Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The Palm Beach Post on the Florida governor’s banning of COVID-19 ‘vaccine passports’:
Gov. Ron DeSantis says he is taking a bold step toward protecting personal freedom in barring any businesses in Florida from requiring so-called “vaccination passports”. As his argument goes, we don’t want another division in this country, this time between a vaccinated class that gets to go to theme parks — and an unvaccinated class that can’t.
The governor’s argument makes no sense. The issue before us is one of public health. And there is no question that vaccinations are the most effective weapon against COVID-19 yet devised. DeSantis, himself, has been vaccinated — although in private, unlike most of the nation’s governors, who know that modern medicine is nothing to be ashamed of.
By preventing Floridians to distinguish between who is vaccinated and who is not, DeSantis is telling us to be content with prolonging the pandemic.
And he may be hurting the state economically.
Take the cruise industry, which employs some 160,000 people in Florida, and which has been docked since the pandemic shut things down a year ago. Cruise operators say they’ll abide by guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) whenever that agency allows them to set sail again. Norwegian Cruise Lines, for instance, plans to insist upon proof of vaccination for anyone getting on or off one of its ships to ensure a “safe, ‘bubble-like’ environment for guests and crew,” says Norwegian’s President and CEO Frank Del Rio.
Forget that, says DeSantis. On April 8, he announced that Florida will sue the CDC and the Biden administration to release the cruise industry from the CDC’s proof-of-vaccination requirement. In a press conference at PortMiami, DeSantis said that the proliferation of vaccines has made the CDC position unreasonable. But if vaccines are making a crucial difference, why prevent cruise lines from ensuring that everyone’s vaccinated?
Whatever DeSantis says, it’s entirely possible that cruise lines on their own will keep on requiring their customers to show they’ve been vaccinated, particularly as they stop in foreign countries which will, sensibly, want proof that tourists are inoculated.
This is an industry, remember, that has a lot to prove, safety-wise. For years it has fought noroviruses; onboard, Purell stations have become as common as lounge singers. It was a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, that in February 2020 saw one of the first COVID-19 outbreaks outside Wuhan, China, sparking a weeks-long on-board quarantine as more than 700 people got sick and 14 died.
Sports leagues, theme parks, conventions and any other enterprise that brings large numbers of people together might also challenge the governor. Whatever nonsense bleats from Tallahassee, they might conclude that it’s best for their business to assure people that they can attend a Marlins game or pose in front of Cinderella’s Castle without entering a super-spreader site.
Some colleges, such as Davie-based Nova Southeastern University, have said they’ll require such proof of all students as they plan on reopening campuses next fall. (Nova’s plans are now under review in light of DeSantis’ order.)
What, after all, is the big deal? As health columnist Leana S. Wen noted in the Washington Post, many public and private institutions already ask people to complete a pre-arrival questionnaire that screens for symptoms of COVID-19. Some places check temperatures or even administer a rapid coronavirus test before entry. If questionnaires or tests aren’t seen as constraints on individual liberties, why the big fuss about proving you’ve been vaccinated?
For DeSantis, however, it’s a big fuss indeed. And puzzling. The governor’s entire COVID-19 response has been based on the idea that it’s best to trust people to do the right thing without the government telling them what to do. Not here. Suddenly, DeSantis isn’t content to forbid government from demanding a “vaccine passport.” He doesn’t want businesses to make that decision for themselves, either. Whatever happened to conservatives’ devout faith in the free market?
DeSantis is staking a strange position with this fight of his. He’s fighting for the liberation of unvaccinated people to spread germs as they please in the middle of a worldwide pandemic -- one that appears to be surging again.
He is asserting, in effect, that the personal rights of some people to ignore public-health practices are equal to the rights of the majority who wish not only to protect themselves but also to limit the virus’ potential to infect others. DeSantis’ position is wrong not so much on political grounds as on ethical ones.
To be clear: Proving you’ve been vaccinated shouldn’t be needed for everyday activities like trips to the grocery store — even though, in private life, many friends are asking each other if they’ve had the vaccine before deciding to get together. But proof of inoculation could be a sizable help for sports leagues, convention centers, theme parks and other enterprises that depend on large crowds.
If DeSantis had merely forbidden Florida’s state and local governments from issuing vaccination passports, we would have understood, though perhaps not agreed. But DeSantis’ decision also forbidding private entities from requiring proof of inoculation is just bizarre, and goes way too far.
The Miami Herald on a rise in the use of the Baker Act in Florida:
The images of a police officer in Miami-Dade County taking a 7-year-old boy — in handcuffs — for a psychiatric exam after he hit a teacher sparked outrage in 2018.
That’s not what the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, known as the “Baker Act,” was intended to do. It allows law enforcement, courts or health professionals to commit a person, with or without their consent, for psychiatric evaluation if they present a danger of bodily harm to themselves or others or are likely to suffer neglect because of mental illness.
But it’s become common for similar cases to pop up in the news every so often — a 12-year-old boy with autism hauled away in a police car in Cocoa, a school resource officer slamming an 11-year-old to the ground in Fort Pierce. That’s because Florida’s rate of involuntary psychiatric examinations of children has more than doubled in the past two decades, from 547 per 100,000 children to 1,240 per 100,000, according to a report released in March by the Southern Poverty Law Center titled “Costly and Cruel.”
