Editorial Roundup: Florida

South Florida Sun Sentinel. November 22, 2022.

Editorial: On migrant flights, what is DeSantis hiding?

You can see why Gov. DeSantis wants to prevent Floridians from learning more about the flights that took migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.

What Floridians know is bad enough.

Political Cartoons

The DeSantis administration is fighting two lawsuits demanding that the governor and others involved explain under oath why and how the state paid to send 48 Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Even though the lawsuits have not yet succeeded, information continues to come out — none of it good.

To recap, the Republican-led Legislature included in this year’s budget $12 million for DeSantis to “facilitate the transport of unauthorized aliens from this state.” We emphasize those last three words because they are at the heart of the issue.

DeSantis claimed for months without evidence that the Biden administration had allowed thousands — maybe millions — of undocumented migrants to come to Florida. Yet the governor apparently couldn’t find any of them to remove.

So the governor hired operatives to find migrants in Texas. Two planes took 48 of them from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard with a stopover at Bob Sikes Airport in the Florida Panhandle.

Clearly, the flights were illegal. They did not remove anyone from this state. DeSantis has tried to argue that “most of (the migrants in Texas) are intending to come to Florida.”

In fact, these 48 had no such intention. They were seeking refugee status after fleeing oppression in Venezuela. Under federal law, they were not “unauthorized aliens.”

In fact, the flights themselves were unauthorized. That stop in Crestview certainly doesn’t satisfy the language of the budget.

Nor has DeSantis been up front about how — and on whom — he has spent the money. Again, though, what we know is shady.

According to news reports, the state has paid about $1.5 million to Vertol Systems to “facilitate” DeSantis’ migrant stunts. The company, which owns a fleet of aircraft and also provides aviation training, is based in Destin, about 40 miles south of Bob Sikes Airport.

The first payment to Vertol was $615,000. But records show that the quote for those flights to Martha’s Vineyard was just $153,000. Another $950,000 went to Vertol supposedly to finance migrant flights to Delaware — near where President Biden vacations — and Illinois. Those flights never happened. So where’d the money go?

Now let’s get to the cast of characters.

Larry Keefe is the state’s “public safety czar,” a position DeSantis created. As the governor announced Keefe’s appointment last year, he announced a lawsuit against the Biden administration for “refusing to enforce the immigration laws of this country.” No details.

Between 2010 and 2017, Keefe represented Vertol Systems. James Montgomerie, the company’s president, has donated money to several Republican candidates and to the Republican Party of Florida.

One of those candidates was U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. Gaetz served on DeSantis’ transition team after the 2018 election. He also did legal work for Vertol.

A credible Legislature might hold hearings to determine if the governor is spending that $12 million properly. That won’t happen. Republicans in Tallahassee don’t challenge DeSantis on anything, even as he cuts their budget items. That won’t change with a new Senate president and House speaker.

But here’s a reason for Tallahassee to want answers. To finance his performances for 2024 presidential primary voters, DeSantis is risking serious legal jeopardy for Florida.

What if one of those migrant flights had crashed? What if a future flight does? The state would be liable for all casualties. Any competent lawyer could show that the migrants posed no danger to Florida.

And here’s the irony. As DeSantis bashes Biden on immigration, he finances the migrant flights with interest on the COVID-19 relief money that Florida got after every Republican in Congress voted against it and DeSantis said the legislation was “Washington at its worst.” DeSantis used another $4 billion from that legislation for favors in this year’s budget to make himself look good.

Tallahassee Republicans do the state no favors by looking the other way on the migrant flights. DeSantis can spend that $12 million until June 30 of next year. If he runs for president, that money could finance more reckless ideas to showcase the governor before anti-immigrant GOP voters.

The irony is that undocumented migrants are coming to Florida to help rebuild after Hurricane Ian. DeSantis should send those planes to Fort Myers, not Massachusetts.

Tampa Bay Times. November 22, 2022.

Editorial: DeSantis’ ‘dystopian’ idea of free speech

University professors aren’t mouthpieces for the state

The hypocrisy of Florida’s freedom governor was on display again last week after a federal judge halted enforcement of a state gag order at Florida’s colleges and universities. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District in Tallahassee called Florida’s new Stop WOKE Act, which restricts speech on college campuses in the name of promoting it, “positively dystopian.” The ruling was an unbridled rebuke to Florida’s increasingly authoritarian strain and a warning to everyone who cares about democracy.

