Tampa Bay Times. October 13, 2021.

Editorial: The Tampa Bay Rays loss hurts. Losing the Rays would hurt a lot more

The Rays are looking for a new stadium. Will the Tampa Bay area deliver?

That hurt. Losing a playoff series always does, and falling to the rival Boston Red Sox stings a little bit extra. The crazy caroming ball play that went against the Rays late in Game 3 will take a while to get over. Nonetheless, a hearty congratulations for another entertaining season. By so many measures, the Rays overperformed on the field … again. Now, it’s time for all the off-the-field players to turn their attention to where the Rays will play future home games.

Dollar for dollar, few teams in American professional sports overperform like the Tampa Bay Rays. The team won Major League Baseball’s American League East division this year, tallying a club-record 100 victories. The Rays made the playoffs for the third consecutive season and for the seventh time in 14 years, a record topped by only the Cardinals, Yankees and Dodgers. The team twice made the World Series over that span, losing in 2008 to the Phillies and last season to the Dodgers.

And the Rays do it for a lot less money. On Aug. 31, the Rays payroll totaled less than $77 million, 26th highest out of 30 franchises, according to numbers compiled by Major League Baseball. None of the teams with lower payrolls this year got even a whiff of making the playoffs. At the other end of the pay scale, the Dodgers were spending nearly $261 million, the Yankees, $204 million, and the Red Sox, $187 million. Another way to think about the lopsided payrolls: How much did the teams spend for each regular season victory?: Dodgers: $2.4 million/win; Yankees: $2.2 million; Red Sox: $2 million; Rays: $766,000.

In fact, of all the teams that made the playoffs this year, none spent as little as the Rays on each win, not even close. The Rays have a long track record of finding underappreciated and underpaid talent and then squeezing every win from the motley assortment. Unfortunately, not that many fans show up to watch at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. For years, the team has ranked near the bottom in paid attendance. It’s hard to blame a good team with bad attendance from exploring new options for where to play home games.

As every fans knows by now, the Rays have pitched splitting home games with Montreal as the most promising way for the team to maintain a presence in the Tampa Bay area for the next 30 years. And the idea of a new outdoor stadium in or near Tampa’s Ybor City has the right people talking. Now is the time to build on that momentum. The Rays have to keep making their case to a skeptical public. They need to sell the community on why it should support building a new stadium for a part-time baseball team.

St. Petersburg and Pinellas officials have to get their heads around how — or if — the team fits into plans for a redeveloped Tropicana Field site. Their counterparts in Tampa have to figure out what financial and other incentives they can live with offering to encourage the team to build in Ybor. And everyone needs to encourage a constructive ongoing conversation. This is not the time to clam up or for grandstanding or unhelpful posturing.

Recent history suggests that the Rays will keep winning but far too few people will buy tickets to watch them play at their current stadium. That asymmetry cannot last. Something has to change or the Rays could wind up moving out of town entirely. The hard work needs to be done now to ensure the team stays in the Tampa Bay area, even if it’s part time.

Losing a playoff series stings. How would losing the team feel?

———

Palm Beach Post. October 13, 2021.

Editorial: Lay off the gas: No new fees for electric cars

The growth of the electric car industry is one of the hopeful signs Americans are taking the climate threat and this emerging technology seriously. Already electric vehicles and hybrids account for 3.5 percent of cars sold in Florida, the nation’s second highest rate. The sight of a Tesla hardly turns heads, and Elon Musk’s brainchild has company on the road in electric vehicles from Ford, Chevy, Kia, Nissan, Mini and other automakers.

So with climate change bearing down upon us, now is not the time to put the brakes on this momentum by levying fees on electric cars, as some states have done. To the contrary, Florida needs to increase incentives for electric vehicle purchases.

Like other states, Florida relies heavily on gas taxes, registration fees and the like to cover the heavy cost of roads, bridges and other infrastructure and services whose need vehicles generate. As motorists transition to electric vehicles, some states have been looking for ways to replace the gas tax revenues that electric vehicles don’t pay.

Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, among others, has been pushing for a flat fee on electric vehicles. He would charge $135 a year in addition to current license taxes. Big rigs would pay $235 a year. Adding a new charge on electric cars would run counter to the incentives that state and federal authorities have been putting in place to encourage the switch away from the polluting internal combustion engine.

Sure, it would benefit the petroleum industry, by shifting upward pressure on gas prices to electric cars, but it would come at the expense of a cleaner environment. Gently increasing gas prices are precisely what’s needed to nudge consumers to rethink vehicle choices. There’s some logic to having us all contribute to road upkeep but priority No. 1 has to be reducing carbon emissions as quickly as possible. A new fee would make sense 30 years from now, after the transition but not now.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), at least 47 states and the District of Columbia offer incentives for electric car use. These include high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane exemptions, purchase incentives, parking incentives and utility rate reductions. Utilities offer rebates and grants, and price reductions for off-peak charging.

President Biden’s proposed budget would expand consumer tax credits for electric vehicles built by union worker-powered assembly lines, notes former Pennsylvania Congressman Ron Klink. Klink endorses that plan as a way to not only ease pressure on the climate but to encourage U.S. production of electric vehicles.

“Zero-emission cars and trucks will save consumers money, cut pollution, benefit public health, advance environmental justice and help bolster our important work to stem the devastating effects of climate change,” he said.

Klink pointed to a bill by Michigan Democrats Sen. Debbie Stabenow and State Rep. Dan Kildee that would extend the existing electric car tax credit, expand it if the car is made by American union labor and again if it has a U.S.-made battery.

Some argue that it’s unfair that electric vehicle owners get to use the same roads as everyone else without paying for the maintenance. That means that as the percentage of gas-powered cars diminishes, there won’t be enough revenue to cover the cost, says Ananth Prasad, president of the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association and former secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation.

———

Orlando Sentinel. October 13, 2021.

Editorial: Florida’s plan to defund counties — and make them sicker — through vaccine fines

Talk about defunding the police.

The Florida Department of Health wants to fine Leon County $3.57 million for requiring employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

That’s a significant chunk of money. Where’s the county going to go to find it?

The easiest place is where the county spends the most money — public safety. Fully half of the increased spending in Leon County’s new budget is dedicated to law enforcement and fire services, including 10 new positions for the Sheriff’s Office.

These are the decisions Florida is forcing counties like Leon to make because of the state’s heavy-handed, authoritarian approach to managing the pandemic. It’s a radical departure from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ early pandemic view that local governments were best positioned to make decisions. (Then again, his presidential ambitions were less obvious early in the pandemic.)

Today, in this new top-down management scheme, an all-powerful state micromanages the affairs of cities, counties and business. Step out of line and the state’s going to smack you down with millions of dollars in fines.

Why even bother with county government any longer?

If you think the fine against Leon, Florida’s 22nd largest county, is large, wait until the Department of Health sets its sights on Orange County, the fifth largest.

Like Leon, Orange mandated vaccines for its employees, but it has at least 10 times more workers. That could mean fines against Orange County approaching $40 million.

Whose hide will that come out of? The Sheriff’s Office? Public transportation? Parks? After-school programs? Mosquito control?

Orange and Leon counties are among the dozens of governments, businesses and institutions that Florida is investigating for violating the state’s “vaccine passport” law, a political stunt hatched by DeSantis earlier this year and passed by his minions in the Legislature.

The law, which carries a $5,000 fine for each violation, is being challenged as unconstitutional by Norwegian Cruise Line, which is among the entities on Florida’s vaccine passport investigation hit list.

Constitutional questions aside, the law is hopelessly vague when it comes to local governments’ requiring employees to get vaccinated.

The law all along was intended to prohibit businesses and governments from conditioning services based on vaccination status. In other words, a grocery store couldn’t stop a customer from shopping without proof of vaccination. Neither could a government stop a resident from renewing her drivers license without such proof.

The law, as applied to governments, says they may not require COVID documentation for someone “to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the governmental entity’s operations in this state.”

