Saturday, January 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Drug database needs privacy protections

Florida's prescription drug database is a valuable weapon in curbing the public damage from drug-related deaths, narcotics tourism and criminal trafficking. But it should not be used by law enforcement as a stocked pond for fishing expeditions. The Legislature needs to strengthen privacy protections without taking this tool away from law enforcement. And Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has been so concerned about citizens' privacy with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, should see the value in that.

The database program, created in the wake of an epidemic of prescription drug-related deaths, requires pharmacies and physicians who dispense certain drugs to report that information — including personal and business data about the patient, doctor and pharmacy — to the state. In operation since 2011, the database has helped authorities crack down on pill mills, doctor-shopping and trafficking, and since it has come into being, deaths caused by oxycodone and other harmful drugs have dropped, as has the practice of doctor-shopping.

But with this success Floridians unknowingly lost some personal privacy, as the original state law left a virtual open door for law enforcement. Now state Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, chairman of the Senate Health Policy Committee, has proposed a bill (SPB 7016) to require a court subpoena before law enforcement may obtain database records.

Bondi and state prosecutors oppose the change, saying it would hamstring authorities, clog up the courts and remove a valuable tool from law enforcement. None of that's the case. Police and prosecutors have easy access to the courts to seek a subpoena. Their concern should be about establishing a legal basis for access — not convenience. Issuing these orders is routine for the courts; the only thing it may hamper is indiscriminate snooping. And nothing about this bill removes a tool for law enforcement. They still have access to the database. And the state could still track the database for suspicious patterns and alert police, who could use the tip as the basis for obtaining a subpoena.

As it currently stands, law enforcement merely needs to claim that access to the records "could" lead to charges for the Florida Department of Health to provide access to the database. On that score, nearly 1,000 police and investigators across the state are authorized to seek the records, and in three years of operation, the department has granted 34,733 requests — more than 98 percent of all requests by police to a database that holds nearly 90 million records. And agencies can keep this information on file for two years, even if an agency's investigation is no longer active.

This is an egregious invasion of privacy that makes a suspect out of every Florida patient. It is also unnecessary and over the long run likely will dampen public support for keeping this valuable database. Eighteen of the 49 states with drug monitoring programs require police and prosecutors to obtain a court order to access the records. Bondi should be working with Bean and lawmakers to bring some sensible balance to the registry.

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Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18