South Florida Sun Sentinel. March 14, 2022.
Editorial: Cruel gay-bashing, with predictably disastrous results
Gov. Ron DeSantis and his press secretary object to the “Don’t Say Gay” tag that opponents hung on his latest culture war legislation. His spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, even defamed opponents as ”groomers,” for which a responsible governor would have fired her.
HB 1557, which deserves’ DeSantis veto but awaits his eager signature, pretends to be about parental rights. But it is more hateful than its nickname implies. It’s raw gay-bashing and teacher-bashing with equally cruel potential.
This milestone in political evil does not simply prohibit teachers from addressing sexual and gender issues in grades K-3, which they haven’t even been doing. It will make teachers afraid to honestly address sexuality and gender identity questions at any age, whether in sex education classes or other contexts.
A climate of fear
This law will expose schools to damage lawsuits from intemperate parents and opportunistic lawyers. Along with earlier legislation (HB 7) to suppress honest discussion of race, it marks a new phase in the Legislature’s strategy to turn classrooms into ideological battlefields.
By making sexual orientation or gender identity the only subjects specifically banned from classroom discussion. it will be perilous for children to continue to confide in a teacher or counselor about a personal crisis that they may reasonably fear to reveal to their parents.
People who have never stood before a classroom — such as most legislators — do not comprehend how often teachers and counselors are the only lifeline for children in severe distress. The inevitable results will be bullying, dropouts and suicides. So begins yet another immoral chapter in Florida’s history of institutionalized homophobia, which began with the infamous legislative witch hunts known as the Johns Committee.
This latest is more fuel for DeSantis’s steroidal fund-raising and his undeclared candidacy for the presidency. His legislative lapdogs also voted to ban abortions after 15 weeks with no exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking. They effectively banned any honest teaching about the influence of slavery in American life and the endurance of racism in contemporary America.
Lawmakers also voted to take down Florida’s upstart professors and any accrediting agency concerned with academic freedom. SB 7044 requires the Board of Governors and Board of Education to rotate collegiate accrediting agencies and subject tenured professors to periodic review. That’s undisguised retaliation against the University of Florida professors who gave expert testimony against the Legislature’s trickery against voting rights and a subsequent investigation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Mean and cruel
The so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill has no peer in recent history. It is mean, cruel and indefensible.
Lashing out against opponents, Pushaw tweeted that the legislation “would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill.” She doubled down in a second tweet: “If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8-year-old children. Silence is complicity. This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn’t make the rules.”
As Broward Sen. Lauren Book put it, “She effectively called every single person who’s against this bill a sexual predator.”
Book, a former teacher and a survivor of child sexual abuse and rape, knows far more about any such issues than the bill’s backers do. But the bill is about fear, not facts.
Pushaw tried to deflect by saying she was off duty and using her private Twitter account. No matter. The governor’s press secretary is never off the clock. The attention drawn to her tweets owes entirely to her identity as DeSantis’s spokesperson, for which the taxpayers pay her $120,000 a year. She speaks for him.
‘Silence is complicity’
If DeSantis had any respect for the Legislature as an institution, he would have fired her. For as Pushaw herself says, silence is complicity.
Speaking of disrespect, why haven’t House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson denounced her gross insult to every dissenting legislator? Nine Republicans — two senators and seven representatives — voted against this bill, including Rep. Chip LaMarca of Lighthouse Point.
The two dissenting Republican senators were Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island and Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg.
The bill flew through the Legislature despite a lack of evidence that any teacher anywhere has been indoctrinating students into any type of sexual behavior.
To be LGBTQ in America is to still be uniquely exposed to prejudice, bullying, assault and even murder, and to be targeted by politicians who capitalize on bigotry.
Gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people no more “choose” their orientation than do straight people. They are no less entitled to respect and to freedom from fear. This Legislature has betrayed them and has disgraced the state.
Remember in November. The roll call votes are online. Here are links to them.
Tampa Bay Times. March 10, 2022.
Editorial: How much are the unvaccinated costing Florida? Here’s a COVID receipt
Plus, how is Florida stacking up to California in COVID deaths?
What is the cost of COVID, the price paid for failing to get vaccinated? The Pasco County school district can put a number on it: more than $11 million. That’s the deficit in its self-insured health policy, and 97 percent of the COVID-related claims last year came from staffers who said they weren’t vaccinated. That’s just the price tag. It doesn’t account for the pain of catching COVID or dealing with long-haul symptoms — or dying. Imagine how much lower all those costs would have been if state leaders had pushed for vaccinations and masks instead of against them?