It says nothing about requiring a COVID vaccine as a condition of employment, something that’s been previously upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Florida’s law is more explicit about private businesses, saying vaccine documentation is prohibited for customers.

But DeSantis is in a never-ending race to the bottom with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who this week signed an executive order prohibiting all vaccine mandates.

DeSantis countered that he wants the Legislature to pass yet another law, this one stopping private employers from requiring employees to get vaccinated. That would apply to Florida’s largest employer, Walt Disney World, which is mandating employee vaccines.

Yes, the two governors whose states have been the epicenters for COVID death and suffering all summer — and to this day are averaging more than twice as many deaths per week as any other state — are doing their very best to ensure fewer people get vaccinated.

Leon, Orange and every other county that cares about their autonomy and the health of its employees and residents needs to go to court and fight the state with everything they have.

The governor has made clear his growing disdain for vaccines, our state’s best hope for controlling the pandemic. It’s time for the governments closest to the people put up a united front against state strongmen.

———

South Florida Sun Sentinel. October 12, 2021.

Editorial: Time for Florida to safeguard consumers’ cash and phones

Consumers constantly need safeguards in Florida.

The deck is stacked against them. The political culture in Tallahassee vigilantly looks out for the corporate moneyed interests that bankroll candidates. That means consumer protections are often a joke, which in turn makes the state an easy target for scams and rip-offs.

At the same time, changing technology leaves too many people behind, especially those without money or political power.

The growing trend of cashless stores puts many poor people at risk in the U.S. as more retailers accept payment only in credit or debit cards, smartphones or other technology. Cash is no longer king. Many people have stopped carrying it. Keeping track of it and making bank deposits is inconvenient for businesses.

But for many, especially the poor, cash is their only form of currency, and thankfully, they still have some champions in the Legislature.

Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, and Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Wellington, have filed bills in the upcoming legislative session to require businesses in fixed locations, including food trucks, to accept cash. The bills (SB 408, HB 233) would prohibit charging fees as a condition of taking cash or face a $2,500 fine.

“This is common sense,” Jones told the Sun Sentinel editorial board. “Everyone does not have a credit card.”

Some seniors don’t have credit cards because they worry about identity theft or fraud, Willhite said. Teenagers don’t have them and tourists like to spend U.S. greenbacks. Refusing cash “sends the wrong message,” he said.

Several states have passed laws preventing cashless stores, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Colorado, and the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Berkeley, Calif. Contrary to perception, Willhite’s office notes, no federal law requires private businesses to accept cash as legal tender.

Requiring businesses to take cash might not seem controversial. But this is Florida, where a strong business lobby often has enough political muscle, and campaign money, to block any consumer protections. So passage of a law requiring cash be accepted as currency is far from assured in the state Capitol, which is why you should dash off an email to Jones and Willhite and tell them why you support this idea.

A second consumer issue that demands state attention is the growing practice of unsolicited and unwanted text messaging by people in search of home sellers, as housing prices have skyrocketed in a seller’s market.

These nuisance texts from real estate agents and companies are proliferating in South Florida. As Sun Sentinel business writer Ron Hurtibise reports, people are getting increasingly frustrated and have no recourse — even if they are on the state’s Do Not Call registry.

That’s because state laws regulate direct sales of products and services, and these bothersome texts are neither. Asking someone if they want to sell something “is different,” said Alan Parkinson, chief of mediation and enforcement in the state Division of Consumer Services. Caller IDs don’t help because the software that sends the messages can evade it.

One reason it’s easy to target people this way is because home ownership information is readily accessible on public websites, such as county property appraisers. But the solution here is not to restrict access to that information, which serves many legitimate public purposes.

Rather, the state should tighten laws that limit unwanted solicitation of text messages. That regulation is under the control of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, headed by Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor.

Consumers harassed by unsolicited text messages should file complaints at FloridaConsumerHelp.com or by calling 800-HELP-FLA or 800-FL-AYUDA in Spanish. Fried would do Floridians a favor by finding a practical solution to this problem, which will only get worse until or unless housing prices stabilize.

———

Miami Herald. October 7, 2021.

