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Florida editorial roundup

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Oct. 27

The Sun-Sentinel on lobbying for oil drilling on Florida beaches:

Only a lucky break kept oil from the historic BP spill in 2010 away from the Florida Keys and South Florida’s beaches.

Though the spill happened off the coast of Louisiana, so much oil gushed from the blowout that it reached the Loop Current, which is part of the Gulf Stream. Normally, the current would have brought the oil far enough to reach this area after blackening beaches in the Panhandle.

Fortunately, the current shifted. By July, BP had capped the well. “People had good reason to worry,” a federal oceanographer said in July of that year. “It seems we’ve kind of dodged a bullet.”

Yet oil lobbyists and Congress are firing again. Congressional Republicans want to open more of the Gulf of Mexico to drilling. President Trump, who favors more exploration for fossil fuels, is empowering them.

Since 2006, federal law has banned drilling within at least 125 miles of almost all the Florida coast and 235 miles in some places. That moratorium expires in 2022. Last spring, however, President Trump signed an executive order seeking more drilling options. The recent focus has been on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but oil companies also want to open up the eastern Gulf. The American Petroleum Institute predicts “thousands of jobs” and “billions” in new federal revenue.

That sounds like the typical hype from the oil industry. We do know that many thousands of jobs and many billions of dollars are tied to Florida’s tourism industry, an industry that depends in large part on the state’s beaches.

Expanded drilling would increase the danger to those beaches. The BP spill happened just 42 miles offshore and stained beaches from Texas to Florida. With closer drilling also would come more seismic testing that could disrupt commercial and sport fishing. A spill could decimate the state’s oyster industry centered on Apalachicola Bay.

The Defense Department also opposes any change. The eastern Gulf is the U.S. military’s largest training facility. That stretch of coastal Florida includes Eglin Air Force Base, Pensacola Naval Air Station, MacDill Air Force Base and Key West Naval Air Station.

In May, Undersecretary of Defense Anthony Kurta laid out the Pentagon’s position in a letter to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, whose district includes Pensacola. The moratorium, Kurta wrote, ensures that “vital military readiness activities may be conducted without interference . The moratorium is essential for developing and sustaining our nation’s future combat capabilities.”

Though Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, has been the most active and successful state lawmaker on this issue, Florida’s congressional delegation long has expressed bipartisan support for the drilling moratorium. In 2006, when the GOP controlled the Senate, Nelson’s partner in the legislation was Mel Martinez, a Republican. Marco Rubio has joined Nelson in pushing to extend the moratorium until 2027.

So if the state opposes any change, and if the Pentagon opposes any change and the wider public – according to the polls – opposes any change in drilling policy, how could change happen anyway?

The answer lies in the budget and tax negotiations among Republicans. Through legislative maneuvering, bills to expand drilling in the eastern Gulf that have failed on their own could pass as part of a budget deal.

The action is happening within the two natural resource committees, with the Senate taking the lead. The chairwoman is Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. She has long wanted to open more of the Arctic for drilling. Alaskans would get a share of the revenue, as they have from drilling in Prudhoe Bay. Also on the committee is Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, a state the oil industry essentially controls.

Senate leaders have told those committees to find $ 1 billion in revenue to help offset the cost of tax cuts that mostly would help wealthy Americans. Projected oil revenue – however phony – could provide cover. The final budget bill would require only a majority vote.

It’s Washington at its worst – bad policy done badly. The Natural Resources Defense Council points out that simply enforcing lease payments on non-producing wells could raise $ 750 million. Trump also has lowered the royalty rates on oil leases.

The president is compounding the potential threat to Florida by proposing that the government weaken safety rules for oil drilling. Former Florida Gov. Bob Graham, who also served 18 years in the Senate, co-chaired the panel that investigated the BP spill. In July, Graham and co-chairman William Reilly wrote in The New York Times that Trump opposes a rule that tightened regulations on blowout preventers. Such a rule, Graham and Reilly wrote, could have prevented the BP spill.

Trump’s fossil-fuel policy is misguided in many ways, but the threat to Florida is especially scary. The state’s congressional delegation must block any attempt to move oil drilling closer to our coast.

Online: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/


Oct. 30

The Tampa Bay Times on the beginning of open enrollment for health insurance available on the federal marketplace:

To borrow Mark Twain’s phrase, the reports of the Affordable Care Act’s death are greatly exaggerated. The fifth year for open enrollment starts today for health insurance available on the federal marketplace, and Floridians should be aggressive in reviewing their options even if they already receive coverage through it. The clock is ticking, and don’t be scared off by the sticker price because most Floridians on the exchange qualify for subsidies to lower the cost.

It will take more work and a greater sense of urgency for families to evaluate their options for health coverage in 2018. The enrollment window is shorter than ever and ends Dec. 15. The Trump administration has slashed spending on advertising, so there won’t be the marketing on television and elsewhere that there has been in past years. Funding also has been cut for navigators who help consumers figure out their best choices, so it’s going to take a concerted grass-roots effort to get the word out.

First, navigators and elected officials throughout the state have to convince Floridians that the Affordable Care Act remains in place and has not been repealed. Congressional Republicans tried to repeal it but could not come up with the votes, and President Donald Trump has called the law “dead.” But the law is very much alive, and there is still the requirement on federal income tax returns to report that you have health insurance coverage or risk paying a financial penalty.

