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Archives for September 21, 2015

A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers

A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:

Tampa Bay Times — Republicans should not force government shutdown

We have seen this bad movie before. Once again, the nation is days away from a federal government shutdown because some congressional Republicans would rather wage ideological warfare than act responsibly. And once again, it is a foolish power play that most Americans do not support, fuels further frustration with Washington’s dysfunction and is doomed to fail.

There are just 10 days left in the fiscal year, and Congress needs to keep the money flowing by Oct. 1 or large portions of the federal government will be shut down. The last time Republicans created such a showdown, it did not work out so well for them. A 16-day shutdown in 2013 had a $20 billion economic impact on the economy, and voters blamed congressional Republicans rather than President Barack Obama for that debacle.

Two years ago, the fight was over the Affordable Care Act as Republicans unsuccessfully tried to eliminate funding for Obama’s signature domestic achievement, which has brought health coverage to millions of Americans. This time the most conservative Republicans are insisting that federal funding for Planned Parenthood be eliminated before they will vote for any spending bills. They are again on the wrong side of public policy, and they are again recklessly creating an unnecessary fight that they cannot win.

That doesn’t mean it won’t be messy for at least the next 10 days. Obama has correctly promised to veto any spending bill that defunds Planned Parenthood. There are not enough votes in the Senate to override the president’s veto, and it remains up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to find a strategy that produces a clean spending bill for Obama to sign. In the House, Republicans remain so divided that there is no clear way forward, and the most radical conservatives are considering trying to oust Speaker John Boehner. The House approved a separate bill Friday in a nearly party-line vote to eliminate federal money for a year for Planned Parenthood. That will go nowhere in the Senate and will not defuse the situation.

The facts have not slowed down the conservative attacks on Planned Parenthood, which receives about $450 million a year in federal money — mostly in Medicaid payments for low-income patients. The federal money generally cannot be used for abortions, and nearly 90 percent of the organization’s work focuses on providing basic gynecological services and preventive care to women, such as birth control, cancer screenings and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. While secretly taped conversations with Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue research are uncomfortable to watch, the sale of fetal tissue is banned by law and there is no indication the organization has done anything illegal.

The Bradenton Herald — Kudos to Manatee High Key Club for community service

The Manatee High School Key Club continues to prove to be much more than a campus organization but a valuable community asset with projects that improve the quality of life here.

In the organization’s latest endeavor, two years in the making, the club and Bradenton leaders celebrated the dedication of a playground along Riverwalk last week. Not just any playground: The wheelchair-accessible “Equal Play Playground” gives disabled children the only place in Bradenton that serves their unique needs and allows these kids to be kids.

Since the Kiwanis Club of Bradenton established Manatee High’s Key Club back in 1940, the organization has excelled. At the 2012 Spirit of Manatee Awards, sponsored by the Manatee Community Foundation, the Manatee High School Key Club earned the Young Spirit Award. United Community Centers has named the club a UCC Superhero for its financial support.

The club’s rigorous standards mandate that members serve a minimum of 20 hours per quarter on service projects. The new playground must have provided many members with many hours of service.

The teenagers collected more than $31,000 from 60 donors for the project, and Bradenton-based Miller Recreation Equipment Design donated about 80 percent of the equipment.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Beach driving and the rule of law

Proponents of beach driving in Volusia County have long asserted that they have public opinion on their side.

However, the same can’t be said for the law.

Let Volusia Vote, a pro-beach-driving political action committee, has collected more than 18,000 signatures to get a charter amendment placed on the 2016 ballot that would submit all county-proposed restrictions on beach driving to a voter referendum. Friday, though, Circuit Court Judge Sandra Upchurch ruled that the proposed amendment is “facially unconstitutional in its entirety,” therefore the county does not have to place it on the ballot.

The judge agreed with the county’s position that the amendment violated state law. Upchurch methodically laid out the legislative history of beach driving in Volusia County, beginning with Section 161.58(2) of the Florida Statutes, which prohibits vehicle traffic on coastal beaches “except where a local government with jurisdiction” over the beach authorizes it. In 1988 the Legislature withdrew the power from local governments to further authorize vehicular traffic on the beach, but grandfathered in Volusia County.

