop at the Impact Church of Orlando, who told the Sentinel last month, "We've had task force after task force. Meeting after meeting and now we've still got death after death."
Monday's tragedy makes it all too clear: Talk must lead to more action.
The Palm Beach Post on a shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport:
A lone traveler said to have mental issues pulls out a gun in a busy South Florida airport terminal and proceeds to shoot anyone in his path — killing five and injuring another six — before he runs out of bullets.
This is all so familiar, in a bad way.
Not only because on Friday we suffered yet another inexplicable mass shooting on U.S. soil. But we can already see that most lawmakers are either ready to put this one in the rearview mirror, or frustrated that nothing of consequence will be done to prevent the next tragedy.
It shouldn't be this way. Because lawmakers certainly have had enough impetus. From Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 schoolchildren were massacred by a mentally ill young man, to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where U.S. military veteran Esteban Santiago-Ruiz indiscriminately and dispassionately fired his 9mm semi-automatic handgun at the heads of unwary travelers as he walked by.
We urge Congress to do something this time. And do it now. Don't wait for the raw emotion and pain of this latest incident to wear off. Don't be deterred by those who would write off any chance at meaningful action as "just politics." Don't let fear of hard choices get in the way of protecting the American people.
"This isn't about Amendment 2," Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told Miami TV station WPLG-10. "We need to say enough is enough. We have a society to protect."
He's right. Santiago, 26, walked into an Alaska FBI office in November saying he was hearing voices from the CIA that were telling him to watch Islamic State videos online. The FBI took his firearm, and local authorities took him away for a mental health evaluation. The FBI never added Santiago to the federal "no-fly list." And a month later the agency gave him the firearm back — the same one he used on Friday.
It was the same firearm that Santiago, who was bounced out of the Alaska Army National Guard in August for "performance issues," legally packed in a checked bag and declared when he bought his one-way ticket. The same firearm he was able to retrieve from that checked bag in the airport baggage claim area and calmly kill a 62-year-old grandfather from Virginia Beach, Va., a Marietta, Ga. great-grandmother in her 80s, and three others.
We agree with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz that "this clearly is a gaping hole in the security process that we need to close." Further, the seven-term Democrat is correct that she and her colleagues have their pick of issues to address as a result of the shooting: the safety of the airport baggage claim area; ability for passengers to travel with loaded firearms; and whether to curtail the right of individuals with mental health problems to possess firearms.
Add to that better understanding and commitment to helping the tens of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are suffering in silence from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
All the more troubling then that Santiago, who appeared to be seeking help when he walked into that Anchorage FBI office "making disjointed comments about mind control," was characterized by FBI officials as just another "walk-in complaint" their offices around the country receive daily.
That's not good enough. There needs to be a better protocol for working with veterans — especially those trained to use firearms with deadly force — when they "walk in" to a government office exhibiting what is essentially a cry for help.
Bryan Santiago essentially said as much when it came to his brother: "We're not talking about someone who emerged from anonymity to do something like this.The federal government already knew about this for months, they had been evaluating him for a while, but they didn't do anything."
For our safety and security, now is the time for Congress to do something — anything.
The Bradenton Herald on the public receiving notices about pollution events:
Bradenton state Sen. Bill Galvano is no stranger to writing common sense legislation requiring companies and public officials to warn residents when contamination endangers the public water supply.
Today, Galvano is drafting legislation to strengthen notification regulations in response to the misconduct displayed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Mosaic, the planet's largest phosphate company. For more than three weeks, neither one told the public about the 215 million gallons of polluted water that drained into the Florida aquifer from a massive sinkhole at a phosphate facility in Polk County. Mosaic did inform the DEP promptly, but then public notice did not occur immediately.
In another disturbing case, well over 100 million gallons of partially treated sewage escaped from the St. Petersburg's aging wastewater treatment plant and polluted Tampa Bay, but city officials delayed reporting the release.
Those two high-profile episodes prompted Gov. Rick Scott to impose an emergency rule dictating that the owners or operators of a facility about pollution releases notify DEP, local governments and the general public within 24 hours. Incredibly, DEP defended its decision by arguing state law only required the agency or the polluting company to warn the public when contamination spreads outside the source's property. Scott had the proper sense of urgency and ordered the new rule.
But that justifiable rule was nullified by an administrative law judge 11 days ago. The ruling stated DEP had exceeded its authority by approving the decree, usurping the state Legislature's power to enact laws.
Galvano already had the issue on his radar again after the Mosaic event.
In 2005 as a member of the Florida House, he filed legislation that set specific notification measures and quality assurance protocols in the aftermath of the pollution scandal that rocked the small Tallevast neighborhood in Manatee County. For years, residents of the African-American community were not warned about the toxic waste in their water. The House and the Senate unanimously passed Galvano's bill, and several Tallevast residents traveled to Tallahassee to join then-Gov. Jeb Bush when he signed the legislation into law.
In a September guest column in the Herald, Galvano signaled renewed interest, writing, "Next session, the Legislature can certainly consider codifying current practices into law as well as further tightening the current time frame. The suffering of the Tallevast community will not be forgotten and we will work diligently to make certain our citizens are aware of any potential threat to their water supply."
Today, Galvano and Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, are crafting legislation with the assistance of the governor's office that will adopt the goals Scott intended to implement with his emergency rule — thereby solving this controversial issue. Tougher regulations are vital given the secrecy currently employed. The DEP, local governments, the public and the state should all be notified quickly, with a new law specifically setting a timetable. Polluters should be fined for delaying notification, thus compelling compliance. Public health should not be put at risk.
But powerful interests could stand in the way. Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Trucking Association and the National Federation of Independent Business fought the governor's emergency rule and won. The business organizations should be part of the solution and work with the Legislature and governor on reasonable requirements.