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Florida editorial roundup

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Oct. 8

The Tampa Bay Times on Gov. Ron DeSantis' proposal to raise the minimum salary for teachers:

For the first time in years, a Florida governor has a bold plan for raising teacher salaries that rank among the lowest in the nation. Gov. Ron DeSantis' proposal to raise the minimum salary for teachers by nearly $10,000 would be an excellent start toward finally investing in public education. There are plenty of details to resolve involving both policy and politics, but the governor's ambitious plan is an impressive opening bid for a broader discussion.

The governor rolled out his proposal at three schools Oct. 7, ending at his alma mater, Dunedin High. The total cost of raising the minimum teacher salary to $47,500 would be $603 million, and that would raise the salaries of more than 100,000 of the state's 170,000 teachers. "If you really prioritize something, you can figure out a way to get it done, and that's what we're doing here," DeSantis said. He is right, and it's about time.

For a state that routinely dwells in the cellar of teacher pay, the governor's proposal is wonderful news. He recognizes that the foundation of a successful classroom is a competent teacher, and good pay attracts more talent and reflects respect for the profession. But there are plenty of questions to answer. Teacher pay is set by each school district, not the state. Would this state plan provide an excellent starting salary but compress the salary range between starting teachers and the most experienced ones, which would not be particularly fair? What happens to collective bargaining between each district and its teachers' union? And where would the state find the $600 million to pay for this when Republican legislators recoil at any hint of a tax increase?

Improving public education also is more complicated than raising minimum teacher salaries. Higher starting salaries could ease the teacher shortage and draw more qualified beginning teachers into the classroom. But the state also needs to unshackle teachers from onerous state-mandated constraints that hamstring innovation and quality instruction.

One good sign is that a close DeSantis ally, Senate budget chair Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has filed a bill to repeal the so-called Best and Brightest teacher bonus program, recognizing that it has failed in its mission. "Its purpose, to attract and reward good teachers, is certainly laudable," Bradley said. "In practice, it has managed to frustrate many good teachers with seemingly random outcomes, and ironically it has made many good teachers feel less appreciated." That's a rare but refreshing acknowledgement that the Legislature isn't perfect.

Convincing the Republican-controlled Legislature to dramatically raise minimum teacher salaries will be a heavy lift even for a popular Republican governor. House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, already has responded skeptically by noting the DeSantis administration has proposed more than $2 billion in additional funding for various departments. And unlike the federal budget, the state budget is required to be balanced and cannot factor in a deficit. So the 2020-21 state budget proposed by DeSantis will be particularly illuminating, and lawmakers will have to make hard choices when the legislative session starts in January. Factor in a softening economy with projections that state revenue will be less than previously expected in the next couple of years, and the decision-making gets even tougher.

Unlike any recent governor, DeSantis has declared that significantly raising the minimum salary for teachers in Florida is a top priority. That is an unambiguous message to his Republican colleagues in the Legislature. The challenge will be working out the details -- and finding the money -- to meet the governor's ambitious goal.

Online: https://www.tampabay.com

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Oct. 7

The Palm Beach Post on the deaths of black transgender women:

Bee Love Slater was "a good spirit, a prankster, a joker," says one friend. "Precious, loving and kind," says another.

But she was desperate to get out of Pahokee, one of the poor, small towns hugging Lake Okeechobee. "She posted messages saying she felt as if people were after her to attack and hurt her," an acquaintance told Insider.com.

Slater's fears were well-founded. On Sept. 4 she was found dead in a burning car in the Harlem community outside of Clewistown. So grotesque was her death that her body was burned beyond recognition, her identity confirmed only through dental records.

The 23-year-old born as Bolman Slater VI was the 18th transgender person murdered in 2019 in the United States, killed just two days after a 17-year-old, Bailey Reeves, was gunned down in Baltimore.

The string of murders of transgender women, says the American Medical Association, is an "epidemic." All but one of the victims have been black transgender women. Appalling as this is, "the number of victims could be even higher due to under-reporting," said an AMA board member, Dr. S. Bobby Mukkamala, in a press release.

Florida is one of 31 states that does not include gender identity as a specific basis for hate crime. That's unfortunate. Because killings like Bee Love Slater's need special attention from law enforcement and the justice system. And this kind of violence is all too common.

In Jacksonville, on Sept. 27, a victim described by local activists as a transgender woman was severely beaten, tied by the legs to a minivan and dragged for about two blocks. "The video was so graphic we can't release it. It's horrendous," said Assistant Chief Brien Kee of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Jacksonville has seen three transgender homicides since February. In Miami, Marquis "Kiki" Fantroy was shot and killed on a street corner before dawn on July 31, in what police described as an argument, not a hate crime -- an assertion questioned by the victim's mother.

In Slater's murder, authorities have arrested a "person of interest": Jamson Richemond, 29, of Belle Glade. They have not disclosed details of his involvement in the case (nor why Richemond has been charged in the June death of a man named Jamal Hubert).

A spokeswoman said that sheriff's deputies are investigating whether Slater's gender identify was a factor in her killing. As they should.