Section 161.58(3) of the statutes allows a local government that had permitted traffic on the beach to later prohibit it by a three-fifths vote. Thus when the Volusia County Council in May approved ordinances that restricted driving to newly defined areas of the beach, the action was consistent with state law and the Florida Constitution, which provides local governments with the authority to regulate areas not specified in the state statutes nor in a way inconsistent with state law.

Upchurch emphasized that the state’s voting requirements for local governments are “thorough, specific and crystal clear, leaving no room for debate or interpretation.” She drives that point home in three more sentences.

Furthermore, she argues that Section 161.58(3) specifically notes that action to prohibit beach driving must be taken by the “governing body,” not the electorate. She cites a 2010 case as setting the test precedent for when conflict exists between local government enactment and state law. Let Volusia Vote’s proposed referendum, she says, fails that test by stripping the final decision-making authority from the entity the Legislature intended to have it.

“Section 161.58(3) and the proposed charter amendment cannot coexist,” the judge writes.

The Florida Times-Union — Duval County’s Girls Court is doing amazing work

Duval County is doing an admirable job in targeting the precise needs of vulnerable segments of our population in the court system.

It has led to remarkable results that have seen recidivism rates drop by as much as 50 percent.

There are specialty courts set up specifically for:


People with mental-health issues.

People involved with substance abuse.


These are groups that have special needs.

They have special challenges.

And these courts intervene to ensure they receive the help they need, so they don’t cycle back into the system.

These courts have proved their worth. Depending on the court, recidivism rates range from zero for “graduates” of Veterans Court to just under 10 percent for Juvenile Drug Court. Compare those numbers to the more typical recidivism rates that range from 40 to 60 percent.

How do they do it? They’re flexible and proactive.

Florida Today – Water management appointment an abomination

One of the perks of being governor is appointing thousands of individuals to various boards, commissions, authorities and committees. While most of these are unpaid positions, they do carry prestige and the ability to shape policy.

Some of these boards are extremely influential in the running of an agency — belying the volunteer nature of the appointment. For example, the appointees to the five water management district boards actually select their executive directors. This is done to ensure the executive director’s loyalty is to the board and the taxpayers of the district and not to the governor and other elected officials in Tallahassee.

One caveat: The governor can indirectly choose the executive director if his board appointees decide to be little more than rubber stamps. That was unfortunately the case recently with the Board of Governors of the South Florida Water Management District.

Serving on the board of one of the water management districts comes with important responsibilities. Board members deal with complex water policy and restoration efforts. They determine water usage. They are entrusted with land management and resource protection.

So it’s disturbing that the governor has slashed their funding, downsized their staffs and all but eradicated Florida Forever spending and forced out many of the most knowledgeable and scientific-based employees.

The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers

It’s bad enough that the leading Republican presidential candidate is an anti-vaxxer.

It’s worse that the physicians also running for the GOP nomination didn’t have the guts to truly challenge him on his misinformed views about vaccines.

Jeer: Donald Trump, for falsely suggesting a connection between autism and vaccines during this week’s Republican presidential debate on CNN.

We’ve come to expect that kind of fear mongering from Trump, so an additional jeer goes to two fellow GOP presidential candidates who are also medical doctors, Ben Carson and Rand Paul. They appeared afraid to tell Trump he was spreading dangerous information about vaccines, and even backed up his notion that vaccines need to be more spread out.

Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, correctly asserted that this is “extremely well-documented proof that there’s no autism associated with vaccinations.” But he wrongly suggested pediatricians endorse the idea of spacing out vaccinations. Paul, who is an ophthalmologist, said that even “if the science doesn’t say bunching them up is a problem” that people should be able to spread out vaccines.

Not only does science say bunching vaccines poses no health risks, researchers have found that spreading out vaccines can cause bigger problems.

As Politifact reported, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other leading medical organizations have concluded that the scheduling of vaccines — including multiple ones at once — is safe.

The Lakeland Ledger — Scott should heed alimony bill critics

State Sen. Tom Lee recently introduced a bill to overhaul Florida’s child-custody and alimony laws, meaning next year will be the third time since 2013 that the Brandon Republican has sought to vastly rework some of Florida’s most contentious laws governing families. If history repeats itself in 2016, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, will likely join Lee in this quest.

Two years ago Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a similar measure after strong opposition from the Florida Bar and women’s groups. The governor rejected that attempt because it allowed for revisiting past alimony judgments, and Scott said he feared unintended or unfair consequences if those cases were reopened. Scott never got to look at the 2015 version because it died after the House and Senate literally parted ways before the session ended.

