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Thursday, December 8, 2016

With much chest thumping, Florida governor Rick Scott last week signed a law clipping auto-tag fees by about $25 per vehicle in the state. He used the opportunity to blast former governor Charlie Crist for raising those fees five years ago.

What Scott cynically failed to mention during the bill-signing charade was that all the top Republicans standing at his side had also supported the auto-tag hikes. It was the depth of the recession, and the state desperately needed revenue.

Scott himself is desperate to appear gubernatorial because Crist, running as a Democrat, will likely be his opponent in the November election. The auto-tag fee cut was the centerpiece of a tax-relief agenda being pushed by the governor, who trails Crist in the early polls.

Two of the GOP lawmakers who were crowing about this grand windfall for motor vehicle owners have an infinitely more important job in the days ahead. House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz have a chance to do something truly crucial and good.

They can shape a law that saves actual lives — the lives of endangered children.

Bills that would strengthen Florida’s child welfare laws are winding through both houses of the Legislature following publication of The Miami Herald’s shocking investigative series, Innocents Lost.

The newspaper documented the deaths of at least 477 children whose parents or caregivers had a history with the state’s Department of Children and Families. During the six-year period studied by reporters, DCF consistently under-reported the number of victims in its files who died because of violence or negligence by parents and caregivers.

In 2008, for example, the state said the death toll was 79. Using DCF’s own records, Herald reporters found 103 fatal cases that year.

Then, in 2009, the state reported that 69 children whose families had prior contact with DCF had died. Reporters counted 107.

The uncounted die just as wretchedly — and as unnecessarily — as the counted.

One of the most awful, notorious cases involved Nubia Barahona, a 10-year-old Miami girl who’d been tortured and starved by her adoptive parents. Soaked in poisonous chemicals, her decomposing body was found inside a black garbage bag on a pest-control truck.

Three years after the murder, the DCF still hasn’t sent her case to the Florida Child Abuse Death Review Committee. Incredibly, Nubia’s death remains officially uncounted.

The child-welfare system has been overwhelmed and broken for a long time, but that hasn’t stopped lawmakers from hacking millions in DCF funding. But this year Florida has accumulated an extra $1.3 billion in revenues, so there’s no excuse not to take action to stop the killings.