The ruling came in two lawsuits — one filed by a University of South Florida student and professor and another led by Florida A&M law professor LeRoy Pernell — both alleging that the law illegally prevents frank discussions about the nation’s racial history in classrooms. (The same judge issued a ruling in August that blocked the law from applying to workplace training.) The legislation prohibits advancing concepts that make anyone feel “guilt, anguish or other psychological distress” related to race, color, national origin or sex because of actions “committed in the past,” and in college settings, the state has proposed rules tying compliance with the law to tenure reviews of faculty members.

Walker correctly lambasted the law for what it is — a ham-handed attempt by the state to crack down on protected speech and to chill university faculty from criticizing the government. In a 139-page order issuing a preliminary injunction against the law, Walker quoted George Orwell, and held that “the powers in charge of Florida’s public university system have declared the State has unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of ‘freedom.’ ” Walker found that Florida lawmakers adopted the statute this year “to confront certain viewpoints that offend the powers that be.” And he blasted the state’s argument that this was a workplace, not a free speech, issue.

“(Defendants) argue that because university professors are public employees, they are simply the State’s mouthpieces in university classrooms,” Walker wrote. “Under this Act, professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the State approves,” adding that, “according to Defendants, so long as professors work for the State, they must all read from the same music.”

DeSantis’ office said it would appeal — no surprise there — and the State University System would not comment. University of Florida Provost Joe Glover said the school was suspending its investigation procedures for reported violations of the law, an appropriate response that other higher education institutions in Florida should follow.

This law, which took effect July 1, was always intended to drive a racial wedge among the electorate and to inflame conspiracies about what’s happening in Florida’s educational system. Walker contributed further with his ruling by considering the practical effect of these restrictions on campus; “instructors can no longer express approval of affirmative action as an idea worthy of merit,” he wrote. And he mused that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor would not even be allowed to speak to a class of UF law students “about her own lived experience because it endorses affirmative action.”

The ruling should be a stinging reminder to DeSantis, and to the Legislature and university system that work in lockstep with him, that Floridians outside their bubble see through the political maneuvering behind the legislation. It’s another example of how the federal trial courts are but one of the few checks on a Republican administration whose hubris knows no bounds.

Miami Herald. November 21, 2022.

Editorial: Before Colorado, Pulse shooting shocked the nation. Florida didn’t learn its lesson

Florida carries the unfortunate distinction of relating to other communities after mass shootings. We know the chaos, the anger and the hurt that stay behind when a gunman opens fire at a school or gay nightclub.

We’re still learning what led to the killing of five people at Club Q in Colorado Springs over the weekend. Inevitably, the tragedy has brought to the forefront the series of anti-LGBTQ legislation introduced in many states, including Florida, and the bigoted rhetoric that has become pervasive on social media and from public figures and politicians.

Inevitably, it brings back the trauma of one of the nation’s deadliest massacres at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, where 49 were murdered in what’s probably the largest attack against the LGBTQ+ community in America.

These shootings are a sober reminder of our naivete regarding the fight for trans, gay and lesbian rights. We were led to believe that, very soon, sexuality or gender identity would be treated as just another trait about a person.

Progress, indeed, has happened, faster than many of us ever imagined. But that progress has been met with aggressive pushback as the community continues to be the target of physical and rhetorical violence.

On Monday, a 22-year-old man was charged with five counts of murder and hate crimes. The charges were preliminary and could change, the New York Times reported. What led him to act remains unclear. But we shouldn’t measure this tragedy based on intention, but on evil and impact.

Members of the Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ community have lost a haven where they could exist unafraid of the judgment and violence that threatened their existence outside. The shooting sends a chilling message to other gay enclaves like Wilton Manors and parts of Miami and Miami Beach that it’s risky to be too open and proud.

That has been the history of minorities in this country. With more rights and visibility also comes the backlash. It’s baffling that just years after the Pulse shooting, Florida has become a laboratory for anti-LGBTQ legislation.