If presented this plan again, we think the governor should go slow, and heed one argument made by critics of the current bill.

Lee’s new bill, as the others did, creates equal time-sharing for child custody and would end “permanent” alimony, replacing it with a system that parcels out financial support per a formula that considers how long the couple was married. For example, the spouse who is ordered to pay alimony at the end of a 20-year marriage may have to pay for the next five to 15 years.

The Miami Herald — Venezuela sinks deeper

The trial and conviction of opposition leader Leopoldo López by a kangaroo court in Caracas last week is more than just another outrage by the political gang running Venezuela.

It sends an unmistakeable signal that President Nicólas Maduro’s regime has reached the point of no return in its determination to stay in power no matter what. If ever a slight hope existed that Mr. Maduro could be persuaded to engage in a reset of his reckless policies and return to democracy, that hope is now gone.

The late Hugo Chávez, Mr. Maduro’s mentor, was the first to criminalize political activity. But the López prosecution was something else: a show trial, designed to quash political opposition and instill fear in adversaries who believe that peaceful change is still possible.

The trial was a mockery of justice, the culmination of a process started by Mr. Chávez to turn the judiciary into an arm of the repressive machinery of the politicians in power. “Out of 700 hours of trial, López’s legal team only had three hours to argue in his defense,” the Human Rights Foundation noted. The judge allowed 108 witnesses and 30 exhibits presented by the prosecution, but only two of the 60 witnesses proposed by the defense. The trial was closed to reporters and independent observers.

In the end, Mr. López was sentenced to 13 years and 9 months in prison for allegedly committing the crimes of arson, damaging public property, incitement to commit a crime and conspiracy. Yet no evidence has ever been put forward. The only evident fact is that Mr. López was turned into a prisoner of conscience for having exercised his right to free speech in leading peaceful protests.

The U.S. government should sanction everyone involved in this scandalous incident and lead a regional campaign to support fair elections in Venezuela later this year. That will be Venezuela’s last chance to have a peaceful exit from its mounting chaos.

The Orlando Sentinel — Judge makes right call on modern ‘debtors prison’

You can’t get blood from a stone goes the adage. Still, Orange County’s Collections Court for the past 16 years was stone determined to try.

To that end, judges in the Orange-Osceola circuit issued reams of what are known as “writs of bodily attachment.” These are basically orders to haul in people who haven’t paid court fines and fees and failed to show up for debt-collection hearings and honor their monthly payments.

While America abolished debtors’ prison in the 1830s, many defendants in the red to the courts were locked up in Orange County. Arrests were the cudgel the county used to boost collections since its writ program began in 1999.

That’s 16 years after the U.S. Supreme Court, in Bearden v. Georgia, held that the state couldn’t jail defendants because they were too poor to pay what they owed the court.

As a recent ACLU report, “In For a Penny: The Rise of America’s New Debtors’ Prisons,” noted, “Day after day, indigent defendants are imprisoned for failing to pay legal debts they can never hope to manage. These sentences are illegal, create hardships for [those] who already struggle with re-entering society after being released from prison or jail, and waste resources in an often fruitless effort to extract payments from defendants who may be homeless, unemployed, or simply too poor to pay.”

Florida courts are required to sock convicted criminals with certain fines and fees. Still, Orange continued to employ the writs long after other collections courts around the state had retired them. It’s not surprising, considering they were relatively effective. While the statewide average for collecting court costs is 15 percent, Orange posted a more robust 34 percent.

Problem was many of the jailed weren’t deadbeats. They simply were dead broke.

The Ocala StarBanner — Military suicides a relentless crisis

At a rate of practically one an hour, each hour of each day, a veteran of the U.S. military decides that life has lost all of its value. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 22 former soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines kill themselves rather than continue struggling with whatever ill-willed force haunts their psyches.

That number, while generally accepted by the government, the media and suicide-prevention advocates, is problematic for one reason. It might be understating the issue.

The VA acknowledges that that total is based on a study of data collected from just 21 states, and the 29 that are unaccounted for include California and Texas, which rank first and second, respectively, in terms of states with the largest veteran populations. Additionally, the estimate does not reflect the veteran status of roughly 34,000 suicides recorded during the study’s time frame. Finally, the VA tracked data compiled as of 2010, meaning the agency does not know the fate of veterans who may have committed suicide since then.