This year's violence follows 26 deaths of transgender people in 2018, according to the grim count from Human Rights Campaign, which fights for civil rights for gay and lesbian people.

According to Claudia Harrison of the Compass Community Center, in Lake Worth, the largest gay and lesbian community center in the Southeast, transgender people are frequent targets of harassment and abuse.

"There's really something in our society that makes people, men in particular, react violently when they are attracted to someone who turns out to be transgender. It threatens their own masculinity. And they feel tricked. And that is scary," Harrison told the Post Editorial Board.

Another common scenario, according to Harrison: A man becomes attracted to a transgender woman but faces ridicule when his friends and others find out her history. Rage ensues.

It must be more widely understood that transgender people change their gender not to fool anybody, but because the gender into which they're born has caused them extraordinary distress or pain.

Many experience great difficulties. Frequently rejected by their own families, often unable to fit in at a conventional workplace, struggling to meet even basic needs, many turn to sex work -- which heightens their exposure to the threat of violence.

The dangers are unlikely to abate soon. This kind of violence originates in some of the deepest recesses of the psyche. Some religions abhor any sort of unconventionality in sexual matters. Our current political climate, with a White House that wants to bar transgender people from the military and restrict their access to public bathrooms, fosters more fear and ostracism.

Florida lawmakers can help by taking a hard look at the viciousness of the violence against transgender people and expand the state's hate-crimes law to include gender identity. Law enforcement can do a better job of respecting and understanding this community.

"Transgender people are just people who want to live," said Harrison. "They might not look like the way we expect them to live -- and they might challenge our idea of gender. But it's good to be challenged."

Online: https://www.palmbeachpost.com

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Oct. 3

The Lakeland Ledger on the lack of candidates in local elections:

Petrina McCutchen, mother of homegrown Philadelphia Phillies superstar Andrew McCutchen, got into politics in September, winning an uncontested election for the Fort Meade City Commission.

Her election was of interest because McCutchen succeeds Maurice Nelson Campbell, who entered political limbo seven months ago. Campbell was arrested earlier this year on charges of aggravated stalking and disorderly conduct related to a marital dispute. Per an agreement with prosecutors, she eventually pleaded no contest to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges and sentenced to two years' probation. Campbell was suspended from office, but neither resigned nor was removed. So the seat remained occupied in name only until McCutchen could claim it.

This is good news, of course, for McCutchen, as a newly minted public servant, and the City Commission, as well as for Fort Meade residents, whose elected governing board is finally complete.

But the election in Fort Meade highlights an issue in Polk County that bears watching because it says something about democracy at the local level.

Besides McCutchen, incumbent Fort Meade Commissioners Rick Cochrane and Bob Elliott also won new three-year terms after they ran unopposed. In Lakeland last month, incumbent City Commissioner Phillip Walker also was re-elected to another term after not drawing an opponent. In Winter Haven, only one of three seats is up for grabs in November after incumbent Commissioner Nat Birdsong and newcomer Brian Yates, who fills the seat held by departing Commissioner Pete Chichetto, were elected without opposition.

Back in April, during Polk County's other municipal election cycle, 16 candidates across the county were elected or re-elected because no one challenged them. Three cities — Eagle Lake, Lake Hamilton and Mulberry — did not even hold elections because their candidates did not draw challengers.

Something is off kilter here.

We spend a significant amount of time thinking about voters. We encourage people to get registered — even celebrating National Voter Registration Day— and do everything we can to make registering (allowing it online or when driver's licenses get renewed, for instance) and voting (by mail-in ballots and opening polls a week ahead of time, for example) as easy as possible. We worry about whether ballots are designed so they can be easily understood. We fret about voter fraud and election security to ensure the ballots are tallied appropriately and accurately. Heck, some promote voting so much that discussions are ongoing in some locales about allowing convicted felons, non-U.S. citizens and 16- and 17-year-olds to vote.

Yet, especially in local elections, as evidenced in Polk County this year, we don't think about or realize that voters often have no one to cast ballots for.

For instance, in those three cities that eschewed elections this spring because of a paucity of challengers, a combined total of 11,225 voters never got a chance to vote.

While admittedly a rare exception will surface from time to time, we think the local governing boards around Polk County are stocked with fine folks who serve their communities admirably and without thought of personal gain. And perhaps that is reflected by the fact that many go unchallenged. Or perhaps people opt against running because they don't have time or resources, or think they won't win or make a difference.

This is not necessarily a commentary on those who won unopposed elections, but this issue is one reason we've appreciated Bartow resident Gerald Cochran. Back in April Cochran lost his 26th election for a seat on the City Commission. The 80-year-old retired phosphate industry worker apparently does not harbor any expectation of winning. But he returns as a candidate again and again because he believes no one should run unopposed. Cochran thus exhibits a laudable, small-d democratic spirit.

To those who have won throughout Polk so far, we say congratulations and wish you well and wisdom in guiding your communities. But we encourage others to think like Cochran: Democracy is a great thing, but only if you participate, either as a voter or a candidate.

Online: https://www.theledger.com/

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