In 2018-19 alone, almost 40,000 children were involuntarily committed in Florida, more than 3,000 of them in Miami-Dade County.
PARENTS NOW NOTIFIED
At greater risk of being involuntarily committed are children of color and children with disabilities, the report says. The Baker Act has been increasingly used for behavior that’s typical of conditions such as autism, even though they are not considered a mental illness, Stephanie Langer, an attorney with Miami-based Disability Independence Group, told the Editorial Board.
One example Langer cited was a boy with autism, about 8 years old, in Okeechobee who got mad at his math teacher and climbed a tree. He was Baker Acted, put in handcuffs and taken to the nearest receiving facility 45 minutes away.
After the controversy in 2018 over the handling of the 7-year-old who hit the teacher, Miami-Dade’s school district changed its Baker Act policy. Among the changes: parental notification and that a police officer must consult with a lieutenant or supervisor of higher rank before executing a Baker Act. Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho credits those changes for a more than 50 percent decrease in the number of students Baker Acted by district police between 2012-13 and 2018-19.
According to Carvalho, of those 3,000 of students Baker Acted in Miami-Dade, only 258 were executed by Miami-Dade Schools Police, but that number doesn’t account for students off campus or at charter and private schools. Districts with their own police can lower their numbers by excluding Baker Acts that are executed by other law-enforcement agencies called to campuses, Bacardi Jackson, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the Board.
How districts collect and report that data is in itself a problem because there is no consistency from district to district, Jackson said.
A bill moving in the Legislature would require better data collection and that public and charter schools notify parents before a Baker Act, unless a principal believes doing so would jeopardize a child’s safety. The bill would also require law enforcement to contact a crisis response team, either in person or via telehealth, prior to initiating a Baker Act of a student.
Passing Senate Bill 590 and House Bill 383 is the least lawmakers can do, though that likely won’t fix the issue entirely. Another bill moving in the Legislature would broaden the criteria under which people of all ages can be Baker Acted to include people who damage property, which could result in even more children being involuntarily commited. That should not happen. On the other hand, the legislation would also give law enforcement more leeway when deciding whether to involuntarily commit someone — many officers say they feel obligated under the law to do so.
Reforms are needed especially after the Parkland shooting in 2018, when the Legislature mandated that each school campus have a law-enforcement officer or armed presence, increasing the likelihood that students could be Baker Acted.
Of course, Baker Acts aren’t necessarily a bad thing and are often the only way people with serious mental illness receive care. Not every expert agrees their increased use is necessarily detrimental.
“It’s good for us to be concerned the Baker Act may be over-utilized, but what’s missing is the massive reduction in juvenile arrests during same period,” Miami-Dade Judge Steven Leifman, a leading advocate for mental-health treatment, told the Editorial Board. “We have been pushing for police to stop arresting kids — 75 percent of kids arrested in Florida have at least one mental-health condition.”
But the Editorial Board doesn’t believe the choice should be between an arrest and a Baker Act. The real problem lies deeper than any piece of legislation alone can address.
While Florida uses the Baker Act at a higher rate than the other 24 states that gather such data, it also ranks last in mental-health funding and at the bottom for access to mental healthcare. Didn’t we think decades of neglect and underfunding, coupled with an increase in depression and anxiety — which are made worse by the amount of time kids spend looking at screens and social media — would lead to more Baker Acts? If these new Baker Act numbers tell us anything, it’s that we need more funding to flag mental illness and, as important, treat it.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune on the Florida Legislature's proposed voting laws:
Let’s put aside some of the obvious questions that spawn from the Florida Legislature’s curious effort to push through bills that would restrict the ability of Floridians to cast votes through the mail and in drop boxes during upcoming elections.
Like these two:
Why is there a compelling need to overhaul a mail-in voting system that was used by nearly 5 million Floridians during the recent 2020 election – and without any widespread episodes of fraud?
Why is there a compelling need to revise a drop-off ballot process – or perhaps even ban it outright – when it enabled some 1.5 million Floridians to cast votes with little difficulty or controversy?
We’re unlikely to ever get persuasive answers to either of those head-scratchers, anyway.
Let’s instead focus on the question that makes the determined march by Republican lawmakers in the Legislature to turn these voting bills into laws all the more puzzling:
What, really, are the voting advantages they hope to gain by foisting these obstacles on Floridians that their party doesn’t already enjoy when it comes to elections in Florida?
Isn’t our state the one that came out so strongly in support of then-incumbent Republican President Donald Trump last November that Florida was among the first major states called for Trump on Election Night?
Aren’t the Florida House and Senate already under Republican control by margins so decisive it would realistically take multiple voting cycles to flip the power dynamic in either body?
Don’t we have a Republican governor – Ron DeSantis – who is enjoying steadily increasing favorable ratings among Floridians and will likely enter 2022 as a prohibitive favorite for re-election to another four-year term?
Weren’t all of these things largely accepted wisdoms mere months ago, too – you know, when Floridians had access to a mail voting system that was a “model” for the nation, as Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner recently noted to the Herald-Tribune?
Yet again, yes.
Would any of these realities be dramatically altered if Floridians were allowed to maintain full access to mail voting and drop-off boxes?
That’s why the push to make it more onerous for Floridians to vote is an unnecessary exercise in political overkill – and one equally unnecessary for Florida’s lawmakers to remain hellbent on undertaking.