Despite those issues, however, 22 a day is the best estimate we have. And we can say this about that: it is way too high. It is indeed a national crisis, if not a national shame.

The Pensacola News-Journal — We deserve a ‘legacy bridge’

We support the efforts of Vision Pensacola to create an impressive landing off the northern side of the proposed replacement of the Pensacola Bay Bridge.

The design is impressive, PNJ reporter Kaycee Lagarde wrote recently: “A roundabout, a suspended bridge extension to Gregory Street, bicycle and pedestrian connections, and landscaping and water features are among the group’s ideas for the intersection, which sees more than 43,000 daily trips combined between 17th Avenue and Bayfront Parkway, or U.S. 98.”

Any visit to Pensacola surely will include a stop at the bridge for photos or video. When thinking about San Francisco, the first thought for many is the Golden Gate Bridge. Pensacola deserves such a landmark.

That’s why today we call on business and political leaders to join the effort to make this proposal a reality. We particularly want to hear from Northwest Florida’s legislative delegation who can twist the right arms and get this included in the bridge-replacement project. We hope state Rep. Clay Ingram of Pensacola can exert influence on two fronts: first, in his role in the state Legislature; and during his presidency at the Greater Pensacola Chamber. His political influence was mentioned when he was hired in December.

“Clay brings energy, leadership, a unique perspective and highly developed skillsets important to this role and our organization. We are thrilled to have him serve as the chamber’s next president and CEO,” Carol Carlan, chairwoman of the Chamber’s board of directors, said at the time. “His understanding of small business development, finance and the importance of regional partnerships will be a tremendous asset that will allow us to continue serving the Northwest Florida business community.”

We’re confident the “business community” will rally behind the efforts of Vision Pensacola. In addition to the “Pensacola Beachball” water tower, photos of our emerald-green water and white sand, the bridge landing would become a powerful marketing tool used by small, midsize and large businesses.

During the Chamber’s annual meeting on Thursday, Ingram said “the chamber has repositioned itself to create a better business climate in the Greater Pensacola region.”

He also mentioned his team “is dedicated to maintaining economic prosperity and a better quality of life for those that choose to live and do business in this community.”

The Palm Beach Post — Scott manipulates the facts in hounding Planned Parenthood

In Gov. Rick Scott’s pursuit of Planned Parenthood, he is not letting petty annoyances, such as facts, get in the way.

As soon as anti-abortion activists released manipulative videos this summer purporting to prove that Planned Parenthood officials were trafficking in aborted fetal tissue, Scott publicly ordered an investigation into Planned Parenthood outlets in Florida.

One problem. Planned Parenthood of Florida does not even donate tissue for medical research — which was the perfectly legal subject that Planned Parenthood personnel were actually talking about when caught on camera. Their language was blunt and, yes, disturbing. But the videos were edited to make it appear they were discussing the illegal and unethical sale of fetus parts for profit.

Unsurprisingly, investigators from Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration (ACHA) found nothing to implicate any of the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics in the seamy accusations.

ACHA drafted a press release to announce that “there is no evidence of the mishandling of fetal remains at any of the 16 clinics we investigated across the state.” But Scott’s aides, in an unusual intervention, deleted the sentence, as Politico reported after examining emails between ACHA senior officials and the governor’s staff.

Not content to bury the news of exoneration, Scott was determined to show the organization guilty of something. So his administration announced a whole new accusation: that three clinics had performed abortions in the second trimester although licensed only for the first trimester. Planned Parenthood denied the charges, saying the abortions were performed within a state-approved time period. The group is fighting $5,500 in fines from the state.

The Panama City News-Herald — Hillary’s campaign looking like the Hindenburg

Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers are in free fall, so much so that she had to leave her vacation with friends in the Hamptons to return to her self-described “fight for the poor.” It was quite the sacrifice; now’s the best time to be at the beach.

Cruising to her “coronation” as Democratic nominee, all she has had to do is run against herself. She has – and she’s losing. Now she will actually have to go to work in Iowa. Like any presidential candidate, she will spend a lot of time in Iowa now to get elected so she will never have to set foot in the state again.

If you see a Democrat politician in Iowa, it is either during a presidential campaign or his or her Lear jet crashed.

Putting on her best corn dog-eating pantsuit, she suffered the awkward indignity of walking around the Iowa State Fair. Corn dogs fried in butter are a good deal there, a two-for-one. The sign should say: “Corn dogs for sale – buy one, get type two diabetes for free.”