Editorial: So, Florida schools need feds’ $2.3 billion, after all? We thought so, Gov. DeSantis

Until Wednesday, Florida was the only state in the nation leaving billions of federal COVID-19 relief dollars for education on the table. The reason? School districts didn’t express a desire for that money, according to the governor’s office.

The Biden administration on Monday said the state had missed deadlines in June, July and August to submit plans on how to spend money from the American Rescue Plan signed by the president. That happened because, “No district has articulated a need for funding that cannot be met with currently available resources,” Gov. Ron DeSantis’ spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said in a statement to the Herald/Times on Monday.

Pushaw was referring to the first two rounds of federal funding that already have been allocated. But the state could not receive the third round — worth $2.3 billion — without submitting a plan to the Biden administration.

Now a 342-page plan has materialized, just two days after the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to Florida warning that the state’s “failure to meet its responsibilities is delaying the release of essential” resources. The Associated Press reported the plan was submitted late Wednesday.

Summary =

Body = Tampa Bay Times. October 13, 2021.

Editorial: The Tampa Bay Rays loss hurts. Losing the Rays would hurt a lot more

The Rays are looking for a new stadium. Will the Tampa Bay area deliver?

That hurt. Losing a playoff series always does, and falling to the rival Boston Red Sox stings a little bit extra. The crazy caroming ball play that went against the Rays late in Game 3 will take a while to get over. Nonetheless, a hearty congratulations for another entertaining season. By so many measures, the Rays overperformed on the field … again. Now, it’s time for all the off-the-field players to turn their attention to where the Rays will play future home games.

Dollar for dollar, few teams in American professional sports overperform like the Tampa Bay Rays. The team won Major League Baseball’s American League East division this year, tallying a club-record 100 victories. The Rays made the playoffs for the third consecutive season and for the seventh time in 14 years, a record topped by only the Cardinals, Yankees and Dodgers. The team twice made the World Series over that span, losing in 2008 to the Phillies and last season to the Dodgers.

And the Rays do it for a lot less money. On Aug. 31, the Rays payroll totaled less than $77 million, 26th highest out of 30 franchises, according to numbers compiled by Major League Baseball. None of the teams with lower payrolls this year got even a whiff of making the playoffs. At the other end of the pay scale, the Dodgers were spending nearly $261 million, the Yankees, $204 million, and the Red Sox, $187 million. Another way to think about the lopsided payrolls: How much did the teams spend for each regular season victory?: Dodgers: $2.4 million/win; Yankees: $2.2 million; Red Sox: $2 million; Rays: $766,000.

In fact, of all the teams that made the playoffs this year, none spent as little as the Rays on each win, not even close. The Rays have a long track record of finding underappreciated and underpaid talent and then squeezing every win from the motley assortment. Unfortunately, not that many fans show up to watch at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. For years, the team has ranked near the bottom in paid attendance. It’s hard to blame a good team with bad attendance from exploring new options for where to play home games.

As every fans knows by now, the Rays have pitched splitting home games with Montreal as the most promising way for the team to maintain a presence in the Tampa Bay area for the next 30 years. And the idea of a new outdoor stadium in or near Tampa’s Ybor City has the right people talking. Now is the time to build on that momentum. The Rays have to keep making their case to a skeptical public. They need to sell the community on why it should support building a new stadium for a part-time baseball team.

St. Petersburg and Pinellas officials have to get their heads around how — or if — the team fits into plans for a redeveloped Tropicana Field site. Their counterparts in Tampa have to figure out what financial and other incentives they can live with offering to encourage the team to build in Ybor. And everyone needs to encourage a constructive ongoing conversation. This is not the time to clam up or for grandstanding or unhelpful posturing.

Recent history suggests that the Rays will keep winning but far too few people will buy tickets to watch them play at their current stadium. That asymmetry cannot last. Something has to change or the Rays could wind up moving out of town entirely. The hard work needs to be done now to ensure the team stays in the Tampa Bay area, even if it’s part time.

Losing a playoff series stings. How would losing the team feel?

———

Palm Beach Post. October 13, 2021.