Second, even Floridians who already receive health insurance through the federal marketplace should check their options. Unlike previous years, those consumers may not receive a notice encouraging them to shop around before they are automatically re-enrolled in the same plan if they fail to sign up before Dec. 15. That’s a big deal in Florida, which has more residents covered with health insurance through the federal marketplace than any other state – some 1.4 million people.

Third, don’t be scared off by sticker shock. Health insurance premiums on the marketplace are expected to rise by an average of 45 percent next year, but that’s misleading. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports the premium increases range from a more manageable 7 percent up to 38 percent for silver plans, which are the most common choice. And about three out of four Floridians qualify for a subsidy that can substantially lower the premium.

Fourth, don’t be confused by Trump’s wrongheaded move to end the government payments to health insurers that help cover out-of-pocket expenses such as deductibles and co-payments for low-income consumers. Florida insurance regulators planned ahead and required insurers to set their rates assuming the federal payments would end before the president even acted. And in an odd twist, because the premiums went up, so will the tax credits to offset the increase; some Floridians could even come out better off. For example, the state says, a family of four with an income of $ 53,000, or an individual earning $ 27,000, may see a slight decrease in costs in 2018 for a silver plan.

The Affordable Care Act obviously has its shortcomings and needs to be improved, not repealed. But it is still very much alive, and it has been successful in significantly lowering the number of uninsured residents in Florida and the nation. Starting today, it’s important to keep that trend headed in the right direction and help Floridians who need health insurance find a plan that works for them in the next six weeks.

Online: http://www.tampabay.com/


Oct. 31

The Palm Beach Post on the resignation of a state senator following an affair with a lobbyist:

The resignation of Jeff Clemens – his abrupt departure from the state Senate prompted by news of an affair with a lobbyist – is a disappointment to his constituents, a setback for Florida’s Democratic Party and a reminder that personal character is, in the end, absolutely essential in sound leadership.

This Editorial Page had consistently endorsed Clemens, going back to his successful run for mayor of Lake Worth in 2009. As a senator, he held a firm command of the issues and worked hard for his constituents on such problems as sober homes. Although one of the chamber’s most progressive members, he had a knack for working successfully with Republicans on matters of mutual interest.

His colleagues in the Legislature respected him so much that they picked him as their next Democratic Senate leader, which put him in charge of efforts to improve the election prospects of the long-lagging party. He helped score a big win in September when Annette Taddeo won a special election in the Miami district formerly held by Republican Frank Artiles.

Clemens’ disgrace, coming just six months after Artiles’, speaks volumes about the culture in which our legislators operate in Florida’s capital – and that’s using “culture” as loosely as possible. Artiles quit in late April after a racially tinged tirade against two black legislators in a Tallahassee bar. He was forced to apologize on the Senate floor but then resigned when it was reported that he used his political committee to hire as “consultants” a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy “Miss Social” with no political experience.

Clemens, 47 and married, resigned on Friday, just hours after Politico reported that he’d had an affair with Devon West, then a lobbyist for Martin County. As the relationship disintegrated, West came into possession of Clemens’ laptop computer and, according to Politico, “gained access to all his contacts and personal information and then informed his wife of the tryst.”

To get back the laptop, Clemens enlisted the help of two pals, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and current Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Lakes.

In a statement, Clemens apologized to “my wife, my family and everyone that I have treated poorly in the past for putting you through this in such a public way.”

“I have made mistakes I (am) ashamed of, and for the past six months I have focused on becoming a better person.”

In years past, a show of contrition and repentance often has been enough for a politician to keep his job. But in the short month since The New York Times and The New Yorker detailed a host of women’s allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, there’s been a screeching U-turn in attitudes on sexual misbehavior in the workplace.

In this zero-tolerance atmosphere, Clemens had no choice but to step down as soon as his secrets – these aided by two other prominent senators – got out.

Still to be sorted out is whether this is a case of inappropriate sexual relations between consenting adults, or, given the power imbalances between a lobbyist and the lawmakers they must professionally woo, a case of sexual harassment.

In either case, it appears that Clemens saw the opportunities for extracurricular carrying-on as a perk of the job.

It’s a sure bet that a story like Clemens’ isn’t unique in the chummy world of Tallahassee, where married lawmakers live apart from their families for weeks or months. Observers aren’t wondering whether other legislators will be disgraced but who they will be.

Just Monday, two state senators, Lauren Book, D-Plantation, and Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, urged sexual harassment victims working in the Legislature to speak up and file complaints. The two women, both sexual assault survivors, said, “We understand what it means to be victimized, demoralized and silenced in the face of sexual assault.”

The people of Clemens’ District 31 – from Delray Beach north through Lake Worth and Greenacres – have every reason to be angry with him. When on duty in the state capital, he used his service to them as a vehicle for his own gratification.

He and his family are suffering the consequences, but so are many Floridians who had put their hopes for more progressive state policies on his seemingly capable shoulders.

In this zero-tolerance climate, Clemens had no choice but to resign once his secrets got out.

Online: http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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