It was fun to watch a limousine liberal like Hillary, who loves the trappings of New York and the Hamptons, having to act like she enjoyed meeting the regular folks in states like Iowa. She has to be around people who look like they would argue with the McDonald’s manager about when the breakfast service should end. She is clearly uncomfortable doing this because she believes it is beneath her.

Hillary’s handlers keep her moving through events like state fairs for fear that, if she stops, she might have to answer questions. She has the look in her eyes and the fake smile of an aunt whose visiting grandnephews just put their iced tea glasses on her antique table without using coasters.

Her favorability number is 39 percent. Hillary has the authenticity of a $50 Rolex sold on the street in Chinatown. Like them or loathe them, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are authentic.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Florida must clear rape kit backlog

The reality is as shocking as it is unacceptable: Thousands of rape kits collected by Florida law enforcement agencies in the course of sexual assault investigations remain locked up and untested, some for years.

That means thousands of rape cases stand little chance of being solved. That means scores of rapists and sexual predators have little to fear by way of arrest. And that means the state is sending a terrible message to women: When it comes to the violent crime of rape, you’re on your own.

Every rape kit collected by cops should be tested as soon as possible. Florida must make this a priority. No excuses accepted.

Attorney General Pam Bondi is calling for Florida to clear the backlog by the coming year. Bondi also wants the state to increase funding for processing sexual assault evidence at state labs. Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, filed a bill last week requiring police to adopt new polices that ensure rape kits are tested within 12 months of a crime.

Still, the questions remain: How did we get here? Why hasn’t this been a top priority? And how long will it take to fix this travesty?

“We know that there are thousands of untested rape kits out there,” Bondi said at a recent news conference at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay. “Those need to be tested because hidden in those … kits, we have the potential to solve cold cases and lock up sexual predators.”

Bondi is right. Doing whatever it takes to collect and process crucial evidence to solve the most violent crimes — and remove the state’s most violent criminals from the streets — is basic policing.

Law enforcement officials cannot say how many rape kits remain untested statewide. Bondi announced the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will spend $300,000 to find out and determine how much it will cost to get caught up.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Worth celebrating

City, county and Florida AM officials enjoyed a celebratory tour of the partially completed FAMU Way project this week. That small landmark was one of two things this week that reminded us, despite the grousing and whining, of the qualities we most treasure in this community.

The other is the recognition heaped on Leon High senior Elyse Thompson, whose Positively Post It campaign is going national. Both developments reflect the kind of community we like to think we are or think we’re on the way to becoming.

Begun in 2014, the FAMU Way extension was pitched as a companion to the remodeling of Gaines Street, an enterprise that paved the way for unprecedented growth on a blighted strip of town. It calls for the extension of FAMU Way, one of the gateways to the FAMU campus, from South Monroe Street all the way to Lake Bradford Road. There’s much work left to be done, but those who believe this is a city on the move should take a look.

The two-lane road boasts on street parking, metal benches and generous paths and sidewalks for walking and running and biking. At different sections, landscaped trees and shrubs and a three-color brick pattern decorate the median. Order and beauty reign where neglect once prospered.

A young egret strolled in one end of the five-acre stormwater pond. On the far end, lily pads, some with flowers, covered the surface of the water, which creates a natural backdrop to the “Under the Over,” an amphitheater like plaza. Overhead, the Bronough Street overpass finally looks as if it belongs, with cars whizzing north and south. Power lines and substation, a reminder of the vital needs of a growing city.

Imagine the crowds gathered for the light shows or friends relaxing and enjoying the outdoors. Once this project is completed, visitors can walk from the FAMU Way across the bridge into Cascades Park. The FAMU Way project represents a joint enterprise between the city and city/county Blueprint 2000. The first two phases cost $27 million. Reaching Lake Bradford Road will cost much more. However, these improvements reflect the truism that residents will support taxes increases in exchange for meaningful public projects.

The Tampa Tribune — Outside auditor can put Go Hillsborough questions to rest

County Commissioner Kevin Beckner is correct when he says the questions raised about the public outreach effort surrounding a potential 2016 transportation referendum need to be addressed.

He called this past week for an audit of the process in awarding a $1.3 million consulting contract to the engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, which turned around and hired Tampa public relations expert Beth Leytham to help with the public outreach campaign.

