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The Eckerd Connects dispute and kids’ COVID vaccines make the weeks highs and lows | Editorial
Also, more possible voting restrictions in Florida and would-be lawmakers who have a hard time following some simple rules.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, that his office launched a criminal investigation into Eckerd Connects Community Alternatives, the agency that runs foster care in Pinellas and Pasco counties. Recent accidents and incidents raised alarms about the level of care and supervision at the makeshift accommodation, the sheriff said. It comes just four days after the Florida Department of Children and Families announced that it will not renew the Clearwater nonprofit's $80 million contract.
Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, that his office launched a criminal investigation into Eckerd Connects Community Alternatives, the agency that runs foster care in Pinellas and Pasco counties. Recent accidents and incidents raised alarms about the level of care and supervision at the makeshift accommodation, the sheriff said. It comes just four days after the Florida Department of Children and Families announced that it will not renew the Clearwater nonprofit's $80 million contract. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Nov. 6, 2021

Fix foster care now. Eckerd Connects announced this week it would no longer provide foster care and child services in the Tampa Bay region next year. The news came as the Florida Department of Children and Families said it would not renew the state’s contract with the Clearwater nonprofit when it expires at the end of 2021. The inevitable change that awaits is about the only thing on which the two sides agree. The state says Eckerd had a history of placing children in unlicensed settings and had jeopardized the safety and welfare of children under its care. For its part, Eckerd said the state contract was “woefully underfunded,” making it almost impossible to provide adequate services. We’ll apportion blame to both; the nonprofit has faced criticism for a handful of high-profile deaths of children under its watch and struggled to find long-term placements for teenagers. At the same time, the state has not funded child protection services in Tampa Bay at the same level as other regions in the state. Funding issues aside, the state and potential bidders on the contract need a better grip on this problem. On Thursday, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced his office would launch two separate investigations into Eckerd, one a child protection probe and another examination into the nonprofit and its high-level employees. The focus going forward must be on providing children in need a safe, stable living environment. Here’s to hoping that House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson can find a solution when the Legislature meets in January to a crisis in their own back yard.

The kids are all right. Some good news just in time for the upcoming holidays: Kids aged 5 to 11 years old all across Florida are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. That’s about 1.6 million more people out of the state’s nearly 22 million residents who can get the vaccine. Now’s the time to get those kids a jab. It takes two shots, administered three weeks apart. After that, wait two weeks for the vaccine to fully kick in and, voila!, you have a fully vaccinated kid. Get the first of the two jabs in the next few days and the kids will be partially vaccinated for the Thanksgiving holiday. Get the follow-up jab in three weeks, and they will be fully vaccinated just in time for Christmas get-togethers. Many local pharmacies have the kids’ shots in stock. Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your ZIP code.

DeSantis targets voting (again). Not content with the confusion and frustration he sowed by restricting voting rights earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis promised a tougher elections package this week when the Legislature convenes in January. Despite Florida pulling off a model election in 2020, DeSantis said he wants to beef up the state’s voting laws and create a new office to investigate and prosecute election-related fraud. That would follow the statutory changes this year that limited the use of ballot drop boxes, restricted access to vote-by-mail ballots and cleared the way for more partisan challenges to disputed ballots. DeSantis seems to be unbound in channeling his inner Trump, despite Florida’s recent track record of well-administered elections, and despite the pleas from locally elected supervisors for politicians to stop undermining public faith in elections.

You’re welcome. Some people running to write the nation’s laws have trouble following the rules themselves. Dozens of candidates running for Florida congressional seats — Republicans and Democrats alike — have failed to submit mandatory financial disclosure reports. The records are essential for voters to understand a candidate’s finances and whether they may have financial conflicts while serving in elected office. A survey of 162 incumbents and challengers in Florida’s upcoming congressional races found that more than one-third had no reports on file with the House clerk. Some candidates expressed ignorance. Republican Martin Hyde, who is trying to unseat Sarasota Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, bristled over questions, conflating the financial disclosure with his campaign finance report. “I don’t take kindly to this sort of ‘fake news’ nonsense,” he said in an email. When a reporter explained the difference, Hyde said his campaign would file the financial disclosure and for the reporter not to contact him again.

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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.

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