Public outcry helps rewrite Florida’s Bright Futures scholarship legislation | Editorial
Who says a group of motivated people can’t swing the political tide?
The Capitol in Tallahassee is seen following opening day of the Florida Legislature in early March.
The Capitol in Tallahassee is seen following opening day of the Florida Legislature in early March. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Mar. 27
Updated Mar. 27

How student opposition altered the Bright Futures scholarship bill in the Florida Legislature, plus a couple other quick hits from the past week.

A real-life civics lesson. In sponsoring Senate Bill 86, state Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, originally proposed reducing the value of the Bright Futures scholarship for some college majors and cutting the amounts based on college credits high school students had already earned. Outraged students got busy. They assembled a grassroots effort to lobby against the changes and skillfully aimed social media at criticizing the proposal. They even wrote columns for the Tampa Bay Times. Baxley and others heard them. This week, the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee revised the bill and pulled the scholarship reductions. Baxley said student opposition “absolutely” influenced the decision, saying, “Believe it or not, it always means a lot to us.” This is what an engaged, informed citizenry — no matter how young — can accomplish.

What’s killing the manatees? A new federal investigation into the alarming spike in Florida manatee deaths should provide a much fuller picture of the state’s environmental health. At least 432 manatees had died as of March 5, nearly 300 more than the 5-year average for the same period, the state reported. Many of the dead manatees have turned up in Brevard County, where experts believe the animals are going without a crucial food source because harmful algal blooms have killed off seagrass beds. Democratic U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park deserve credit for asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate the matter. The federal agency will work with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to study the die-off. This should bring a better understanding of not only marine mammal life, but of the health of Florida’s waters and the efforts that are needed to improve Florida’s natural environment.

Tampa Bay leads on Cuba. Any change in the Trump-era policy of isolating Cuba starts with public pressure from Tampa Bay, which has the third-largest Cuban-American population in the country. That’s why it’s good to see organizers plan a rally Sunday in Ybor City to urge normalization of relations with Cuba. President Barack Obama took a series of steps, beginning in 2009, to restore trade and travel with Cuba, but the Trump administration reversed course, hurting ordinary Cubans by restricting remittances to the island and reducing America’s leverage in advancing democracy. Reestablishing ties is essential; tens of thousands of Cuban-Americans want to reconnect with their families and their ancestral home. While Joe Biden was vice president when Obama instituted his reforms, the Biden administration has made clear Cuba doesn’t rank among its top priorities of managing the pandemic and addressing infrastructure and immigration. Sunday’s rally in Ybor City should help keep this local priority and national interest on Washington’s radar. It begins at 11 a.m. with a car caravan from 2109 E 11th Ave.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.