Leytham is close to two county commissioners, and she contacted County Administrator Mike Merrill about the hiring of a consultant before Parsons Brinckerhoff was assigned the Go Hillsborough job.

Merrill and Leytham say there was no effort on her part to steer the contract to Parsons Brinckerhoff, which led to her $187,500 contract to help with public outreach.

But even the appearance of a conflict threatens the integrity of the Go Hillsborough effort, a critical transit initiative that will ask voters whether they want to raise the sales tax to pay for road improvements and various mass transit options.

Commissioners agreed with Beckner and unanimously voted to conduct the audit. Merrill should find an outside agency to perform the work rather than call upon the county’s internal auditor, who previously looked into the way the contract was awarded and found no wrongdoing.

Though it may be an added expense and take months to complete, an outside firm offers the independence needed to put the questions to rest. A second clean bill of health from the same internal auditor will be viewed with suspicion.

The questions raised about the Parsons Brinckerhoff contract have already caused the Tampa City Council to suspend its $75,000 contribution to the outreach effort until the audit results are known.

Go Hillsborough faces a formidable challenge in winning the support of a majority of the county’s voters, who will most likely be asked in 2016 whether to raise the sales tax in Hillsborough County by a half-cent or a full cent to raise billions over the 30-year life of the tax.



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Osceola mulls $11.66-an-hour living wage proposal

Osceola County’s newly Democratic-controlled commission has wasted little time taking on controversial issues since January, passing anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender residents while raising the local gas tax to pay for roads and other infrastructure projects.

Now the board is preparing to vote on an ordinance Monday that would set one of the highest minimum wages for county contracts in the state, at $11.66 an hour for the first year.

That’s almost 45 percent higher than the current Florida minimum wage of $8.05.

Proponents will face more than the anticipated opposition from groups such as the Kissimmee/Osceola Chamber of Commerce. They’re also being questioned by some Democrats concerned over the potential impact on smaller businesses.

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Unlike similar laws in Seattle and Los Angeles, which require a living wage for all workers, the ordinance introduced by Commissioner Mike Harford would require hourly wages for workers on county contracts to be tied into the federal poverty level.

For 2016, that would mean someone who worked an entire year on a county contract, 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, would make the federal poverty level of $24,250 for a family of four.

“I recognize that Osceola County is among the lowest in the region in wages,” Harford said. “We’re trying to make sure people at least get enough money [to live on].”

Requiring a higher hourly wage also would allow workers to leave programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and food stamps, Harford said.

“That is a subsidy taxpayers are giving businesses (to make up for low wages) after giving them a contract,” Harford said. “It will help us eliminate some people off the social services network.”

The ordinance would also increase the hourly living wage each year for five years. So by 2020, someone working at the living wage rate for an entire year would make 140 percent of the federal poverty level, which itself also goes up year-to-year.

This would contrast with Orlando’s living wage ordinance, which has no built in increases and has stayed at $8.50 an hour for employees and contractors since 2003.

Orlando and several other cities, including Gainesville and Miami Beach, have living wage ordinances. But Osceola would become only the fourth county in the state to have such a law.

Even at $11.66, Osceola’s living wage would be the lowest of the four counties, with Palm Beach at $11.98, and Miami-Dade and Broward both at $12.63.

Osceola’s ordinance would also be similar to Miami-Dade and Broward in allowing for a lower wage — $2 less an hour, in Osceola’s case — if the employer makes up the difference by offering the employee health benefits.

The Osceola ordinance is based in large part on Miami-Dade where, Harford said, “there has been relatively little or no change in the way the business community interacts with government” since it was passed in the late 1990s.

The ordinance is backed by local unions such as UNITE HERE Central Florida, which represents Disney workers, and the public sector union SEIU 1199.

“(Central Florida) is number one in hospitality and last in wages,” said Eric Clinton, president of UNITE HERE Local 362 and the Central Florida AFL-CIO. “Where we have the ability for good elected leaders to help with that, they should. I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

Jose Suarez, a spokesman for SEIU 1199, said that “obviously, we believe everyone deserves to, at minimum, have a living wage.”

Meanwhile John Newstreet, the President/CEO of the Kissimmee/Osceola Chamber of Commerce, said the effects of any living wage ordinance are still unclear.

“Everyone wants more money, and we’re not fighting a better life for people,” Newstreet said. “Our stance is, what do we know of the impact in Osceola County? We ask questions and we’re not getting answers.”

