Florida Editorial Roundup

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Oct. 17

The Ledger of Lakeland on minimum wage:

People rarely say they don’t want to make more money. And we Americans, being a generous lot, generally want others, especially those clumped on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, to pocket more dough.

To give them a boost, many recommend boosting the minimum wage. The popular figure bandied about in many quarters is $15 an hour - which would almost double the rate in Florida. Hence, a new study analyzing the potential effects of that should give us pause, especially if this issue re-emerges in Tallahassee next year.

As reported in Florida Trend, the study released last month by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh finds that Florida business owners would react harshly to the idea of a new government mandate to pay workers $15 an hour.

The survey polled 306 firms throughout the state. Three-quarters of them had fewer than 25 employees and 82 percent were not franchises. In essence, this sample represented the group that pro-business types refer to as the backbone of the America’s economy: small, independently owned companies. And roughly two-thirds of them represented the backbone of Florida’s economy: the hospitality and retail industries.

Currently, Florida’s minimum wage is $8.10 an hour. It’s slated to go up to $8.25 on Jan. 1.

When asked if the state increased that to $15 an hour - or 85 percent above the current level - many companies reported serious adverse effects.

- 48 percent said they would very likely raise prices, and another 11 percent were somewhat likely to do so.

- 43 percent indicated they would very likely roll back employees’ hours, while another 13 percent were somewhat likely to do so.

- 39 percent were very likely to lay people off, as another 12 percent were somewhat likely to trim staff.

- One third said they would either seek technology to replace human beings (21 percent very likely, 12 percent somewhat likely) or favor hiring more highly skilled workers instead of newcomers to the labor market (23 percent very likely, 10 percent somewhat likely).

- Thirty percent - 18 percent very likely, 12 percent somewhat likely - responded that they would close.

Optimists among the pro-$15-an-hour set would point out that most businesses would remain open or would not replace workers with robots, while half would not fire people. They could also point to studies from outside Florida that suggest raising the minimum wage produces no negative effects, and provides workers fatter paychecks.

But policymakers in Tallahassee should be wary of such arguments.

During Florida’s 2016 legislative session, bills were introduced to guarantee workers $15 an hour by January 2017. They died while mired in committees. Florida TaxWatch, the respected economic think tank in Tallahassee, noted afterward that had the legislation passed, employers immediately would have been socked with an additional $1.8 billion in labor costs.

If Florida goes that route, that cost must be spread somewhere - either on the backs of customers or current workers, or evident by shuttered store fronts.

TaxWatch pointed out last year that only 2 percent of Florida workers toil for minimum wage, and that the median hourly rate statewide was $15.29. Thus, a sizeable chunk of the state’s workforce reside in that zone above the current minimum wage yet below what many see as the desirable minimum wage.

Lawmakers should not automatically or completely dismiss the potential benefits of lifting salaries for these workers. But they should probe deeper the potential impact of such a dramatic hike. We may learn, as the Carnegie Mellon study suggests, that the cure may be far worse than the alleged illness.

Online: http://www.theledger.com/

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Oct. 13

The Tampa Bay Times on a Geico Insurance case:

Let’s get this straight. Ricky Melendez is on his way to work before dawn and gets hit by kids speeding in a stolen car. He suffers serious injuries and his car is totaled. And Geico says it’s protecting him by paying out his $20,000 policy to families of the teens who hit him?

That’s as believable as the Geico gecko and not nearly as funny.

There’s something fundamentally wrong with this picture. Melendez was on his way to his job at a grocery about 4 a.m. on Aug. 6 when he was hit by a speeding stolen Ford Explorer at Tampa Road and U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor. Authorities say the Explorer’s lights were out and it went through the intersection at 112 mph. Three of the four kids inside were killed, including the driver.

And Geico is paying $20,000 to the families of the kids from Melendez’s insurance?

No wonder Melendez is upset. Geico claims it is protecting its policyholder by reducing the chance he could be sued by the families. That seems like an awfully remote chance, given the facts. What the insurer is doing is protecting itself, and its promise that Melendez’s premiums won’t be raised rings hollow.

