Last week: We received tragic news of the deaths of two children whose families had recently been investigated by the state Department of Children & Families.  Three-year-old Dakota Stiles of Indian River County drowned in a filthy, mosquito-infested pool in his own back yard after wandering off from his parents.  Cherish Perrywinkle, age 8, of Jacksonville, was raped and strangled to death by a registered sex offender who was a friend of her mother.  State child welfare investigators had been in both children’s homes in the months leading up to their deaths, but despite numerous warning signs, opted to leave those children in unsafe homes.  We have a duty as a society to protect those who cannot stand up for themselves, and as a state we simply must do a better job of protecting children in Florida.

Looking ahead: Pressure will continue to build for Congress to rein in the National Security Agency's surveillance of Americans' phone records and gathering of other so-called "metadata."  We all want to make sure authorities tasked with protecting our national security have the tools they need to thwart terrorist attacks.  But such extensive stockpiling of personal information about Americans without any indication they have done anything wrong or pose a security risk violates our most basic notions about the right to privacy. 

July 21

Last week: It appears the economy continues to grow stronger. There was good news this week about two key economic indicators relating to the housing and job markets. First, home prices in Broward County are up 23 percent from this time last year. This is the seventh month in a row where median home prices are at least 20 percent greater than last year. Second, the number of “help wanted” ads online in Broward County is 11 percent higher than it was a year ago, with 22,000 more online want-ads than this time last year.

Looking ahead: We could see Tropical Storm Dorian headed our way. Of course, it’s too early to tell as I write this whether we’ll actually be impacted by this storm, but it’s a good time for all of us to make sure we’re prepared if a hurricane hits South Florida. The county’s website has plenty of resources to help you and your family get ready for storm season. For more information, visit www.broward.org/hurricane.

July 7

Last week: The Army Corps of Engineers this week took a major step toward federal approval for the widening and deepening of the channel in Port Everglades, which is needed to accommodate larger cargo ships now in use after the expansion of the Panama Canal.  Broward County has been working toward federal approval of this project for more than 17 years.  Along with the addition of new cargo berths and a facility to streamline the transfer of cargo from ships to rail and truck, the channel expansion is expected to create 7,000 jobs locally and 135,000 jobs statewide over the next 25 years.

Looking ahead: Sea turtle nesting season is in full swing this time of year, with late June and early July marking the peak for Loggerhead Sea Turtles, which are among the five endangered sea turtle species that nest along Florida beaches.  If you’re headed to the beach this summer, be careful to stay away from nests, which are protected under state and federal law.  Through July 16th, the Museum of Discovery & Science offers “Turtle Walks,” where visitors can learn about sea turtles, meet “Lois,” the museum’s resident loggerhead turtle and take a guided walk of nesting areas along Fort Lauderdale Beach.  For more information visit www.mods.org or call (954) 713-0930.

June 30

Looking ahead: Independence Day.  On Thursday, Americans will celebrate the 237th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  While we’re all happy to get together with family and friends for fireworks and cookouts, we should also pause to give thanks for the freedom and opportunity we all enjoy as Americans — as well as to the men and women in our nation’s military who have sacrificed, and continue to sacrifice — so much in service of our country.

Last week: Marriage equality took a major step forward this past week, with the U.S. Supreme Court declaring unconstitutional the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to couples married in states where same-sex marriage is legal.  In the same week, however, the Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act may have seriously undermined federal protection of voting rights among groups that historically have been disenfranchised.

 

July 23

Looking ahead: Key Supreme Court rulings.  The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on two big issues -- marriage equality and voting rights. First, the Court will decide cases related to the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s ban on same-sex marriage. Also, the court will rule in a case involving the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and whether the federal government may still oversee voting procedures in states (and some counties, including five in Florida) with a history of voting discrimination.  Both decisions could have major implications for the basic civil rights we all cherish.

Last week’s headline: Breathing room In the county budget.  After five straight years of cuts in the county budget, there will actually be a little more money for next year.  This isn’t due to an increase in the property tax rate, but because real estate values have started to rise again.  The tax rate will rise slightly – about $21 for the average homestead property – to pay for the countywide E-911 system that voters overwhelmingly approved (and cities refused to pay for.)  But County Commissioners made it clear this week they won’t raise property taxes to pay for additional requests from the Sheriff, Property Appraiser and Supervisor of Elections.

The arrest of the mayors of two cities in Miami-Dade County on corruption charges is a sobering reminder of the importance of ethics and integrity in public service at every level from the White House to the state house to city hall. While these latest events involve our neighbors to the south, every time an incident of public corruption surfaces – no matter where it happens – it undermines the people’s faith in their government.