Newstreet said that supporters have pointed to studies of similar ordinances in cities like Los Angeles and Seattle, “and I don’t think Kissimmee-St. Cloud can quite compare with those areas,” he said.

“We have to look apples-to-apples and see what the impact will be on us. … Let’s slow down and get a closer look.”

Fred Hawkins, the lone Republican on the commission, said when the ordinance was first introduced that he was concerned about impacts on nonprofits, which as the ordinance was originally written would have been required to meet the living-wage standard if they accepted county money and grants.

Harford said last week that has since changed, and charitable organizations would not be affected.

But Democratic Commissioner Cheryl Grieb said that the ordinance “would have to change pretty substantially for me to agree…”

“We flat-out don’t know the financial impact for the county,” Grieb said. “I think it overreached.

“If you read it, it says anybody doing business with us [is affected]… A company could be doing some landscaping job for us, and if a local company doesn’t comply — even if it has just one employee — it’s not able to make an application. It would limit local and small businesses.”

Grieb said Wednesday that she was awaiting the latest version of the ordinance from county staff, which she said would hopefully include a threshold of $100,000 contracts before the living wage was applied. But she had still not seen that version.

Grieb also had concerns about the provision that 25 percent of employees on contracts above $100,000 need to be apprentices, which she felt would further limit companies. Harford has said that he would consider detaching the apprentice provision from the final ordinance.

“The bottom line is we want everyone in the county to make more money,” Grieb said. “We’re still primarily a tourism-based community and unfortunately not everyone in that industry may make this (hourly) amount. … But I don’t think Osceola right now is in a position to handle an ordinance as far-reaching as this.”

As for Harford, asked if he thought the ordinance could get three of the four Democratic votes on the commission: “I would hope so,” he said. “But I’ve learned not to expect a whole lot.”

Copyright © 2015, Orlando Sentinel

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Fall planting is best for plants

First Posted: 7:44 pm – September 20th, 2015 – 19 Views

Fall is a good time to make a few much-needed replacements in your landscape. Photo Courtesy of HGTV


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Now that cooler weather has arrived and gardening is more of a pleasure, it’s time to look at your landscape and make a few much-needed replacements. In early fall plants go “dormant”, meaning that they don’t need much food or water to survive. You might say that they’re going to sleep. Woody plants and perennials are very forgiving during this period, so you can plant or transplant them without transplant shock. Even container-grown plants adjust better in the landscape after summer stress is over.

Dormant plants can be dug and perennials divided with very little stress. Roots are often left behind during transplanting, and this can shock the plant during growth or bloom but doesn’t matter as much when it’s dormant. If roots are damaged a plant can replace them during the fall because it has a lot of stored energy. It has many months to adjust before it must produce new leaves, blooms and fruit.

Plants installed in early fall are very vigorous by spring. Fall weather tends to be cool and moist, an ideal climate for newly planted gardens. Landscaping tasks are a pleasure when the weather is cool and breezy, and regular rainfall can help with watering duties. Another plus is that weed competition is minimal in fall.

What’s the difference between “planting” and “transplanting?” Planting means taking a plant that’s already above ground and installing it in the ground. Transplanting has two steps: first, digging the plant out of the ground with as many roots as possible, and then planting it in a different location. It’s dangerous to transplant in late spring or summer, because each root has a corresponding stem, so cutting roots can cause transplant shock and possibly kill the plant.

Planting can be done any time, because the plant has already adjusted to being above ground and has all the roots it needs to survive. Transplanting is best done when the plant isn’t actively growing. Either way, watering isn’t as critical because dormant plants can survive with a lot less water than plants that are actively growing or blooming. Fall planting actually gives plants more time to get established, so they will perform much better in spring.

Another benefit of fall planting is that most nurseries are eager to sell out before winter, so you can find bargain plants that will cost a lot more in spring. Our own nursery has many woody plants and perennials on sale right now. Smart gardeners buy dormant plants and trees at this time of year even though they aren’t always showy. Fall-planting always gives plants a head start compared to planting in spring, and it’s easier on your budget.

Steve Boehme and his wife Marjorie own GoodSeed Nursery and Landscape, located near Winchester, at 9736 Tri-County Highway. More information is available at or call 937-587-7021.