This is the problem with insurance and the legal system. Insurance payments are too often seen as the cost of doing business rather than as legitimate compensation for harm caused by the insured. That makes rates for everyone go up. And in this situation, there hasn’t even been a lawsuit filed.

If state legislators believe Geico is right, this is the perfect argument for tort reform. Otherwise, perhaps some new car insurance regulations are in order.

Online: http://www.tampabay.com/

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Oct. 18

The Sun Sentinel on Richard Spencer’s speech at the University of Florida:

The University of Florida on Thursday will host a racist speaker who dreams of an all-white homeland, who quotes Nazi propaganda and whose supporters respond to his calls for ethnic cleansing by clicking their heels and extending their arms in a Nazi salute.

UF had no choice but to provide a public platform to Richard Spencer, the leader of the alt-right white supremacist movement, because it’s a public university that rents its venues to the public.

And as much as citizens hate what Spencer spews, the university’s lawyers know the First Amendment protects all forms of speech, including hate speech, so long as the speaker doesn’t incite violence.

So on Thursday, let Gainesville show the world how America handles people who espouse vile values.

Let people not show up, the outcome hoped for by university and government officials.

Or let people show up for one of his 800 tickets, then redeem it for a free drink at a Gainesville brewery that’s made the offer.

Or let people show up, then stand and turn their backs in silent protest.

But please, let there not be violence, no matter what Spencer and his jack-booted thugs might shout.

In August, Spencer’s hateful message before a gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., ended in horror. Violent clashes broke out between Spencer’s followers and counter-protesters. In the end, a driver rammed his car into a crowd, killing one and injuring 19.

In the days that followed, UF rightly canceled Spencer’s planned speech on the Gainesville campus, scheduled for last month. With social media messages saying “The Next Battlefield is Florida,” the university needed time to assess the security threat and prepare.

But UF couldn’t ban Spencer forever. It faced a certain lawsuit that history shows it couldn’t have won. And no sense wasting money on legal fees.

Besides, universities are supposed to foster debate and free expression. And too often in recent years, they have shut out unpopular views. On liberal-leaning campuses, that generally means shutting out conservative speakers.

In March, for example, protesting students at Vermont’s Middlebury College shouted down and physically harassed author Charles Murray, who espouses controversial racial views.

And in April, the University of California at Berkeley said it couldn’t accommodate a planned speech by conservative commentator Ann Coulter because of security threats. Coulter called it “a sad day for free speech.” So it was.

Allowing a white supremacist to speak doesn’t mean you endorse his views. In truth, this event is a teachable moment to show students the importance of protecting free speech, including voices of dissent.

Let’s hope law enforcement has learned something from Charlottesville, and keeps protesters and counter-protesters away from one another.

But we agree with Spencer on one thing: it was overkill for Florida Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in advance of the speech.

The governor is quick to declare states of emergency. He’s done so for hurricanes, tropical storms, heavy rains, Zika, an expected influx of Puerto Rican hurricane evacuees, wildfires, the opioid epidemic and algae blooms. His request for an emergency designation after the Pulse shooting was denied by the federal government.

If Spencer’s speech truly poses an imminent threat, as the governor suggested, the event should be suspended for the same reason it was canceled in September. If he has information that violence is not just possible, but planned, cancellation is an allowable course of action. But in his decree, the governor said only that he found “the threat of a potential emergency is imminent” and the declaration would help with coordination among law enforcement agencies.

Surely law enforcement agencies can work together without signaling to the world that Florida is again under siege.

To avoid renting venues to future wackos, Florida universities should follow the lead of colleges in other states that require speakers to first secure the backing of a university-affiliated group. It’s not foolproof, but at least it gives the university a local group to hold accountable.

So, too, should state lawmakers find a teachable moment in the list of items police have banned from the event: weapons, lighters, torches, baseball bats, sticks, backpacks, water bottles, cans, coolers, umbrellas, masks and bandannas.

For last year, against the wishes of every state university president and campus police department, a group of lawmakers tried to pass a bill that would let people carry guns on campus.

Had the campus-carry bill passed, Thursday’s protesters couldn’t have carried a water bottle, but they could be packing heat. And that would be cause for a true state of emergency.

Online: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/

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Florida editorial roundup
Florida editorial roundup
Florida editorial roundup
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