Editorial: Lay off the gas: No new fees for electric cars

The growth of the electric car industry is one of the hopeful signs Americans are taking the climate threat and this emerging technology seriously. Already electric vehicles and hybrids account for 3.5 percent of cars sold in Florida, the nation’s second highest rate. The sight of a Tesla hardly turns heads, and Elon Musk’s brainchild has company on the road in electric vehicles from Ford, Chevy, Kia, Nissan, Mini and other automakers.

So with climate change bearing down upon us, now is not the time to put the brakes on this momentum by levying fees on electric cars, as some states have done. To the contrary, Florida needs to increase incentives for electric vehicle purchases.

Like other states, Florida relies heavily on gas taxes, registration fees and the like to cover the heavy cost of roads, bridges and other infrastructure and services whose need vehicles generate. As motorists transition to electric vehicles, some states have been looking for ways to replace the gas tax revenues that electric vehicles don’t pay.

Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, among others, has been pushing for a flat fee on electric vehicles. He would charge $135 a year in addition to current license taxes. Big rigs would pay $235 a year. Adding a new charge on electric cars would run counter to the incentives that state and federal authorities have been putting in place to encourage the switch away from the polluting internal combustion engine.

Sure, it would benefit the petroleum industry, by shifting upward pressure on gas prices to electric cars, but it would come at the expense of a cleaner environment. Gently increasing gas prices are precisely what’s needed to nudge consumers to rethink vehicle choices. There’s some logic to having us all contribute to road upkeep but priority No. 1 has to be reducing carbon emissions as quickly as possible. A new fee would make sense 30 years from now, after the transition but not now.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), at least 47 states and the District of Columbia offer incentives for electric car use. These include high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane exemptions, purchase incentives, parking incentives and utility rate reductions. Utilities offer rebates and grants, and price reductions for off-peak charging.

President Biden’s proposed budget would expand consumer tax credits for electric vehicles built by union worker-powered assembly lines, notes former Pennsylvania Congressman Ron Klink. Klink endorses that plan as a way to not only ease pressure on the climate but to encourage U.S. production of electric vehicles.

“Zero-emission cars and trucks will save consumers money, cut pollution, benefit public health, advance environmental justice and help bolster our important work to stem the devastating effects of climate change,” he said.

Klink pointed to a bill by Michigan Democrats Sen. Debbie Stabenow and State Rep. Dan Kildee that would extend the existing electric car tax credit, expand it if the car is made by American union labor and again if it has a U.S.-made battery.

Some argue that it’s unfair that electric vehicle owners get to use the same roads as everyone else without paying for the maintenance. That means that as the percentage of gas-powered cars diminishes, there won’t be enough revenue to cover the cost, says Ananth Prasad, president of the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association and former secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation.

———

Orlando Sentinel. October 13, 2021.

Editorial: Florida’s plan to defund counties — and make them sicker — through vaccine fines

Talk about defunding the police.

The Florida Department of Health wants to fine Leon County $3.57 million for requiring employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

That’s a significant chunk of money. Where’s the county going to go to find it?

The easiest place is where the county spends the most money — public safety. Fully half of the increased spending in Leon County’s new budget is dedicated to law enforcement and fire services, including 10 new positions for the Sheriff’s Office.

These are the decisions Florida is forcing counties like Leon to make because of the state’s heavy-handed, authoritarian approach to managing the pandemic. It’s a radical departure from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ early pandemic view that local governments were best positioned to make decisions. (Then again, his presidential ambitions were less obvious early in the pandemic.)

Today, in this new top-down management scheme, an all-powerful state micromanages the affairs of cities, counties and business. Step out of line and the state’s going to smack you down with millions of dollars in fines.

Why even bother with county government any longer?

If you think the fine against Leon, Florida’s 22nd largest county, is large, wait until the Department of Health sets its sights on Orange County, the fifth largest.

Like Leon, Orange mandated vaccines for its employees, but it has at least 10 times more workers. That could mean fines against Orange County approaching $40 million.

Whose hide will that come out of? The Sheriff’s Office? Public transportation? Parks? After-school programs? Mosquito control?

