This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Fix foster care now. Eckerd Connects announced this week that it will no longer provide childcare and services to children in the Tampa Bay area next year. The news came as the Florida Department of Children and Families said it would not renew the state’s contract with nonprofit Clearwater when it expires at the end of 2021. The inevitable change awaits is about the only thing the two parties agree on. The state says Eckerd used to place children in unlicensed facilities and endangered the safety and well-being of children in his care. For his part, Eckerd said the state contract was “woefully underfunded” making it nearly impossible to provide adequate services. We’re going to put the blame on both; the association has been criticized for a handful of high-profile deaths of children under its watch and has struggled to find long-term placements for teens. At the same time, the state has not funded child welfare services in Tampa Bay to the same level as other areas of the state. Funding issues aside, the Crown and potential bidders on the contract need a better grasp of this issue. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri on Thursday announced that his office will launch two separate investigations into Eckerd, one into child protection and another into the association and its high-level employees. In the future, the focus must be on providing children in need with a safe and stable living environment. Hopefully Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls and Speaker of the Senate Wilton Simpson can find a solution when the legislature meets in January to a crisis in their own backyard.
The children are doing well. Some good news just in time for the next vacation: Children ages 5 to 11 across Florida are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. That’s about 1.6 million more of the state’s nearly 22 million people who can get vaccinated. Now is the time to give these kids a shot. It takes two injections, given three weeks apart. After that, wait two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect and voila !, you have a fully immunized child. Get the first of two jabs in the next few days and the kids will be partially vaccinated for the Thanksgiving holiday. Get the follow-up jab in three weeks and they’ll be fully immunized just in time for the Christmas reunions. Many local pharmacies have children’s vaccines in stock. Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your zip code.
DeSantis is aiming for the vote (again). Not content with the confusion and frustration he sowed with restricting voting rights earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged a tougher election package this week when the Legislature meets in January. Although Florida hosted a model election in 2020, DeSantis said he wanted to strengthen the state’s election laws and create a new office to investigate and prosecute election-related fraud. This would follow this year’s legislative changes that limited the use of ballot boxes, restricted access to postal ballots, and opened the way for more partisan challenges to contested ballots. DeSantis appears determined to channel his inner Trump, despite Florida’s recent track record of well-administered elections, and despite calls from locally elected supervisors for politicians to stop undermining public confidence in the election.
You’re welcome. Some people who run to write the laws of the land find it difficult to follow the rules themselves. Dozens of Florida congressional candidates – Republicans and Democrats alike – failed to submit mandatory financial disclosure reports. Records are essential for voters to understand a candidate’s finances and whether they may have financial conflicts during their term in office. A survey of 162 incumbents and challengers in upcoming Florida congressional races found that more than a third had no reports on file with the House Clerk. Some candidates expressed their ignorance. Republican Martin Hyde, who is trying to topple Republican Republican Rep. For Sarasota Vern Buchanan, bristled with questions, mistaking financial disclosure for his campaign finance report. “I don’t like that kind of absurd ‘fake news’,” he said in an email. When a reporter explained the difference, Hyde said his campaign would file the financial statement and for the journalist not to contact him again.
Editorials are the corporate voice of the Tampa Bay Times. Members of the Editorial Board are Editorial Board Editor Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chief Executive Officer Paul Tash. To follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.