Gov. Ron DeSantis claims it’s time to “close the curtain on COVID theater.” Actually, it’s time to pull the curtain shut on the pandemic, and the best way to safely get back to normal is to be vaccinated and to wear a mask when appropriate — not all the time, just in crowded spaces or around immunocompromised people. It’s really that simple.
Instead, the governor and his surgeon general are recommending that parents don’t get their healthy children vaccinated against COVID. The message is part of their generally blasé/tepid/nonchalant/chilly attitude toward the COVID vaccine and follow-up boosters. The governor has also taken to scolding people for wearing masks — calling it ridiculous. He and his surgeon general are wrong. Masks work — particularly N95s. Vaccines work. Ask your pediatrician, not a politician, for medical advice for your child.
The vaccination protects children as well as the vulnerable adults those kids encounter — the grandparent at home or the teacher in the classroom. The vaccine doesn’t make them immune, but it reduces the chances of catching COVID and lessens the severity if they do. Only 60 percent of Florida kids between 12 and 19 have had even one shot. Only 22 percent of 5- to 11-year-olds have gotten the jab. Compare that to fully 95 percent of Floridians 65 and older.
While COVID cases among kids are often mild, that’s not always true. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that COVID ranks as one of the top 10 causes of death for children ages 5 through 11 years. The numbers don’t lie, and that’s why both the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the vaccines for all kids who are eligible, as does Johns Hopkins Medicine. Sure, they have an agenda, and it’s the health of our children.
The $11 million in medical claims in Pasco would be enough to cover the salaries of 250 new teachers for a year. And that’s just the extra medical costs in one county’s school system, almost all of it due to unvaccinated people who caught COVID. Multiply that by other districts and businesses and the numbers get big really fast. And yet, the governor and his surgeon general pushed their no-vaccines-for-healthy-kids agenda on the same day that officials announced that the pandemic has killed at least 6 million people globally, according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. In the days to come, COVID will have claimed 1 million American lives.
Yes, things are getting better. Omicron is ebbing. But ebbing isn’t the same as “over.” Florida has lately been averaging 172 deaths a day. The daily average since the pandemic began is less than 100. That doesn’t sound like the threat is over.
COVID has killed more than 71,000 in the Sunshine State, with a population of 22 million. California with its 39.5 million people recorded 86,429 COVID deaths. Accounting for the difference in population, 153 Floridians have died from COVID for every 100 Californian deaths since the pandemic began. The numbers are even worse since May, when vaccines became widely available. During that time, 256 Floridians have died for every 100 Californians, again accounting for population. That’s 2.5 times as many deaths.
Florida has an older population than California, and older people are more susceptible to COVID, but that’s all the more reason for our state leaders to champion masks and vaccines, instead of treating them like an afterthought — or worse, railing against them. Plus, with fatality numbers like these the governor should be wary of repeatedly using California as the bogeyman to tout his “free state” of Florida.
Let’s hope the worst is behind us, but the way to keep it there isn’t to pretend that it’s over. Rather, it’s to be cautious while living close to a normal life. The governor bullying school kids who wear masks at his news conference doesn’t help. Neither does recommending against child vaccinations and claiming that it’s science.
Continuing to encourage vaccines and masks when appropriate is not COVID theater. It is the responsible way back to the future.
Orlando Sentinel. March 13, 2022.
Editorial: Can Florida sustain an exuberant $112 billion budget?
It’s an old Southern tradition: When you come into an unexpected sum of money – particularly government money — the socially acceptable thing to do is get drunk and spend like tomorrow is Judgment Day.
Now, we’re not accusing members of the Florida Legislature of over-consumption. But they’re throwing cash around like people who have knocked back more than a few at a Capitol-adjacent watering hole – or people who are acutely aware that they will soon face voters’ election-day reckoning.
The total they’ve approved is intoxicating. Last week, lawmakers had to work out a compromise between the House (which wanted to spend $105.3 billion) and the Senate (which initially proposed spending $108.6 billion). So they met.
But not in the middle.