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Five tips for your fall garden: Keep your landscape blooming year-round in …


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Owners aim to set the future of Lee’s Bedrock Gardens in stone

They say that the garden dies with the gardener. As we age and face our own mortality, it is sad to think of the gardens on which we have expended so much energy and love falling into disrepair and becoming wild again. For that reason, Jill Nooney and Bob Munger of Bedrock Gardens in Lee are working to turn their 33-acre property with its 10-plus acres of gardens into a nonprofit public garden. If you have never visited Bedrock Gardens, jump in the car right now. It is open today from noon 4 p.m. If making the trip is not happening today, let me fill you in on some of the garden’s high points:

When Jill and Bob started work at Bedrock Gardens, they wanted to add as much hardscape as possible, so they’ve built stone walls, dug a 1-acre farm pond, and used the excavated soil to build a berm that blocks the sight and sound of busy Route 125. A Japanese teahouse overlooks a smaller pond, appropriately named the Petit Pond, which has a waterfall. The coolest water feature is a 300-foot-long canal called the “wiggle-waggle” for the way it snakes across the field. It is a 3-foot-wide trench lined with rubber covered by paving stones. Water flows from a vintage spring house, through the wiggle-waggle into a koi pond that is 30 feet wide and 4 feet deep, and is then pumped back up to the spring house to repeat its journey. With the exception of operating heavy equipment, Nooney and Munger do virtually all the work themselves. Fueled by their mutual love of gardening, they have accomplished a lifetime of work in about 15 years.

Jill’s garden design knows no boundaries. A graduate of the Radcliffe Seminars Landscape Design Program, she does not adhere strictly to the style of her colonial-era home and has blended Asian, French and formal elements with rustic New England architecture to make a truly unique statement. There is a diamond-pattern, boxwood lined path through the white parterre garden, which has a pool and fountain. A 400-foot-long allee planted in Chinese fringe trees ends at the Japanese torii, a symbolic Shinto gateway arch. From there you can turn right through a perennial garden and past three sinous beds of fountain grass, smoke bush and winterberry, to a path that leads to the Dark Woods. Mysterious sculptural figures populate this slightly creepy pine forest.

At the far side of the large pond there are two thrones where you can rest and look back toward the torii. Take a side trip to the peaceful teahouse garden or head straight back toward the wiggle-waggle. There is pergola-covered seating in the rock garden on the slope overlooking the gardens, or you can stroll past the Belgian fence, which has 11 different kinds of apple trees espaliered and woven together to create a living fence. There is a bog garden for plants that like wet feet; the “garish” garden, which is full of eye-popping oranges, reds, purples and yellows; and a living grass tapestry called the Grass Acre, which Jill planted using 8,000 tiny plugs of different colored grasses.

Paths are extremely important to the garden flow, and one of Jill’s design principles is: “you can’t go there if you can’t get there.” Added to the many garden paths near the house and barn are 2 miles of woodland trails. She feels it is important to have somewhere to go – a destination, and something to do along the way – “events,” Jill calls them.

She has built in pauses throughout the garden – specimen plants to admire, a water feature, a comfy seating area or a piece of sculpture to enjoy.

Sight lines also help to direct visitors, giving them a glimpse of what lies ahead and drawing them along the way. This garden is not just a collection of plants – it is an adventure!

A fan of unique garden art, Jill creates and sells distinctive, one-of-a-kind sculpture and ornaments for the garden. The term she uses to describe her art is “bricolage” – a French word for making do with what you have. She scours junkyards, flea markets, dumps and warehouses full of salvage for interesting pieces of metal, wood and glass. She is especially drawn to the utilitarian beauty of old tools and farm implements and anything that has to do with working the land.

In landscape design, Jill finds that garden art lends a sense of solidity and structure to the garden. It can act as a focal point, mark points of arrival or departure, evoke a feeling of history, or add an element of humor. Many of Jill’s pieces reflect her playful nature.

She encourages us to plant art . . . it lasts forever!

(If you would like to visit Bedrock Gardens but can’t make the trip today, the gardens will be open to the public again on Oct. 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when Dale’s Jazz Lab performs; Oct. 11 from noon to 4 p.m., when the Caterpillar Lab will be on display; and Oct. 12 from noon to 4 p.m. For more information about Bedrock Gardens, visit For information on the Caterpillar Lab, visit The gardens are located at 45 High Road in Lee, just off Route 125. Admission is $10 per person.)

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