Florida editorial roundup

News,Science and Technology

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

June 18

Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel on state owes answers for breach in pill database:

Florida's pill mill database has sprung an embarrassing leak, a data breach of confidential information that threatens to undermine the public's already shaken confidence in a law enforcement tool that tracks prescriptions for painkillers and other addictive drugs.

Somehow, the names, addresses, phone numbers, pharmacies and drug dosages prescribed to about 3,300 Floridians found their way into the hands of lawyers involved in the prosecution of six prescription-drug fraud cases in central Florida.

The fallout has prompted a lawsuit and flurry of public records requests from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which is seeking answers.

The responsibility for the breach lies squarely with the Florida Department of Health, the agency that oversees the database and has done too little to protect it.

Florida has seen a 17 percent drop in deaths due to Oxycodone — and a 58 percent reduction in "doctor shopping" cases — since the database began operations two years ago, according to Health Department statistics.

These are the kind of promising results that supporters of the database, including us, hoped for when the state launched it in 2011. Still, the breach casts a dark cloud over the database's mechanics, specifically any safeguards to ensure privacy.

Recently, the database suffered another setback when federal officials chided the state Board of Pharmacy with statistics showing that only a third of pharmacists and roughly 10 percent of physicians are using it. For a program designed to help doctors and pharmacists root out scammers, the figures are disappointingly low.

The data breach, however, is more troubling.

The public deserves answers to its questions, including: Who had access to the pill-mill database? What prompted Health Department officials to release the information? How did it select the 3,300 names released? What procedures are in place to prevent data breaches and how could they be improved? Was this particular breach unique, or more common than we dare think?

Unfortunately, there are far more questions than answers, and that's the problem. Answers must come from the Health Department — sooner rather than later.




June 18

Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on rare good news in Iran:

To Westerners, so weary of the carefully cultivated arrogance and belligerence of Iran's outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the fact that a genuinely moderate cleric, Hassan Rouhani, will succeed him can only be taken as encouraging news.

What's somewhat surprising is that Iran's all-powerful religious establishment even permitted Rouhani to be on Friday's ballot in the first place. His opponents were all ultra-conservative.

And yet Rouhani won a surprisingly easy victory, sending a clear signal - actually, a sharp rebuke - to Ayatollah ali Khamenei that regardless of his unbridled political power, the Iranian people have their own priorities. A much better life is probably at the top of their list, along with better relations with the rest of the world.

But can the hoped-for changes actually happen? Iran's economy is in shambles, largely because of sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies, and there are no easy solutions, especially if Iran maintains its quest for nuclear weapons, which Rouhani has defended in the past.

Tehran would have to sharply change direction, and it's hard to imagine the ayatollah allowing that to happen, even in the face of last week's election results.

The White House was so pleased with Rouhani's victory that it immediately called on the ayatollah and his associates to "heed the will of the Iranian people."

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said he was organizing an urgent summit of Arab and other Islamic states to discuss the situation.

You can't assess the situation in Syria without also considering the implications of Iran's election results, and that makes Rouhani's triumph all the more intriguing.




June 16

The Miami Herald on Internet sales get free ride in Florida:

It's Florida's big secret. The state's residents are supposed to pay taxes for online purchases. But most everybody knows that the state has no easy way to enforce the law, which requires retailers and e-companies with a physical presence in Florida to collect the 6 percent sales tax.

The biggest loophole of all? The law gives a free ride to out-of-state companies from collecting and sending to Tallahassee sales taxes from Florida buyers. That loophole puts the government, through its tax policy, picking winners and losers. From a business viewpoint, out-of-state Web companies can price out brick-and-mortar stores that hire Floridians — thanks to the loophole.

That's unfair to Florida businesses, which makes U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's opposition to a proposed federal law that would apply sales taxes to most all interstate Internet sales particularly odd. He says he's for consumers and no new taxes. Nice sound bite. What about tax fairness and closing loopholes that in essence punish the Sunshine State's job-creators?

The federal proposal would allow states to collect taxes on Internet purchases their residents make from out-of-state companies. That's long overdue.

Gov. Rick Scott just may have nudged Florida in the right direction with last week's announcement that Amazon will be opening two distribution centers in Florida — a $300 million investment. Amazon's physical presence will mean that, finally, the Seattle-based e-company will be required to collect sales taxes from Florida buyers. About 3,000 warehouse and distribution jobs would be created in the state, too.

Initially, Gov. Scott was reluctant to impose the sales tax obligation, and Amazon wanted a break for two years. A governor's spokesperson now says Amazon will collect the tax when the law requires it.

The bigger issue is the unfair playing field the state's loophole has created. ...

As Internet sales grow, taking business away from Florida-based stores, the stakes are high. New York, California and Texas already collect sales taxes on Web sales. Florida is the only large state that doesn't.

Plus, Amazon has struck tax deals in other states. Last summer it started collecting sales taxes in Texas after that state fought for $269 million it said Amazon owed the Lone Star State for sales taxes, interest and penalties.

It's way past time for Florida to level the business terrain and end Internet companies' free ride.



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