Orange and Leon counties are among the dozens of governments, businesses and institutions that Florida is investigating for violating the state’s “vaccine passport” law, a political stunt hatched by DeSantis earlier this year and passed by his minions in the Legislature.

The law, which carries a $5,000 fine for each violation, is being challenged as unconstitutional by Norwegian Cruise Line, which is among the entities on Florida’s vaccine passport investigation hit list.

Constitutional questions aside, the law is hopelessly vague when it comes to local governments’ requiring employees to get vaccinated.

The law all along was intended to prohibit businesses and governments from conditioning services based on vaccination status. In other words, a grocery store couldn’t stop a customer from shopping without proof of vaccination. Neither could a government stop a resident from renewing her drivers license without such proof.

The law, as applied to governments, says they may not require COVID documentation for someone “to gain access to, entry upon, or service from the governmental entity’s operations in this state.”

It says nothing about requiring a COVID vaccine as a condition of employment, something that’s been previously upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Florida’s law is more explicit about private businesses, saying vaccine documentation is prohibited for customers.

But DeSantis is in a never-ending race to the bottom with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who this week signed an executive order prohibiting all vaccine mandates.

DeSantis countered that he wants the Legislature to pass yet another law, this one stopping private employers from requiring employees to get vaccinated. That would apply to Florida’s largest employer, Walt Disney World, which is mandating employee vaccines.

Yes, the two governors whose states have been the epicenters for COVID death and suffering all summer — and to this day are averaging more than twice as many deaths per week as any other state — are doing their very best to ensure fewer people get vaccinated.

Leon, Orange and every other county that cares about their autonomy and the health of its employees and residents needs to go to court and fight the state with everything they have.

The governor has made clear his growing disdain for vaccines, our state’s best hope for controlling the pandemic. It’s time for the governments closest to the people put up a united front against state strongmen.

———

South Florida Sun Sentinel. October 12, 2021.

Editorial: Time for Florida to safeguard consumers’ cash and phones

Consumers constantly need safeguards in Florida.

The deck is stacked against them. The political culture in Tallahassee vigilantly looks out for the corporate moneyed interests that bankroll candidates. That means consumer protections are often a joke, which in turn makes the state an easy target for scams and rip-offs.

At the same time, changing technology leaves too many people behind, especially those without money or political power.

The growing trend of cashless stores puts many poor people at risk in the U.S. as more retailers accept payment only in credit or debit cards, smartphones or other technology. Cash is no longer king. Many people have stopped carrying it. Keeping track of it and making bank deposits is inconvenient for businesses.

But for many, especially the poor, cash is their only form of currency, and thankfully, they still have some champions in the Legislature.

Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, and Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Wellington, have filed bills in the upcoming legislative session to require businesses in fixed locations, including food trucks, to accept cash. The bills (SB 408, HB 233) would prohibit charging fees as a condition of taking cash or face a $2,500 fine.

“This is common sense,” Jones told the Sun Sentinel editorial board. “Everyone does not have a credit card.”

Some seniors don’t have credit cards because they worry about identity theft or fraud, Willhite said. Teenagers don’t have them and tourists like to spend U.S. greenbacks. Refusing cash “sends the wrong message,” he said.

Several states have passed laws preventing cashless stores, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Colorado, and the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Berkeley, Calif. Contrary to perception, Willhite’s office notes, no federal law requires private businesses to accept cash as legal tender.

Requiring businesses to take cash might not seem controversial. But this is Florida, where a strong business lobby often has enough political muscle, and campaign money, to block any consumer protections. So passage of a law requiring cash be accepted as currency is far from assured in the state Capitol, which is why you should dash off an email to Jones and Willhite and tell them why you support this idea.

A second consumer issue that demands state attention is the growing practice of unsolicited and unwanted text messaging by people in search of home sellers, as housing prices have skyrocketed in a seller’s market.

These nuisance texts from real estate agents and companies are proliferating in South Florida. As Sun Sentinel business writer Ron Hurtibise reports, people are getting increasingly frustrated and have no recourse — even if they are on the state’s Do Not Call registry.

