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Hits and misses of the week in Tampa Bay and Florida
Concealing records, making it harder to vote, and a safer I-4.
An election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections in Doral in October.
An election worker sorts vote-by-mail ballots at the Miami-Dade County Board of Elections in Doral in October. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Apr. 17
Updated Apr. 17

Some highs and lows from the past week.

Republicans for big government. Republican lawmakers seem bent on interjecting chaos into Florida’s elections system. State senators this week scaled back a potential crackdown on voting by mail, but added new headaches for Florida’s elections supervisors and millions of voters. Under Senate Bill 90, Floridians would have to produce more personal information when registering to vote or requesting a vote-by-mail ballot. And the measure would target ballot signatures in a way that would make it easier to challenge and reject a ballot. Even the sponsor, Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley of Ocala, acknowledged: “I’m not trying to present a case that there’s a problem.” But that’s not stopping the Republican-led chamber from pushing a fix for a problem that doesn’t exist — even if it creates more confusion, expense and inconvenience for elections supervisors and voters alike. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, should continue poking holes in a bill that’s clearly designed to depress the vote.

Yeah, that’s not the problem. The Florida House passed a measure this week to shield the names of people applying to lead the state’s colleges and universities. House Bill 997 would create a records exemption for applicants seeking to become college and university presidents, providing that the identities of only finalists for the job would be released to the public. For years, lawmakers have trotted out the old saw that Florida’s Sunshine Laws are a problem — that they dampen the talent pool because candidates for presidencies don’t want to anger their current employers. Of course, that claim melts under the facts and Florida’s experience; the Sunshine State is highly competitive for a host of reasons. And as a practical matter, these institutions already shield the applicants by hiring outside headhunters to pack and wean the candidate field. If there’s a problem, it’s not the state’s tradition of openness, but its bipartisan history of throwing these plum posts to termed-out lawmakers.

Kudos to creating a safer I-4. The Tampa Bay region has fewer transportation priorities than making for a safer commute on Interstate 4. The stretch between Tampa and Orlando is tight, crowded and fast, and rapid growth along the corridor is only worsening the daily nightmare for thousands of commuters. So it was good to hear the state Department of Transportation is working to provide real-time traffic information. The system will provide information directly to motorists about congestion, accidents, work zones and backups, and offer alternate routes to improve traffic flow on the interstate. With more than 150,000 vehicles using I-4 between Tampa and Orlando daily, this technology is cheaper and quicker than adding road capacity to meet the region’s transportation needs. Construction is expected to be completed in 2024 — and it can’t come soon enough.

Happy birthday, Tampa International Airport. It’s easy to forget just how convenient Tampa International Airport is … until you fly out of anywhere else. We’re looking at you, Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson. Heck, too many airports could substitute the word “inconvenient” for “international” in their title. Not Tampa International. When the reimagined airport opened 50 years ago, it was designed for passengers first. The thinking was simple: A passenger should not have to walk more than 700 feet from her car to the gate. So was born the innovative hub-and-spoke system with computer-run trams linking ticketing and baggage claim areas to the airlines’ gates. It seems obvious, but what other airport does it – and so well? It’s easy, it’s smooth, it’s convenient and now it’s time to wish the airport a happy 50th birthday.

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.