The state last year banned transgender athletes from female sports. The number of such athletes in high school sports has been very small in previous years, and lawmakers could not come up with a single local current example of a trans athlete to justify passing a law.

The Sunshine State is home to the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill, banning instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in K-3, even though school officials say that was not part of the curriculum. Soon after the bill became law, the Miami-Dade County School Board ended the recognition of LGBTQ History Month.

Drag shows, once an underground performing art at gay bars that has gone mainstream, are the target du jour. Gov. DeSantis’ administration has tried to shut down a Miami bar after children were seen attending a popular drag brunch. The Proud Boys, an extremist right-wing group, has tried to disrupt drag-related events in other states.

Last year was the deadliest for transgender people in America. At least 45 trans or nonbinary people were killed, according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

This figure alone should quell those who question the need for Pride Month or LGBTQ History Month and frame them as a special privilege. It should quiet those who make jokes at the expense of trans people. It highlights the danger presented by politicians who rally their supporters with chants like, “A boy is a boy and a woman is a woman.”

Sunday, the day after the shooting, was Trans Day of Remembrance, an annual observance of victims of transphobia.

We must remember the massacres in Orlando and Colorado Springs every chance we get and challenge those who rather silence a community.

Perhaps, one day, we won’t need a day of remembrance. Today, unfortunately, we still do.

Orlando Sentinel. November 20, 2022.

Editorial: Defend Florida’s most vulnerable, hidden workers

Across Florida, tens of thousands of workers labor under uncertain conditions, paid far less than a living wage (and vulnerable for wage theft) and lacking critical protections like health insurance.

It says a lot about the status of work in the Sunshine State that the above paragraph could apply to several sectors of its labor force.

But a recent report from the Florida Policy Institute focuses on domestic workers — the 112,000-plus people who mind children, clean bathrooms and kitchens, care for elderly and disabled people and accomplish myriad other tasks needed to keep homes operational for the families who employ them.

They are a vast and vulnerable army, lacking any real weapons to use in self-defense besides their own willingness to work hard. Many of them are being taken advantage of, sometimes under conditions that approach — or even meet — the definition of abuse. And because they are largely invisible, little attention is paid to their plight.

A few states, however, are working to change that. There’s a compelling argument for Florida to join them.

The ranks of the vulnerable

The report, prepared by FPI with help from the Miami Workers Center, includes a statistical snapshot of domestic workers across Florida drawn primarily from the U.S. Census. It shows clear trends. Three-fifths are immigrants (more than double the proportion of immigrants in the state’s overall labor force) and one-third of those immigrants are undocumented, putting them at significantly higher risk of abuse. Three-quarters of them are Black or of Latin American descent. And 95% of them are women.

As a group, they are significantly underpaid. By FPI’s calculation, “the median hourly pay for domestic workers in Florida is $11.85. By comparison, the rest of Florida’s workforce earns a median wage of $19.13, which is 47% more than domestic workers.”

It’s important to remember that these figures represent the workers who can be found. The last Census saw significant undercounts among the same demographic groups that dominate this segment of the workforce. And some working under the table might not have been honest about their source of income, particularly those hired through private referrals, social-media platforms or other un-trackable means and paid under the table — or trafficked into this state to work in conditions of virtual slavery.

Even so, the breakdown reveals a population that lacks any significant protection: They aren’t covered by workplace safety rules or fair-wage laws, no government entity is looking out for their interests and they lack the ability to join forces and collectively bargain for better conditions, pay and safeguards against exploitation.

FPI’s proposed solution: A domestic workers’ bill of rights, which would explicitly cover them with protections that already protect the vast majority of the American labor force. The list of proposed elements includes the right to minimum wage and overtime pay; eligibility for paid leave; laws that prevent employers from seizing personal documents (including passports and other immigration paperwork) and other invasive means of putting workers at a disadvantage; and finally, the right to collective bargaining.

FPI believes — and we agree — that any protections should be given to all workers, regardless of their immigration status, and allow them to ask for help without risking deportation. Otherwise, the new laws will only drive the plight of undocumented workers even further into the shadows. This element will be a tough sell: Lawmakers love to rant about “illegals” invading Florida, while refusing to curtail businesses who employ them and profit from their labor.