That’s because state laws regulate direct sales of products and services, and these bothersome texts are neither. Asking someone if they want to sell something “is different,” said Alan Parkinson, chief of mediation and enforcement in the state Division of Consumer Services. Caller IDs don’t help because the software that sends the messages can evade it.

One reason it’s easy to target people this way is because home ownership information is readily accessible on public websites, such as county property appraisers. But the solution here is not to restrict access to that information, which serves many legitimate public purposes.

Rather, the state should tighten laws that limit unwanted solicitation of text messages. That regulation is under the control of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, headed by Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor.

Consumers harassed by unsolicited text messages should file complaints at FloridaConsumerHelp.com or by calling 800-HELP-FLA or 800-FL-AYUDA in Spanish. Fried would do Floridians a favor by finding a practical solution to this problem, which will only get worse until or unless housing prices stabilize.

———

Miami Herald. October 7, 2021.

Editorial: So, Florida schools need feds’ $2.3 billion, after all? We thought so, Gov. DeSantis

Until Wednesday, Florida was the only state in the nation leaving billions of federal COVID-19 relief dollars for education on the table. The reason? School districts didn’t express a desire for that money, according to the governor’s office.

The Biden administration on Monday said the state had missed deadlines in June, July and August to submit plans on how to spend money from the American Rescue Plan signed by the president. That happened because, “No district has articulated a need for funding that cannot be met with currently available resources,” Gov. Ron DeSantis’ spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said in a statement to the Herald/Times on Monday.

Pushaw was referring to the first two rounds of federal funding that already have been allocated. But the state could not receive the third round — worth $2.3 billion — without submitting a plan to the Biden administration.

Now a 342-page plan has materialized, just two days after the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to Florida warning that the state’s “failure to meet its responsibilities is delaying the release of essential” resources. The Associated Press reported the plan was submitted late Wednesday.

We’re puzzled. Did school districts suddenly change their minds about wanting to tap into those $2.3 billion? Or was the answer from DeSantis’ office pure smoke and mirrors?

The narrative pushed by the governor didn’t hold water in Florida’s largest school district in Miami-Dade. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Herald Editorial Board the obvious: Public schools need that money in one of the counties hardest hit by COVID. He added that officials from many districts asked the Florida Department of Education during several routine calls when the application process for the funds would begin.

After taking questions from the Editorial Board, Carvalho decided to make his desire for those dollars known in a more formal way: He sent a letter on Wednesday to Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. That was just hours before Florida shipped its plan for the $2.3 billion to D.C., and it’s unclear whether the letter pushed the state to move faster.

Of course, the Editorial Board had some questions, too, querying not only the Miami-Dade school district, but also the Florida Department of Education. FDOE had its own version of the facts that rebutted the scathing letter from the federal government and, at the same time, undermined the narrative that districts weren’t interested in the money.

The FDOE said that, “Florida has NEVER missed any deadline” and that it “communicated well in advance” with the federal government that it wouldn’t be able to meet a June deadline because it “needed additional time” to gather and analyze end-of-year student achievement data. The federal government noted in its letter that Florida also missed deadlines it was expected to meet in July and August after conversations with its federal counterparts. Florida refuted that by providing an Aug. 2 email that showed the state telling the U.S. Department of Education that it anticipated sharing the plan in August with the State Board of Education, not that the plan would be submitted by then.

Perhaps this was just a big misunderstanding between the federal government, Florida and school districts — though it’s hard to believe that when we’re talking about DeSantis and the Biden administration, which are each other’s favorite political punching bags.

Miami-Dade’s share of the $2.3 billion is $1.05 billion to be split with charter schools, which are public but run by private entities. Traditional public schools get $823 million that the district plans to use to accelerate student learning, address mental health, make infrastructure improvements to prepare for a potential new wave of the coronavirus and staff retention, Carvalho said. These are much needed.

The good news is that, with a little push, things are getting done. The FDOE said a process “will be set up to allow districts to request” the third round of federal dollars, but didn’t say when.

How about sooner rather than later?

END

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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