Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The Miami Herald on surging COVID-19 cases in the state:
On the same day that Florida posted the largest number ever of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in a single day, Gov. DeSantis stood firm declaring, “We’re not rolling back.” Meaning that, instead of letting the full picture of the spread of the virus in the state be his guide — along with medical experts’ advice, of course — Florida’s governor already has determined that everything is as it should be, now that businesses and public spaces have reopened.
We would have hoped that, in the face of a spike in cases, with too many Floridians still not taking safety measures seriously and with the possibility of a second wave of the disease, the governor would be open-minded and nimble should the number of COVID-19 cases continue to head in a worrisome direction.
This dubious stance should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. Ever since the pandemic started, DeSantis and his administration have been more dangerous hindrances than responsible leaders as the state responded to the disease and its deadly potential. He let Spring Break continue unimpeded; issued stay-at-home orders later than he should have; left the suddenly jobless stranded in securing their unemployment benefits through a broken-down website; sat silent on nursing-home case numbers; and took bad advice from President Trump.
MORE TESTS, FEWER MASKS
DeSantis pointed out Tuesday, when a whopping 2,783 cases were reported, that the state is conducting many more tests on on a broader range of people, which, he said accounts for the increase in confirmed cases. Makes sense. As reported by the Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau, Florida has to test about 33,000 people every day. And in recent days, the state has exceeded that number. For instance, 50,406 tests were reported in Sunday’s update. The governor can take a bow here.
But that’s not the full story. Epidemiologists also point out that the numbers recorded point to a higher number of transmissions, too — a sign that people have let their masks slip, are not staying the recommended minimum distance from each other and have abandoned other precautions.
Last month, the governor ordered a rather conservative, phased reopening, allowing hard-hit South Florida counties to make their own decisions. From what we know about the virus’ incubation period and the ability of asymptomatic carriers to spread it, part of the recent spike could very well be tied to the state’s reopening. The governor is too smart to keep denying that link, but he does so anyway, determined to prevent further damage to the economy. His motives are understandable: Floridians have to get back to work, need the provide the family food and pay the mortgage.
FACTOR IN REOPENING
Even the governor acknowledged that community transmission is playing in a role in the higher number of cases recorded, but then he shot down the notion that reopening restaurants, bars and other public amenities is a contributing factor.
And now comes the Republican National Convention, slated for Jacksonville this summer. How in the world will those tens of thousands of attendees be protected? Not well, not when they might have to sign a waiver freeing the party of liability should they catch COVID-19. Not, in an example of pretzel logic, when so many of their elected leaders are denying the coronavirus is a big deal.
Throughout, governor had the good sense to let South Florida leaders make their own decisions about how best to handle COVID-19. They and their constituents were on their own. They still are.
The Orlando Sentinel on creating statewide laws to protect the LGBTQ community:
Florida’s LGBTQ community is celebrating, and with good reason. The U.S. Supreme Court did what the state Legislature has refused to do.
It ruled that employers can’t discriminate against workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The decision was a surprise Pride Month gift for gay and transgender people. Many observers thought the conservative court majority would rule the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not cover LGBTQ workers. But the 6-3 ruling — bravo, justices! — showed how perceptions about LGBTQ rights have quickly evolved.
That’s good news if you believe nobody should be fired for being gay. It’s bad news for a lot of Florida lawmakers once again finding themselves on the wrong side of history, as they have with same-sex marriage and adoption by gay couples.
The state’s GOP-led Legislature has clung to the notion that LGBTQ people aren’t entitled to the same rights as other Americans. They are not alone in that view.
Florida is one of more than two dozen states without statewide laws that fully protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. In hopes of rectifying that, a bill known as the Florida Competitive Workforce Act was first introduced in 2009.
It would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to Florida’s 1992 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.
Public acceptance of gay rights has blossomed since the FCWA was first proposed. A Public Religion Research Institute poll last year found that 69% of Americans support discrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
More than 450 businesses and 11 Fortune 500 companies, including Disney, Darden, Wells Fargo and Marriott, came out in favor the FCWA. They know the bill would make the state more attractive to businesses and workers looking to relocate here.
The bill even gained bipartisan backing. This year’s House version had nine Republican co-sponsors.
No matter. The House and Senate bills didn’t even get hearings before dying in committees.
After 11 years, it’s obvious GOP legislators have no problem ignoring what most people want. They will ignore what most businesses want.
Will they keep ignoring what the U.S. Supreme Court wants?
“Without a doubt, this has been an amazing, watershed moment,” Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith said. But, she added, “We want people to understand that this does not in any way reduce the need for the state Legislature and the governor to act.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order last year reaffirming Florida’s nondiscrimination protections. He left out sexual orientation and gender identity. It was not an oversight.
After the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, gay rights groups said Gov. Rick Scott promised them he would extend employment protections to LGBTQ people. It never happened.
It’s been up to individual counties and municipalities to enact their own nondiscrimination ordinances. About 60% of Floridians are currently protected thanks to mayors and local commissions. But our state’s most powerful lawmakers can barely pay lip service to the topic.
DeSantis has been mum on the Supreme Court decision, though his spokesperson said Florida will abide by federal law.
That’d be a start, but Monday’s ruling focused on workplace discrimination. That’s why as celebratory as gay rights groups are, they know the big party is still on hold. There is still nothing on the books preventing LGBTQ people from being denied equal access to comforts like restaurants and necessities like housing.