Their final budget, due to be voted on Monday, clocks in at $112.1 billion. That’s … a lot. (Last year’s total was $101.5 billion). The spending plan was fueled by a faster-than-expected economic recovery and a flush of federal COVID-relief cash that added at least $3.5 billion to the pot.
Some of the spending decisions were clearly cynical. Start with an absolute frenzy of seasonal tax breaks. Was it mere coincidence that lawmakers chose October for a month-long 26.5-cent-a-gallon cut in the state’s gas tax ? Surely, it has nothing to do with the fact that statewide elections are set for November. Some are arguing that this cut should extend over a longer time, since many low-income families are suffering from fast-rising gas prices. But other items in the massive — and somewhat random – bunch of tax cuts lawmakers agreed to in early March are harder to figure out. In addition to the familiar breaks on back-to-school clothes and supplies and hurricane-box items, lawmakers want “holidays” from taxes on a dizzying array of merchandise including tools, pool toys, energy-efficient refrigerators, garage doors, baby (but not adult) diapers, personal computers, Daytona 500 tickets and gun-club memberships.
We can’t imagine how those last two items got in there.
Many of these breaks obviously fall into the nice-but-not-necessary category. It’s not hard to find better ways to spend this money.
And to give them credit, lawmakers did include many low- and middle-class working families in the largesse. They mandated dramatically improved funding for family members who rescue young relatives from abusive or neglectful homes, and committed some funding ― but not nearly enough ― toward reducing the 22,759-names-long waiting list for disabled Floridians who need intensive services and the 57022 seniors waiting on community care. They’re boosting annual per-student public school funding to $8,142, another record high. Add to that more than $200 million for after-school groups, summer camps and tutoring for K-12 students. Lawmakers insisted on an across-the-board 5.3% raise in state salaries, and specified bonuses for various categories of workers, including police, firefighters and EMTs. They also set a minimum wage of $15 an hour for all state employees, including the often-overlooked contract workers who fall under the “other personal services” category. They set the same bar for thousands of people who work for companies that contract with the state.
They also set aside $362.7 million for down-payment assistance and construction of more rental units.
It’s the best Florida has ever done for affordable housing, and lawmakers deserve praise for that. But it won’t be enough. Florida is facing some of the fastest-rising housing costs in the nation. Many state workers will need their raises – and then some — just to keep roofs over their heads.
Lawmakers should be asking themselves: What’s going to happen next year, when federal money starts to dwindle? Are they going to walk back the pay raises, take services away from needy Floridians or deflate public-school spending?
The answer to those questions should be an obvious no – which is why we wish lawmakers had curbed some of their more frivolous impulses and prioritized spending in the areas where it’s most needed. Lawmakers may see the next round of budget-setting as more than a year – and one very important election cycle – away. But they should find a way to reassure Floridians that he most vulnerable residents won’t be the ones who suffer when the budget picture sobers up.
Gainesville Sun. March 9, 2022.
Editorial: Gov. DeSantis more interested in scoring political points than protecting children’s health
Gov. Ron DeSantis is doing exactly what he claims his critics are doing: politicizing science and engaging in political theater about COVID-19. DeSantis is putting the health of children and their communities at risk just so he can score political points for his re-election campaign and a possible presidential run.
Last week, DeSantis scolded high school students for wearing masks at the University of South Florida — and then used the ensuing controversy to raise campaign donations. This week, he brought together skeptics to criticize the scientific consensus about the virus — with his surgeon general announcing that Florida would be the first state to recommend against children getting COVID-19 vaccinations.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are among the organizations that recommend vaccinating children ages 5 and older against COVID-19 (vaccines for younger children are awaiting approval). The consensus among medical experts is that vaccines shield children against the most severe consequences of COVID-19 with a low risk for side effects, while also helping to protect their families and the wider community.
DeSantis could have consulted any number of experts at the University of Florida and other well-respected state institutions to base his COVID-19 policy on peer-reviewed research rather than political rhetoric. Instead, he sought skeptics from out of state for a media event that was more theatrics than science but yet was billed as “the Curtain Close on COVID Theater.”
The governor used a similar line last week while he was criticizing high school students for wearing masks, telling them the masks are “not doing anything” and “to stop with this COVID theater.” This week, a nationwide study released before its publication in the journal Pediatrics found masks provide one of the best ways to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in schools.
