Florida misfires on fighting gun violence| Editorial
Other low points of the week across Tampa Bay and Florida: Misguided abortion messages, an unneeded turf dispute and shortsighted on public health.
An Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun
An Sig Sauer 9 mm handgun [ Hillsborough State Attorney's Office ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published March 25

Gun safety indifference. The DeSantis administration has been so busy micromanaging teachers, doctors and Disney World that it never got around to applying for up to $15 million in federal money to fight gun violence. Florida was one of only six states that did not receive funding through a new federal grant to help carry out emergency risk-protection programs, the Orlando Sentinel reported this week. Law enforcement uses those orders to temporarily seize guns from people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement evaluated the grant but determined it was not able to meet the December application deadline, the Sentinel reported. The state’s top law enforcement agency forwarded the application to the Office of the State Courts, which also took a pass. This is a pitiful failure by the very institutions that see the worst of gun violence firsthand; the grants don’t require state matching funds, and they can be used to train law enforcement, conduct public education campaigns and support drug, mental health and veterans’ treatment courts. This is another vivid example of where the governor’s priorities rest.

Never saw coming. If several St. Petersburg City Council members hoped to send a message by earmarking money for an abortion rights group, well, mission accomplished. Last month, a council committee advanced a $50,000 funding request to pay for travel- and transportation-related expenses for pregnant St. Petersburg residents seeking abortions locally and out of state. All three council members on the panel who were present voted in favor of using the city’s general fund to support the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund. The group does not own or operate an abortion clinic, but rather connects pregnant people seeking an abortion to health care providers. This week, two Republican state legislators, Berny Jacques of Seminole and Mike Beltran of Riverview, in Hillsborough County, sent a letter calling the proposed expenditure “unlawful” and a “frivolous use of tax dollars,” and they vowed to “oppose any appropriations” for the city unless the council reverses course. The letter was over the top. Would Jacques really oppose any state funding to St. Petersburg over a single issue? Does Beltran think the issue is worthy of financially kneecapping the state’s fifth largest city? But here’s a question to St. Petersburg: Did you really think Republican lawmakers would not respond with their usual cudgel to this obvious foray into the culture wars?

Not about you. Pinellas County is understandably concerned that merging its job placement agency with Hillsborough could unfairly benefit the region’s largest county. Next week, Pinellas will consider taking a formal stand against consolidating CareerSource Pinellas and its Hillsborough counterpart, CareerSource Tampa Bay. As an alternative, the county might seek to have Pinellas lead a combined agency. But there’s no reason to cause a rift here at the outset. A cross-bay agency would have many strengths, from drawing on a larger employer pool to better accommodating a growing, mobile workforce. The trick is to create a governing board that is truly representative of the territory it serves, and to instill a culture of accountability within the agency to ensure the operation succeeds. Many employers, big and small, have operations on both sides of Tampa Bay, and residents here have changed their attitudes tremendously in recent years about commuting, showing a willingness to live, work and play where they want. A modern CareerSource operation should recognize this shift by focusing on where the jobs are and will be — not on the location of its own headquarters.

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Where equity dies. The first step in addressing a problem is admitting there is one. That’s why it was significant that the Florida Department of Health, in crafting its five-year goals in 2017, listed improving health equity as a top priority. But fast forward to 2022, when under a new governor and new state surgeon general, the health department no longer listed equity as a top priority — or a priority at all. Instead, as the Tampa Bay Times reported this week, the No. 1 priority area had to do with fighting Alzheimer’s disease. The sixth priority referenced “social and economic conditions impacting health,” but did not include any mention of race or ethnicity. Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo said the term “health equity” has taken on a “political meaning” and was “imprecise.” Never mind that according to 2020 numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation, Black Floridians are about 30% more likely to die of heart disease than their white peers, and more than twice as likely to die of diabetes. Coming as the DeSantis administration takes aim at diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across the state, we can only assume the change at the health department is another political exercise itself from an administration where politics trumps all.

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 Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.