Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Legislature’s unfinished business

 

OUR OPINION: State lawmakers still have time, though dwindling, to do some good

HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com

Florida’s legislative session is winding down, which means the lawmaking frenzy is gearing up. As always, it’s been a mixed bag of hits, misses and truly dreadful calls. And as always, the Miami Herald Editorial Board has some guidance to give.

IN-STATE TUITION

Things were looking good for Florida’s Dreamers. Their chance to pay lower tuition at public universities never looked better: Gov. Scott was behind them, the Senate bill has 21 co-sponsors. But two Senate leaders threw up a roadblock — politics as usual. It’s not fair, and punishes just the kind of young people this state needs — educated ones. Twist some arms, Mr. Scott. It’s imperative to bring this to the Senate floor — where it should be approved.

MEDICAID

The Legislature’s politically driven refusal to accept federal money to expand Medicaid leaves $50 billion on the table and puts thousands of lives at risk. At this point, anyone asking lawmakers to reverse course is beating a dead horse. Nevertheless, this denial of service to constituents cannot be overlooked. It’s an abject failure of responsibility by Florida’s lawmakers for which there is no justification.

DCF

A week to go, 477 dead children — and more now in the news — and lawmakers are engaged in petty skirmishes over child safety. Requiring CBC executives to post their salaries on organization websites — info that’s already in the public domain? Really?

There was encouraging progress: giving real heft to what were meaningless safety plans; requiring child-protective investigators to have critical-thinking skills; and making the safety of an at-risk child paramount. But money is still the issue. Friday, for instance, there was a push to keep rapid-response teams, which travel to the county of a child’s death, from making those investigative trips. Costs money.

And no one should get too excited about the $47 million lawmakers dredged up to help provide services. Some of it simply replaces non-recurring funds from last year, meaning it’s not new, additional funding.

Last week, the Editorial Board asked if lawmakers really care about preventing kids from dying. Looks like we’re getting the answer.

JACKSON HEALTH

Give the Miami-Dade delegation credit for protecting the Jackson Health System this session. The delegation made it a priority to make sure that safety-net hospitals like Jackson that use local dollars to draw down federal money would not be required to share the funds statewide — with hospitals that don’t raise local funds. That would have cost the Jackson system an estimated $142 million and placed county taxpayers in a huge bind.

MIAMI DADE COLLEGE

This one is a big loss. For several consecutive sessions, Miami-Dade lawmakers have been unable to win legislative permission for a countywide referendum on a half-penny sales tax to help this vital local institution. At this point, the chances of something happening this session are slim and none. Some local lawmakers with their own private agendas have even fought against it. Shame on them. Miami-Dade voters have a right to express themselves on this issue, and local legislators ought to be able to make sure they get it

MENTAL HEALTHCARE

Looks like lawmakers came to their senses and withdrew bills that would have drained vital funds from crisis stabilization units across the state. That’s where people experiencing a mental-health crisis — and endangering themselves and others — get appropriate emergency treatment, with the potential for more comprehensive attention. The CSUs are inexpensive and effective, keeping mentally ill residents out of jail. Disaster averted — keep it that way.

SPEED LIMITS

Florida senators last week voted 27-11 to give the Department of Transportation the leeway to decide where the speed limit can rise from 70 to 75 miles per hour on about 1,500 miles of roadway. That includes interstate 95, 75, 10, and 4, Florida’s Turnpike and the Suncoast Parkway.

Now, with one week left in the 2014 session, the House is expected to consider a similar measure, HB 761, which stalled in the last two weeks. Supporters dismissed opponents’ arguments that speed kills. Supporters have it wrong. The speed limit should remain in the 65- to 70-mph range. An increase is a nod to those who routinely drive 10 miles over the limit to now zoom past us on I-95 at 85 mph. Bad idea. Let’s hope the House bill stalls in traffic.

VOUCHERS

The once-moribund school-voucher bill is back in play for the final week, thanks to a Senate committee procedural maneuver. The Senate is now considering changes to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, or vouchers. In the new amendment, students receiving these scholarships would be required to take annual tests that would be reported to the state. The results would be provided to parents and compared to similar assessments in public schools to better measure the progress of their student. Some private schools say they already choose similar testing practices.

Public school systems argue vouchers take state funding away from public schools and give it to religious private institutions. We agree that the public school system should not have its shrinking state funding further depleted by voucher programs.

ETHICS

An ethics bill that would have imposed state standards on local ethics commissions, like the ones in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, is no longer being considered this year. Instead, Sen. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, who sponsored the bill, announced he will meet with interested parties in August for an invitation-only “ethics summit.” The measure had been criticized for attempting to impose a statewide standard to local ethics oversight and for failing to seek input from those existing commissions. We support the idea of a collaborative effort to fight public corruption in Florida. In a news release, Sen. Abruzzo said those attending the summit will make recommendations, which will be collected, discussed and submitted for drafting new legislation. Sounds like a plan.

FILM INDUSTRY

If lawmakers really want to give Gov. Scott some job-creation bragging rights, they’ll get to work and extend the Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive Program. This 4-year-old program provides tax credits to projects — think Burn Notice, think telenovelas — that use Florida-based goods and services and hire our own. But lawmakers have foolishly been sitting idle on this one. This should get their attention: Every dollar invested through this program reaps the state $15 in positive economic impact. But the incentive program needs the state’s long-term economic commitment in order to attract new business. Otherwise, film producers will have Georgia on their minds. Georgia’s been growing more than peaches. Don’t let it be at Florida’s expense, y’all.

‘FOREIGN LAW’

Senate Bill 58 would ban legal authorities, including courts, from using religious or foreign law as a part of any legal decision or contract that pertains to family law. This insulting, flag-waving proposal “solves” a problem that doesn’t exist — and creates new problems that don’t exist now, such as trying to solve business disputes over contracts forged abroad. It obviously targets Sharia law, which is based on the Quran in many Islamic countries. But like canon law of the Catholic Church and Talmudic law, the tenets are applied internally and voluntarily and have absolutely no bearing on U.S. civil law.

Get a grip, lawmakers, let it go.

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