With the Legislature in session, what new, unfunded mandates will come from Tallahassee this year, putting additional burdens on our schools, cities and counties?
Florida PTA, the state's oldest and largest child advocacy association, encourages every citizen to get involved. Citizens should be concerned about the continued cuts to education and the negative effects these cuts have on our children.
Florida PTA's 330,000-plus members support a quality public education for every child. The Legislature must make difficult decisions to balance the budget without taking money from K-12 education. Our economic recovery depends on our investment in our future work force.
To find solutions to the funding shortfall, all options should be considered, including sales tax reform. Eliminating some of the hundreds of sales tax exemptions will help our state bridge its budget deficit.
A budget shortfall should not mean implementing new, unfunded mandates or making teachers and other pubic employees Public Enemy No. 1. Our children deserve (and our Constitution provides for) a high-quality, free public education.
Jean Hovey, president, Florida PTA, Winter Springs
Don't discourage tourists
Every day, potential visitors search online for the best deals on flights, lodging and leisure activities in Florida. These tourists' purchases provide critical sales tax dollars to our state.
As president of the Florida State Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, I strongly support HB 493/SB 376, which protects Florida's Hispanic business community from additional tax burdens. My organization represents more than 80,000 Hispanic business owners throughout the state, including many in the travel industry.
Small, independent hotel owners depend on online travel agencies to sell hotel rooms that would otherwise go unsold. These business owners use national websites to reach out-of-state visitors. Recent proposals to raise taxes on online travel companies would kill any advantage these small businesses have over larger, more nationally marketed chains. These efforts also would make Florida more expensive to visit compared with the 48 other states that have not established this proposed tax.
Now is not the time to make it more expensive to travel to Florida.
Julio Fuentes, president, Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Lake Worth
Florida lawmakers target 'sharia' law March 10
An embarrassing bill
Proposed legislation that would ban sharia law from Florida courts is an embarrassment to its sponsors and the state of Florida.
Sen. Alan Hays and Rep. Larry Metz cite the need to protect Florida courts from sharia law but cite no examples of when our courts have been threatened by foreign law. Let's call this what it really is: ignorant legislation.
Our federal and state constitutions make clear the source of our law and provide no avenue for inclusion of religious law. There is no crisis for which this bill can purport to solve. Its passage would bring great shame on the Legislature and the state of Florida.
Tyler Hudson, Tampa
I recently moved to Palm Beach County after being forced to move out of Broward County because of the state's failed experiment in Medicaid reform.
Beginning in 2006, Medicaid recipients in Broward County had to choose from among very poor, privately run HMO-style health plans. This program caused me agony for three years.
Without the Broward County Medical Association's constant help, I couldn't get my medicines. Soon, even the association couldn't help. To get a prescription filled, it had to be listed on my plan's formulary — a very narrow list of the most inexpensive drugs. Virtually all of my prescriptions had been denied, even though all were under generic form.
The doctors tried to help me get my lifesaving prescriptions filled, but even when they told my plan how detrimental it would be for me to be without them, coverage was rejected.
I am horrified that the Legislature is considering spreading Medicaid reform to the rest of Florida. This must be prevented at all costs.
Amy Silverman, Delray Beach
What can we do? | March 5
Reform juvenile justice
Officer David Crawford should be headed to his midnight shift tonight, and Nicholas Lindsey should be headed to school Monday. As we ache for this loss, the tragedy demands we engage our local communities as we answer the question "What can we do?"
Nationwide, approximately 52 percent of adult inmates have been touched by the juvenile justice system. It doesn't take great business acumen to realize that the runaway costs of building more prisons and the epidemic violence and waste of human lives can be reduced by preventing youths from committing needless crimes in the first place.
I recently served on Gov. Rick Scott's law-and-order transition team, tasked with the challenge of providing real solutions to improve the juvenile justice system. Many recommendations included best practices that would result in better outcomes for youths and families and improve public safety.
One major recommendation was "community-based juvenile justice." This approach would bring about major system reform by empowering local communities to customize and manage their own juvenile justice networks, bringing the right care at the right time and at the right cost to youths and families, with focus on performance and accountability.
I am encouraged that Rep. Richard Corcoran and Sen. Mike Fasano have introduced legislation to pilot test community-based juvenile justice. I'm hopeful local communities can work together to provide the best solutions for all youths, including the ones who grow up in areas where violence seems like the only answer.
David Dennis, president and CEO, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, Clearwater
Family involvement key
Your series of articles spotlighted some of the problems facing today's youths, particularly those in at-risk situations, and offered a variety of potential solutions.
