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The good, bad and utterly pointless moves from around Tampa Bay and Florida this week
A stand-up sheriff, valuable port, conservation gains and threatening fish for being fish.
Port Tampa Bay, a goliath grouper, and Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri
Port Tampa Bay, a goliath grouper, and Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri [ Times files ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published May 15

Pinellas sheriff has it right. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri continues to set a standard for law enforcement. Gualtieri announced this week he would file a friend-of-the-court brief at the Florida Supreme Court in a dispute over whether a 2018 constitutional amendment to protect the privacy of crime victims can be used to prevent the release of names of officers involved in use-of-force incidents. The measure, known as Marsy’s Law, provides a range of victims’ rights, including privacy protections. But many law enforcement agencies across Florida, and the Tampa Bay area, apply the provision liberally, refusing to release the names of officers involved in using force. A document filed Wednesday by Gualtieri’s attorneys said a police officer “who shoots and kills another is not a ‘victim’ of that shooting and cannot invoke Marsy’s Law to shroud his shooting in secrecy.” Some police chiefs and sheriffs hide behind their offices’ legal guidance to justify withholding officers’ names, a practice that is as dubious as it is self-serving. Gualtieri is an attorney too, and he is right — Marsy’s Law was never intended to shield the identities of police officers for actions that come with the job. Gualtieri’s commitment to both public safety and accountability is commendable.

Darned fish-eating fish. Goliath grouper are a big, gentle fish, a threat to nobody and recovering from near-extinction. So naturally there’s a push in Florida to kill them. A divided board of Florida game regulators took exactly the wrong step this week, directing its staff to craft a rule for consideration that would allow 100 goliaths to be caught and kept annually for a four-year period. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had no reason to open this door. Sure, some anglers want to catch anything. Spearfishers love the goliath because its curious behavior blocks out any sense of impending doom. One diver justified the harvest by claiming the goliath are “everywhere” and impacting other species. “They eat everything that comes by,” he said. The commission would issue $300 kill licenses and use the proceeds to research the species. That’s like burning down the house to see who’s inside. When government acts as a gamekeeper, it should have a compelling reason to sanction the killing of a fish that nearly disappeared forever. The taking of goliath grouper has been prohibited in both state and federal waters off Florida since 1990. There’s no good reason to change that now.

They do more than cruises. It took a cyberattack, gas shortages and panic-buying across the southeast to remind area residents this week of the importance of Port Tampa Bay. A cyberattack last week shut down Colonial Pipeline, the country’s largest gasoline pipeline that runs from Texas to New York. That forced the pipeline’s private operators to shift deliveries of gasoline by truck, leading to temporary gas shortages along the East Coast, creating backups at the pump and pushing up retail prices. But as the Tampa Bay Times’ Malena Carollo reported, the pipeline itself does not serve much of Florida, limiting any shortages to the northern parts of the state. Most of Florida’s gas is delivered by cargo ships from Gulf Coast refineries. And 43% of the state’s petroleum comes through Port Tampa Bay. This is another testament to the port’s invaluable role in everyday life and the region’s economy, and of the state’s strong interest in promoting its maritime sector.

A glorious outcome in Dunedin. Dunedin closed this week on the city’s purchase of nearly 44 acres of woods formerly owned by the late philanthropist Gladys Douglas, a prime example of what happens when government and activists rally for the common good. The public raised $4.5 million toward the $10 million purchase price, showing the broad community desire to spare the land from development and the focus and urgency of this public-private campaign. Residents began organizing in August, after the Tampa Bay Times reported that Pulte Homes was under contract to buy the Douglas property. Thanks to dogged reporting by the TimesTracey McManus, and the outpouring of community support, the city intends to connect the land to an adjoining 55-acre lake to create a nearly 100-acre public park. Dunedin dedicated $2 million towards the purchase and Pinellas County pledged $3.5 million. This is a huge win for a densely-populated, developed county, and a model of civic activism that will benefit generations.

A Republican step on climate. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed two bills this week that help prepare Florida for sea level rise. SB 1954 and SB 2514 will set aside hundreds of millions of dollars annually for flood protection projects, and help local communities better plan and coordinate their resiliency efforts to deal with the threatening impacts of climate change. The measures were also a priority for House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and the bill signings Wednesday near the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks reflect the significance of these steps across Tampa Bay. Environmental groups have largely supported the move, though some complain the state’s Republican leadership has been slow to act and unwilling to address the root causes of global warming. We’ll credit progress when and where it comes. This policy is far beyond where Republicans were under Gov. Rick Scott. And the research and technical assistance to local governments will only increase the public clamor for new infrastructure spending. This could be the start of a bipartisan awakening in Florida to the threat of rising seas and more violent storms. If anything, it could help break the partisan divide over climate and put science at the forefront of more policymaking.

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.