Hillsborough sets example for Legislature, other communities
When state, federal and local law enforcement announced an investigation of Internet sweepstakes cafes had resulted in dozens of arrests and charges of racketeering and money laundering, it was notable that Hillsborough County was scarcely mentioned. The reason? County commissioners had acted at the urging of the sheriff’s office to curb these simulated gambling parlors in 2011. This contrasted markedly to the Florida Legislature, which scrambled to outlaw the cafes only after the scandal broke. The Legislature had previously defended the dubious operations, and Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned because she had promoted the industry while serving as a lawmaker.Hillsborough commissioners listened to law enforcement instead of the special-interest lobbyists who wield so much influence in Tallahassee. Sheriff David Gee tells us Hillsborough commissioners don’t get enough credit for working with law enforcement to quickly address public threats. State lawmakers, who frequently want to dictate counties’ policies from Tallahassee, should recognize that local governments are better positioned to react quickly to community threats and needs. This is the essence of home rule. Indeed, had it not been for the Internet cafe arrests, we suspect at least some lawmakers would be maneuvering to curb local governments’ ability to regulate the operations. The cafes are only one example of how Hillsborough has been proactive on crime. After deputies noted an increasing number of phony automobile crashes, the county cracked down on phony medical clinics associated with Personal Injury Protection insurance fraud. The ordinance provided an example for the Legislature which, last year at the urging of Gov. Rick Scott, did address PIP abuses that were increasing automobile insurance for the average family an estimated $400 a year. Hillsborough and the city of Tampa also acted quickly to take on the pill mills that recklessly distributed dangerous prescription drugs. The county’s measure eliminated two-thirds of the clinics. The county similarly adopted an ordinance to make it easier to keep bath salts and synthetic marijuana out of stores, in this case seeking to complement the state’s ban of the synthetic drugs, the ingredients of which are frequently changed to sidestep the law. The county was among the leaders in the state in adopting a red-light ordinance, which dramatically reduced crashes — from more than more than 500 a year to fewer than 300 at intersections with cameras. Sheriff’s Col. Donna Lusczynski says, “Whether it has been the pain management clinics, PIP clinics, Internet cafes, or the selling of K2/spice, they [county commissioners] have assisted by providing us with the tools necessary to address these issues …” In contrast, too often lawmakers seek to undermine — usually at the urging of a private interest — local safeguards. Hillsborough’s record on these issues suggests state lawmakers could benefit from more often following local governments’ lead on public safety.