Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The Tampa (Florida) Tribune on state Attorney General Pam Bondi's travel:
Our legal system is built on impartiality and the notion that nobody is above the rule of law.
So it's troubling to learn that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, the lawyer the people elected to look after their interests, has made a habit of accepting invitations to gatherings at swank hotels and resorts in this state and others where lobbyists and lawyers are essentially paying for access.
We're not suggesting Bondi did anything against the rule of law. But she is cheapening the office by choosing to mingle with people who represent companies and entities with an interest in whether Bondi's office looks into complaints against their businesses.
She should think twice before jetting off to the next all-expenses-paid trip in locales such as Hawaii and California.
According to The New York Times, Bondi often participates in gatherings of like-minded attorneys general through the Republican Attorneys General Association, known as RAGA. Though official business is on the agenda, so is free time to socialize with lobbyists and lawyers who represent companies that could be adversely affected by decisions the attorneys general make.
The trips are indirectly funded by corporate sponsors, some of whom are seeking access. During her first four years in office, Bondi accepted $51,000 in free airfare, hotels and meals to conferences in this country and in Mexico and Israel. In one instance, Bondi invited a lawyer from one of the more active corporate law firms, who was recovering from surgery, to stay at her Tampa home.
We don't doubt this was a simple act of kindness. But that firm, Dickstein Shapiro, has taken an interest in befriending attorneys general across the country and the firm is now the subject of an ethics complaint that they have lobbied Bondi without being registered to lobby in Florida.
The firm's clients have included online travel companies, which have been the subject of complaints about conspiring to withhold hotel taxes in Florida.
Bondi's staff says they aren't pursuing the complaints because the law is ambiguous, an explanation that would be easier to accept had she not gone on the trips and not allowed the law firm representing the companies to sponsor a fundraiser for her re-election campaign, as The New York Times reported.
Bondi's frequent travel has needlessly cast a shadow over her office. She should unpack her bags and focus entirely on the business of representing the people of Florida.
The Florida Times-Union on accountability in Florida public schools:
Accountability has been the secret to Florida's success in improving its public school systems.
That was the theme of a major education forum recently held at Jacksonville University. Without standards, progress simply won't be made.
The way accountability is handled is certainly open to criticism but not the goal. There are too many tests, and sometimes the tests are flawed, but testing is needed.
Jacksonville has used impressive partnerships by the nonprofit community to supplement the work happening in the state's public school system.
"A lot of good things have happened (in education) in Florida," said Gary Chartrand, chairman of Florida's Board of Education. "Strong accountability has moved the needle forward."
Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said, "You will not see a superintendent more driven by accountability."
In short, the JU gathering again drove home the reality that all of the shareholders in state and local education — administrators, teachers, students, parents and the community as a whole — must keep holding themselves and each other accountable to make educational standards and performances across Florida and Jacksonville continue to rise.
Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart told an estimated 150 attendees that the state's ever-evolving move to standardized testing since 1997 has been vital in helping students learn better and faster. In defending the steady use of tests, Stewart said the bar needed to be raised. She added that current students in Florida classrooms are able to understand a data spreadsheet by the time they reach sixth grade — and they're challenged to not merely read a book passage but to be able to think through and explain how it relates to the overall story.
This shared sense of accountability must be sustained and nurtured for the sake of school children.
The Ledger of Lakeland (Florida) on altering the VFW charter to reflect the role of women in war:
Congress formally entered lame-duck status after Election Day. Nonetheless, before they wrap up, lawmakers should attend to a little-noticed bill that is that rarest of birds in Washington, something Republicans and Democrats both can agree on.
The measure would alter language in the Veterans of Foreign Wars' federal charter to reflect the role of women in defending our nation.
Though founded in 1899, the VFW was granted an official federal charter in 1936, through which, as with many other patriotic and fraternal organizations, Congress formally recognized and endorsed the VFW's purpose and work.
The charter's preamble defines the VFW as "a national association of men who as soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen served this nation in wars, campaigns and expeditions on foreign soil or in hostile waters." Elsewhere, the law says one of the VFW's seven functions is "to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead, and to assist their widows and orphans."
The language in those two sections has endured for 78 years and through at least five revisions to the law. In September, however, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced a bill to change the opening of the VFW's charter from "men" to "veterans." In the later section referring to survivors, the bill would insert "surviving spouses" for "widows."
It is a small change, involving a handful of words in a very small piece of the massive federal code. Yet it speaks volumes about how far America has moved culturally and militarily since the pre-World War II era.
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