Duke University researchers looked at 61 school districts with more than 1.1 million students and staff members across nine states from July 26 to Dec. 13, 2021. Districts with optional mask policies during the period had 3.6 times the rate of infected students spreading the virus to others as did districts with universal masking, the study found.
DeSantis fought to force Florida school districts to lift masking requirements, including Alachua County Public Schools, before the Legislature banned mask mandates. While COVID cases are now dropping, the governor’s unyielding position puts kids at greater risk of catching and spreading the virus if another variant fuels a new wave of cases.
Widespread vaccinations help prevent the emergence of variants and reduce the chances of spreading the virus. But Florida Surgeon General and UF faculty member Dr. Joseph Ladapo said Monday the state is recommending against vaccinating children.
UF Health President Dr. David Nelson subsequently issued a statement to staff that said recommendations to vaccinate children were based on “rigorous scientific studies” showing the benefits. Nelson noted that the CDC has found children 12 to 17 are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 if unvaccinated.
DeSantis is right when he says there has been “a lot of politicization of science” by people who ignore research that conflicts with their personal beliefs. The governor himself is the politician most guilty of doing this, putting politics above public health in a shameful bid at re-election and higher office.
Miami Herald. March 14, 2022.
Editorial: Florida GOP draws new boundaries for congressional districts — and for DeSantis
For once, Republican lawmakers are standing up to Gov. Ron DeSantis, at least a little bit.
This glimpse of a legislative backbone emerged during a critically important process: the once-a-decade redrawing of boundary lines for congressional districts that will reshape the political landscape in Florida.
The redistricting process already was inherently flawed. Every 10 years, lawmakers must redraw the lines for legislative districts, which can affect their own reelection chances. They’re also in charge of setting new boundaries for Florida’s congressional seats. That’s where DeSantis saw an opportunity, taking the unprecedented step of introducing his own congressional map to more aggressively favor Republicans.
It would draw district lines to boost Republican districts from 16 to 18, while reducing historically Black seats by two, statewide. That would include dismantling Florida’s 5th Congressional District in North Florida, held by Democratic Rep. Al Lawson. DeSantis says the district is an unconstitutional gerrymander — though the state Supreme Court approved it in the past.
His strong-arming for GOP gain — while diluting the Black vote — isn’t just difficult for legislators, who must run for reelection this fall. It also undermines the underlying principle here, that lawmakers are supposed to draw fair districts for all voters, not just Republicans. When we talk about voter apathy and people being turned off by politics in this country, remember this moment.
TWO POSSIBLE MAPS
Republican lawmakers tried, as usual, to placate the governor, taking the unusual step of approving a “primary” map, plus a back-up map. The first map shrinks Lawson’s District 5 to a small area in Jacksonville, a nod to DeSantis. The second — if the courts reject the first one — reestablishes much of District 5.
But that wasn’t enough for DeSantis. He threatened on Twitter to veto the maps, calling them “DOA.” He followed that with a statement at a news conference in Jacksonville, saying, “I don’t bluff.”
Sounds like he’s thinking about his national political profile at the expense of the state. For a possible presidential contender, any congressional seats the GOP can add in Florida would be a big plus as the party tries to regain control of the U.S. House in November.
The only way for lawmakers to overcome his veto would be with a two-thirds vote of the Republican-dominated Legislature, a body that has rolled over for the governor on almost every other occasion. We don’t have high hopes.
If neither side backs down and lawmakers reach an impasse with the governor, the Florida courts might end up drawing the district lines. Two lawsuits have already been filed, one in Leon County and another in a federal court, the Northern District of Florida, asking the courts to decide where to draw the lines. Either way, a map for Florida’s 28 congressional districts — the state picked up one new district because of an increase in population — must be in place by June 17, the last date candidates can qualify for the congressional elections.
This attack on minority representation must be resisted in every way possible, with the first line of defense being the Legislature. We think it’s encouraging that they’re putting a sliver of daylight between themselves and the governor on this one.
Perhaps they’ve just remembered that, in a check-and-balance system of government, they’re supposed to provide the “check,” so a single branch (the executive branch, in this case) doesn’t hijack the decision-making. Or perhaps they’re just looking out for their own interests in the future when they might be open to accusations of diminishing the power of minority voters in Florida.
Whatever the case, Florida lawmakers are drawing the boundaries, all right. But not just for Congress. In this one instance, they’re drawing a line between themselves and a powerful GOP governor.
It’s about time.