FPI’s Alexis P. Tsoukalas, chief author of this report, acknowledges that this is a vast and thorny issue. But FPI’s proposal might be the best way to give domestic workers visibility, respect and strength they currently lack. That, in turn, could encourage more Florida workers to enter the domestic-services workforce, giving overstressed families better options as they choose the people who will help their children study, soothe the confused anxiety of their parents suffering from dementia and keep their homes clean and welcoming.

What are the chances of getting something like this through Florida’s super-majority Republican Legislature? To be honest: Slim. But if lawmakers want to prove to their constituents that they aren’t merely slaves themselves, bound only to corporate interests and political whims, they would send a powerful message by taking a stand in defense of this vast and vulnerable population — the meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness but have little chance of obtaining it on their own.

Palm Beach Post. November 16, 2022.

Editorial: Hurricanes Ian, Nicole are warning for Florida to take climate change impacts more seriously

Fourteen days and counting — that’s the time between now and the end of the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season. For many Floridians, Wednesday, Nov. 30, can’t come soon enough.

The question still unanswered is will state leaders do anything differently to address what is becoming a more destructive result of climate change. Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature will get their chance next month to address property insurance. A more comprehensive approach to climate change should be added to the agenda.

Hurricanes Ian and Nicole put enormous stress on Florida’s resiliency efforts to address the impacts of climate change and more importantly the fragile property insurance market. Ian’s losses based on insurance claims to date is estimated at $8.7 billion, according to state Office of Insurance Regulation figures. Losses from Nicole, a less powerful storm than Ian, was put at $790 million, according to CoreLogic, a property information and analytics firm.

It may be hard to imagine, but Florida dodged a bullet. Had either Hurricane Ian continued on its initial path toward Tampa, or if Nicole had shifted further south before making landfall in, say Fort Lauderdale, the damage to two of Florida’s most populous communities could have eradicated an already rickety property insurance market.

Florida property owners already pay three times more for home insurance than the national average, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Three times! Six insurers in Florida have declared insolvency before the two storms hit the state. Billions in losses from the recent storms are expected to add to the existing problem, and it could get worse under future worst-case storm scenarios made possible thanks to a warming global climate.

Fortunately, Florida’s largest property insurer, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., and the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund that provides reinsurance to private carriers have enough cash to meet their obligations from both storms. The danger is in the potential longer-term effects caused by the likelihood of stronger and more frequent storms.

Give Gov. DeSantis credit. In his first term, he created the position of chief resilience officer and backed legislation that created grants to help gird coastal communities against sea level rise. Unfortunately, his first chief resilience officer left after six months, and not before telling the public the state lacked a coherent statewide strategy to deal with climate change. The grants designed to improve sea walls, sewage pump stations and wastewater treatment, did little to help low-level communities flooded by Hurricane Ian, or structures toppled on to eroded beaches courtesy of Nicole. And while they might hold up against storms like Nicole, there’s no guarantee that those improvements will last over time without costly enhancements and upgrades.

True property insurance reform remains a priority. The Legislature’s first special session this year regarding property insurance produced $2 billion for re-insurance to help struggling private insurers, along with restrictions to curb fraud — results that many in the insurance industry say fell short of real needs. And that was before the hurricanes.

The special session scheduled for next month should produce programs that benefit both the industry and the consumer. The Governor and legislators should also pump more resources into a resilience program that has had a rocky start and needs a more comprehensive approach than what’s now being offered.

It’s easy to see why state leaders are focusing on the coasts. Florida’s 35 coastal counties contain 76% of the state’s population, and those communities contribute $584 billion dollars in economic activity, a significant part of the state’s total economy, according to the Florida Adaptation Planning Guidebook.

Coastal communities, however, aren’t the only areas in Florida that are at risk. Both hurricanes also sparked ongoing flooding in central Florida. The cost to repair and rebuild will be high, leading many to wonder if it’s worth it.

Florida’s leaders have come a long way from the days when former Gov. Rick Scott eschewed the term “climate change”. While Gov. DeSantis recognizes that rising seas are problematic, het has yet to publicly acknowledge climate change or show much interest in renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels helping to warm our climate.

If there was ever an ideal time for a change in course, next month’s special session is it.

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