An Urban Institute study found that housing providers regularly withheld rental information from gay men. They also quoted gay men yearly rent costs that were $272 higher than they quoted heterosexual men.
“It is now the law of the land in all 50 states that you cannot fire or refuse to hire someone for being gay or transgender. That is huge,” said Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith D-Orlando. “But what it doesn’t have an immediate impact on is other categories where we know discrimination does exist, such as housing, public accommodations, health care and other areas.”
DeSantis could issue an executive order declaring all the state’s nondiscrimination laws must include LGBTQ people. Don’t hold your breath.
The FCWA will certainly return to next year’s legislative docket. This week’s ruling will give proponents valuable ammunition for that fight.
The three dissenting justices said questions about the 1964 Civil Rights Act should be decided by legislative action, not courts. But even in his dissenting opinion, Brett Kavanaugh expressed empathy for the opposing argument.
“Millions of gay and lesbian Americans have worked hard for many decades to achieve equal treatment in fact and in law,” he wrote. “They have advanced powerful policy arguments and can take pride in today’s result.”
This is no longer 1964, when homosexuality was considered a psychiatric disorder and criminalized in many states. The sweeping civil rights laws enacted that year should apply to all Americans.
Passing the FCWA would do that in our state. With Monday’s decision, the Supreme Court might just drag Florida lawmakers kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Then it would really be time for all Floridians to celebrate.
The Palm Beach Post on unemployment frustrations:
Driven by frustration, anger, and, in many cases, sheer desperation, Floridians are taking to the streets in cities across the state to demand action to fix an inept and insulting unemployment benefits system.
In the midst of a viral pandemic that is far from abating, we will not advocate that people stand physically shoulder-to-shoulder to shout their frustrations. But all Floridians should stand in spirit with the many thousands of hardworking residents whose jobs vanished months ago in the public-health emergency, yet even now are forced to coax from state government the small stipends they ever more urgently need.
By now, the litany of vexations is well known: the jammed phone lines, the hours on hold, the online system that balks and crashes, the inexplicable responses to re-file and then re-file again. All for a meager $275 a week — Florida’s maximum jobless allowance, one of the lowest in the nation. And for many recipients, not a dime of the additional $600 federal supplement to which they’re entitled.
Last Sunday, The Post Editorial Board published a long string of letters that we received after asking readers to send us their unemployment-benefit nightmare stories. They made for depressing reading. “I was furloughed on March 12. I have been trying to get through to DEO ever since,” said Jocelyne Dunn of West Palm Beach, all too typically. She was referring to the mockingly named Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
Instead of grabbing the problems by the throat and demanding an overhaul, Gov. Ron DeSantis has denied, deflected and blamed. He has infamously contended that “99.9%” of unemployment claims have been paid. That’s about 99.9% inaccurate.
In fact, Floridians have filed 1.9 million unemployment claims since the coronavirus business shutdown began in March, but only about 1.3 million people have begun receiving payments, according to the DEO. The situation is so bad that this counts as progress; during the first month of the crisis, Florida was the slowest state in the nation to process claims.
“While all states have seen record increases in the number of its residents applying for unemployment, the state of Florida’s performance has proved uniquely poor in its abject inability to assist millions of Florida residents...”
Well said. The quote is from a letter sent Monday by two out-of-state senators, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, and Ron Wyden, of Oregon. They asked the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate Florida’s failure to process and pay out unemployment claims.
DeSantis promptly shot down the Democrats’ call for a federal review as “partisan,” echoing the GOP-led Florida Legislature, which has rebuffed calls from state and federal Democrats for a special session to overhaul the system and raise the low cap on payments.
Fine, their criticisms are partisan. You know what else is partisan? The reason that Florida’s system is so terrible in the first place. Gov. Rick Scott pushed to create the so-called CONNECT system in 2013, slashing benefits and shortening the number of weeks of eligibility. The goal was to make things easier on businesses — grinding down workers in the process. This is the worst sort of partisanship, the kind that uses the instruments of government to coddle campaign contributors over improving the lives of ordinary citizens.
Scott, now a U.S. senator, is still at it, repeatedly expressing the condescending worry that if the government pays out to help struggling Americans make it through the pandemic-caused economic crisis, they’ll be too content to collect a $600 subsidy to go back to work.
The insult is not going unnoticed. “I really feel like they did a disservice by describing us, who have become unemployed through no fault of their own, as lazy,” Bonnie Armstrong, a laid-off restaurant server, told The Post’s Wendy Rhodes. “I’m a Republican. I voted for DeSantis. I’ve never filed for unemployment in my life.”
Armstrong founded a group called Florida Workers — Fight for your UE Benefits! It’s one of a spate of groups erupting across the state in reaction to the unemployment fiasco: Fix It Florida; Action Group for COVID-19 Unemployment; Florida Unemployment Weekly Virtual Protest. They and others have been protesting on social media — and in recent days made their demands in person in Tallahassee, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.
They’ll have to make a lot more noise to get DeSantis and the other hard-of-hearing Republicans who lead this state to act with the urgency this crisis demands.
And to fundamentally change Florida’s miserly benefits system, it will take more than noise.
This debacle “is really making me think hard how I’m going to vote in the next election, I’ll say that,” says Armstrong, the Republican voter-turned-activist.
Every one of the 1.9 million Floridians who, like her, have suffered unnecessarily because of state government’s ineptitude and callousness should think just as hard when next they vote.