Don't limit information to public
Citizens have the right to full and public notice when their elected officials are discussing or making decisions that could affect their daily lives. As a nonpartisan government watchdog, Florida TaxWatch supports the use of public notices in local newspapers of record by government entities to notify all of its citizens of meetings and votes. Unfortunately, current proposed legislation would allow municipality websites to be the only required source for public notice posting.
Overall, the changes put forth in the proposed legislation mean that local newspapers would no longer be required to house and circulate public notices, thus causing Floridians to be less informed about current government issues. A recent scientific poll by Mason Dixon shows that Florida citizens overwhelmingly want wider access to the public notice information, with 83 percent of respondents polled wanting local governments to carry public notices in newspapers and 82 percent saying they would not seek out information on government websites.
Additionally, the proposed legislation shifts delivering public notice information from an active to a passive stance. Newspapers reach out to their audience through intentional delivery, also offering accessibility to those without the means to an Internet connection. A notice strictly available on government-run websites would eliminate the critical neutrality and independence of a newspaper or other third party. It would be possible, likely even, for government entities to miss notification deadlines, leave out critical information or make changes electronically to items on their websites without public knowledge.
To hold their government accountable, taxpayers are entitled to an unabridged and open flow of information concerning public notices in their community. They should not be beholden to government websites to provide residents with critically important and timely information.
Dominic M. Calabro and Pat Neal, Tallahassee
Dominic Calabro is president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. Former state Sen. Pat Neal is chairman-elect of Florida TaxWatch.
Keys to Independence Act
Plan helps young drivers
As young people transition to adulthood, earning their driver's license provides a level of independence and economic mobility.
Until recently, however, getting a license — not to mention paying for car insurance — was nearly impossible for teens in the state's foster care system. Three years ago, only 20 youths aged 15 to 18 in the foster care system anywhere in Florida received their driver's license before the age of 18.
In response, Florida legislators unanimously passed the Keys to Independence Act, an innovative three-year pilot program funded by the Florida Department of Children and Families and managed by Community Based Care of Central Florida.
The program, which launched in 2014, helps children as young as 15 get a learner's permit by enrolling them in driver's education courses and monitoring their progress until they earn a license. In addition to covering fees associated with the licensure process, it also reimburses the expenses for each licensed driver's car insurance, which averages about $200 a month.
Keys to Independence has been a resounding success. In just a short time, the number of teens in foster care who have a driver's license has almost tripled, and 1,035 participants are currently enrolled, including more than 330 in Tampa and Sarasota.
That's why we are sponsoring a companion bill during the legislative session to make this program a permanent fixture for Florida's youth. We urge our fellow lawmakers to once again give Keys to Independence their full support. We have seen how it has improved lives, and we look forward to its continued success far into the future.
Florida State Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, and Florida State Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville
Benefits of mass transit
You have to wonder what is the matter with Tampa Bay when you have evidence like this:
Public transportation systems are in dire need of investment to support increased ridership. A study by the Economic Development Research Corp. projects that 480,000 new jobs representing $32 billion per year in income will be at risk due to congestion by 2040.
After years of neglect, the infrastructure that American communities and businesses rely on to grow and prosper is crumbling. In giving America's infrastructure a grade of D-plus, the American Society of Civil Engineers found that deteriorating public transportation infrastructure cost the U.S. economy $90 billion in 2010.
Some examples of public transportation investment powering economic and community growth:
• Boston's bus rapid transit Silver Line has sparked more than $1.2 billion in construction, including more than 2,500 new and refurbished housing units and more than 2 million square feet of office and retail space. The line has opened previously inaccessible areas to new development.
• Even before Salt Lake City's S-Line began operating in the fall of 2013, the project had already jump-started roughly $400 million in economic development that's completed or underway, including hundreds of new apartments.
• Investment in Dallas Area Rapid Transit Rail capital projects between 2003 and 2013 has generated a return of $7.4 billion in regional economic activity, creating more than 54,000 jobs that paid more than $3.3 billion in wages, salaries and benefits.
In addition, more than $5.3 billion in private capital transit-oriented development projects have been built, are under construction, or are currently planned near light rail stations since the debut of DART Rail in 1996.
• A study of Minneapolis' Hiawatha Light Rail corridor found that the line increased residential property values by $47 million.
Dave Stanton, Clearwater