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Editorial 638

Missy Layfield - Editor

Summer Arrives

While the calendar says we have several more weeks of spring, Islanders know that summer has arrived.The turtles and stingrays know it’s summer. We’re hearing cautions about how to peacefully co-exist with these sea creatures. The beach on the south end has been marked to protect nesting shorebirds. It must be summer.

While some Islanders grow weary of the warnings and reminders, it’s the cost of living on a barrier island. These creatures were here long before any of us trod these sands.It may not seem all that horrible for just one home or condo to ignore the turtle lighting and beach rules, but there’s evidence that turtle nesting in populated areas has decreased over time and all those homes and condos with lights left on do add up. It matters if even one light is left on or even one nest is disturbed.

There’s less reason to worry about the stingrays. They have their own defensive behavior that serves to protect them pretty well. If disturbing a turtle or shorebird nest resulted in a painful welt, we wouldn’t be talking nearly as much about how important it is to protect the nests.

One of the unique charms of our Island is our intimate connection with the natural world that surrounds us. The rules to protect that environment are the price we pay to live in such close proximity to it. Those who don’t want to bother with the rules or who think that turtles are given undue deference would probably be happier living in a sterile suburban or concrete jungle environment far removed from the natural wonders that surround us here.

We are long past the days when we thought that we could do anything to the planet and it would bounce back as good as new. We know better now. There are consequences to human activity.Leaving the global climate change question out of the equation, there are abundant examples of negative lasting effects of human activity that we once thought nothing of. Ever been to Los Angeles during an air quality alert? And how about those Superfund clean-up sites? Or the dead zone in the northern Gulf from all the fertilizer run-off in the agricultural heart of the country? Not our best work as humans tasked with taking care of the planet we’ve inherited.

While we can’t take care of the entire planet, we can be mindful of our own backyard. We are an Island surrounded by water, water that is teeming with life of all shapes and sizes. While we don’t understand everything about how human activity impacts wildlife and water quality, we do know plenty. That knowledge has led to the turtle rules and the protected shorebird nesting areas.

Here on the Island, we believe in protecting all Island residents, including nesting turtles and shorebirds.

Florida Legislature

Due to wrap up their 2013 session this week, there has been a frenzy of activity in Tallahassee lately. So much so that it’s difficult to keep tabs on it all. It’s almost as if it’s planned that way. Makes you wonder what they were doing the previous two months of the 2013 session and the weeks of pre-session meetings.

Floridians won’t have the final tally of new laws from this session for a few weeks yet as bills await Governor Scott’s signature, but we do know some results of this year’s session.

The good news is that the Legislature passed a bill expanding early voting and limiting word counts on amendments, essentially undoing the damage they did to the election system in 2012. Hooray!Hope they’re not waiting for a ticker tape parade for that one.

In the third year it’s been proposed, they also passed a bill giving Floridians the right to be heard at local government and state agency meetings. This glitch in the Florida Sunshine Law has been known since 2010 and while most meetings in the state allowed public comment, there were some that did not. This precious right needs to be in the state statutes and not depend on the largesse of elected officials.

In a move 37 years in the making, ethics reform dawns on a state that hasn’t seen an ethics reform bill since 1976. The bill passed this year restricts legislators from lobbying the Legislature or the state for two years after they leave office. It also puts some teeth into fine collection and the ability to charge officials. This is so long overdue it’s hard to get excited about it. Maybe now our position as a national leader in number of guilty officials is at risk. In a 2008 New York Times article, Florida led the nation in number of convicted public officials between 1998-2007. According to a 2012 Integrity Florida report, Florida led the U.S. in federal public corruption convictions from 2000-2010. Other reports have the Sunshine State in the top 5 on lists that we really don’t want to be on, much less in the lead. So, it’s good that ethics reform has come to Tallahassee, or at least the start of ethics reform.Hopefully they won’t wait another 37 years before addressing it again.

Missy Layfield