Lutheran Services Florida has nearly three decades of experience serving at-risk children and families across the state. We see firsthand the results when needed help is not available. Through our Head Start and Early Head Start programs, our Youth Shelters, our Teen Court program, and our Child Welfare Case Management program for foster care and adoptions, we give youths a chance to be something more than a statistic. Through all of these programs, family involvement is key. Those who work with at-risk youths must also work with their families to end the cycle of violence, abuse and crime that plagues our society.
Gov. Rick Scott and Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters support early intervention and effective diversion programs for first-time youthful offenders that can give them the opportunity to avoid a life of crime and incarceration.
Samuel M. Sipes, president, Lutheran Services Florida, Tampa
Single mothers struggle
On March 5 you ran several columns suggesting solutions to social and educational problems in the African-American community, especially among males. Since I have two African-American great-grandsons, I believe I have a right to participate in this discussion.
Nationally, over 70 percent of African-American children are born out of wedlock. Far too many African-American children are raised by single mothers, with insufficient male influences in their lives. This may be a reason why black males are far more affected than black females.
The problem is our changed attitudes toward marriage beginning in the 1960s. Today 41 percent of all American children are born out of wedlock. This compares to about 5 percent in 1960. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was upset by a 25 percent rate of unwed births among African-Americans. Liberal colleagues condemned him for mentioning this problem.
Today over 50 percent of Hispanic children are born to single mothers. The rate among whites without a college degree is also far too high. This problem of unwed births is severe among all working-class groups. So males in these other communities are in danger of increasingly being affected by the problems that now afflict black males.
Arthur Volbert, St. Petersburg
Ill. governor abolishes death penalty March 10
Abolition is right course
Being adamantly against putting prisoners to death, I applaud and commend Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn for abolishing the death penalty on Wednesday and commuting the sentences of those 15 inmates remaining on death row.
I concur with Quinn's concern that innocent people could be put to death by our justice system — which isn't always just. Too many times, innocent people have been wrongly convicted. Some have been lucky, as they were exonerated through DNA. Unfortunately, others have been executed.
With 15 other states also stopping executions, my sincere hope is that more governors across these United States will adopt Quinn's ruling.
JoAnn Lee Frank, Clearwater
The last time I checked, both the Times and the Tampa Tribune were private businesses. So why are they allowed to sell their product on the public streets and medians? Should Starbucks be allowed to sell coffee in the medians, or Macy's sell shirts on every street corner?
It's not fair to let one business conduct the sales of its product on, and in, the public streets, and not let every other business have the same permission.
Ford Smith, Tampa
Race plot scandal | Feb. 25
Poor education, poverty
This article makes sweeping generalizations about Gadsden County based on one isolated incident. I live in Quincy, where nearly every position of power is maintained by a black person.
Gadsden County certainly has some major problems, but white people repressing blacks is the least of them. The biggest problems in Gadsden County are poor education, poverty and a culture that perpetuates a cycle of these traits.
There is no good ol' boys system in power in Gadsden County. There is simply a community that lacks education and seems to lack the ability to improve itself.
April Wade, Quincy
Steep increase — or not?
Today I had the pleasure of opening my insurance quote for homeowner coverage for the next year. I am being asked to pay $3,912.87 for the same coverage that cost me $2,414.44 last year — a 62 percent increase.
Then I called the company posing as a new customer. I answered the standard questions about previous claims (none in three years), and so on. About an hour later I received an e-mail quote of $2,634.77 for virtually the same coverage. This quote did not include credit for my windstorm mitigation inspectpection report. Something is drastically wrong with this picture.
Bob Cianci, Tarpon Springs
Boom is over
I do not understand the push to reduce growth management in order to make development easier for the stated purpose of economic recovery.
During the housing and building boom, more houses and condominiums were built than there were people to live in them. We have more unoccupied houses and empty commercial properties and office space than we know what to do with.
Florida has always relied on a growing population and development to fuel our economy. Those days are over, and building more structures that will sit vacant will not revive our economy. It is time to shift gears and move our state in a different direction.
Sam Jordan, St. Petersburg
National Nutrition Month
Better food choices
March is National Nutrition Month, an opportunity for all of us to consider adopting a healthier diet and lifestyle, giving up meat and dairy products and enjoying a plant-based diet.
Today, meatless meals bring the additional benefits of reducing chronic diseases, environmental degradation and animal abuse. It's a great opportunity to explore the delicious and healthful meat and dairy alternatives. Anyone seeking additional reinforcement can look forward to March 20, the first day of spring and the Great American Meatout.
Sean Tyler, St. Petersburg