The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Florida Legislature’s hits, misses

 

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

State lawmakers fumbled the Dolphins’ quest for public funds to renovate Sun Life Stadium, along with other worthy issues. But lawmakers did score in other areas.

The play by play:

•  For the second year in a row, lawmakers ultimately decided to leave Miami-Dade’s wage-theft ordinance alone. Here’s hoping they don’t bother to go through the unnecessary exercise of trying to run roughshod over the county’s home-rule charter a third time. The wage-theft law has recovered more than $600,000 for unpaid workers without requiring them to go to court first. It’s a good, cost-effective approach to help working families. Hands off, lawmakers.

•  A tie vote sank the “parent-trigger” bill, which would have allowed parents to demand sweeping changes to failing schools, including letting for-profit companies swoop in and take over public schools and convert them into charter schools. As Margo Pope says on today’s Other Views page, parents already “have a huge voice and a seat at the big table,” empowered by Florida law. They just have to take advantage of what exists. Schools are a community responsibility, not cash cows to be constantly milked by sometimes dodgy charter-school operators.

•  High-school students will be able to choose from two types of diplomas to pursue, one for college-bound teens and another for those seeking the skills to land successfully in the job market after high-school graduation. In a perfect world, every student would have a clear and unwavering vision of their professional lives, choose their diplomas accordingly, graduate and live happily ever after. But let’s get real. It’s now up to school districts to ensure that the two-track diplomas not become a way to automatically divert low-income and minority kids from an academic pursuit. It has happened before.

Plus, there must be flexibility — how many students really know what they want to do with their lives in their sophomore year?

•  Presumably embarrassed into action, lawmakers expanded the restrictive number of early-voting sites and mandated eight days of early voting for eight hours each day. The legislation allows counties to expand early voting to 14 days for 12 hours each day, including the Sunday before election. The legislation’s flexibility is a welcome addition. The vulnerability to local political manipulation, however, is not. With the majority of elections supervisors in the state elected into office, there remains the chance that any one of them could decide to open — or not open — early-voting sites in certain areas of town — say, minority neighborhoods — in order to skew the election results. We’ve seen this before, and voting-rights advocates will have to be vigilant.

•  Texting while driving just got even more ill advised. Lawmakers are cracking down on an irresponsible and dangerous activity. Their legislation makes texting while driving a secondary offense. This means that a law-enforcement officer has to see another violation, like speeding or an expired tag, in order to stop a driver for typing or reading text messages. The driver then gets two tickets, one for the original offense and one for texting. Though this is a step in the right direction, lawmakers didn’t see fit to ban drivers under 18 from talking or texting on cell phones and other wireless devices.

•  And why didn’t lawmakers have the decency and sense of duty to better protect vulnerable residents in assisted living facilities? They rejected — again — stronger oversight measures. They gave in to the ALF lobby at the expense of frail seniors. Shameful.

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