A roundup of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Death penalty fix should have gone further
Unwilling to abolish the death penalty, the Florida Legislature at least should have done everything possible to ensure the sentencing process is constitutional. Instead, lawmakers pulled up just short. That mistake will leave Florida an outlier and likely result in another court challenge.
Legislation sent to Gov. Rick Scott this week addresses the key issue that led the U.S. Supreme Court to find the state’s death penalty sentencing law unconstitutional. But it still would not require the jury to unanimously recommend the death sentence. Instead, lawmakers bowed to the demands of prosecutors and raised the requirement for a death sentence recommendation from at least seven of 12 jurors to at least 10 of 12. Most every other state that still imposes the death penalty requires unanimous consent from the jury, and that should be the requirement here.
The Legislature did correct the flaw that the U.S. Supreme Court cited in January when it found the death sentencing law unconstitutional, a decision that resulted in putting all executions on hold and raised questions about the status of ongoing cases and the impact on inmates already on death row. The court found in an 8-1 opinion that juries rather than judges should have the final authority on the fate of defendants in capital cases. Florida’s law had juries offering only advisory recommendations, and the jury’s finding of aggravating factors that lead to a death sentence did not have to be unanimous.
The legislation passed this week by the Senate and expected to be signed into law by Scott would require that juries vote unanimously for every aggravating factor that is cited to warrant the death penalty. Prosecutors also will have to notify defendants before trial that they intend to seek the death penalty and list the aggravating factors they intend to prove. Legislators really had no choice if they wanted to fix the law, but these changes will not resolve the broader questions raised by the court’s opinion.
Bradenton Herald — Gov. Rick Scott suffering legislative setback after setback
Gov. Rick Scott must be fuming. He’s having a miserable legislative session. His top two priorities — tax cuts and incentive money for job creation — got shot down last week as the Legislature began final negotiations on the state budget.
Scott’s insistence on $1 billion in tax relief? Slashed down to $400 million, and only $200 million would be recurring. Not what the governor wanted. A campaign promise falls to the wayside.
His demand for $250 million for Enterprise Florida’s job recruiting effort? Legislators whittled that down to zero dollars. That’s got to hurt after Scott trekked across the state to hold press conferences with his allies on this, elected officials and business people. The governor also ran TV commercials to further his goal. Nothing worked. House conservatives consider public subsidies to private enterprises in exchange for jobs nothing more than “corporate welfare.”
Then lawmakers landed another blow by rejecting Scott’s proposal to increase spending on public schools to a record level based almost entirely on higher property tax revenues. His money source sparked a controversy, and the Legislature did the right thing by allocating $428 million in state tax money instead. (That, by the way, ate up almost all the money Scott wanted to spend on tax breaks to boost manufacturers, retailers and other businesses.)
Plus, there’s a bonus. The highlight of Legislature’s tax cut package is lower school property taxes.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — High cost of excessive license suspensions
For many low-income Floridians, a car can be a linchpin of their fragile economic security. And losing the privilege of driving can spell disaster for those juggling one or more low-wage jobs along with other responsibilities like child care and education.
But in Florida, the list of infractions, omissions or mistakes that can result in a suspended driver’s license is long. And the cost to restore driving privileges can run into the hundreds of dollars.
In the meantime, these struggling Floridians face a difficult choice: Keep driving (and risk getting caught and criminally charged), or park the car and try to make things work using public transportation, bicycles or their own tired feet.
Make no mistake: Driving is a privilege, and those who willfully ignore the law should be punished. But as a recent Miami Herald investigation revealed, too many Floridians lose their licenses for mistakes that almost anyone would consider minor or completely unrelated to driving. Many are trapped by the inability to pay fines and fees that far exceed their minimum-wage budgets — a failure that often triggers an automatic license suspension.
The Florida Times-Union —Cheers: Delores Barr Weaver makes another outstanding contribution
Cheers to Delores Barr Weaver, an icon in Jacksonville philanthropy, for making yet another major difference in the lives of our most vulnerable citizens.
Not long ago, Weaver’s philanthropic fund made a challenge to Volunteers in Medicine donors by offering to match their individual donations up to $100,000.
And, boy, the donors responded in enthusiastic and inspiring fashion.
Volunteer in Medicine’s recent fundraising campaign brought in more than $150,000 in donations, which — combined with the Delores Barr Weaver Fund’s pledged $100,000 — will make a huge impact in the nonprofit’s work to help local low-income families and individuals receive health care services.
Bravo, yet again, to Delores Barr Weaver!
Florida Today – Gov. Scott has a bad legislative session
As the Florida legislative session is nearing its end, it’s looking like Gov. Rick Scott is not getting much of what he wanted.
Of course, all that could change. The final days of session are notorious for bills coming back from the dead and hundreds of millions of dollars magically appearing. But in the middle of the budget conference, Gov. Scott is getting shortchanged on his short list. He’s getting less than half of his tax cuts. His huge corporate incentive piggy bank is drying up and his plan to use local property taxes instead of state revenue to increase school funding is a no-go.
Scott didn’t have many priorities but his three main ones were whoppers.
First, Scott wanted the Legislature to boost K-12 education spending to an all-time high. He wanted increased property taxes resulting from higher home values to fund the growth in spending. Instead of using state funding —like sales tax — under his plan the money would come from the counties and would shift the balance of state/local funding to the locals, who would foot 60 percent of the bill and 85 percent of the increase.
The Gainesville Sun –Cheers and jeers
The University of Florida is joining a trend among colleges in allowing alcohol sales at some of its athletic events.
But even sports fans used to high-priced beers at games may not be able to afford these drinks.
Jeer: UF, for only allowing the well-to-do to drink alcohol at football and basketball games.
UF’s athletic association announced this week that beer and wine will be sold at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in the fall and in the O’Connell Center once its renovation is complete in December. But it will only be available in premium seats, which require costly per-seat ticket contributions.
We understand concerns about excessive drinking if sales are allowed throughout the stadium, but it would be nice for the average fan to be able to enjoy a beer at a smoldering early-season football game. At least the new Orange and Brew at the renovated Reitz Union will be selling beer and wine to the rabble.
Cheer: The Florida Senate Appropriations Committee, for rejecting fracking legislation.
The Lakeland Ledger — Getting the message about buckling up
Local motorists at least should be appreciative of getting advanced warning from the Lakeland Police Department. On Wednesday, the department posted on its Facebook page that it was conducting speeding enforcement in the 1000 block of South Florida Avenue, and as an added advisory, drivers were cautioned to wear their seat belts.
The increased scrutiny of seat belt scofflaws was part of the state’s annual “Click It or Ticket” safety campaign, which began on Tuesday and will run through March 14. LPD traffic enforcers had a productive opening to this year’s effort, handing out 51 tickets, each of which comes with a $114 fine, in just two hours.
“Once they got started, there was more than they could keep up with,” LPD Sgt. Gary Gross told The Ledger about the slew of citations. It could have been worse for motorists, he noted, as numerous warnings were issued as well.
Under Florida law all drivers and front-seat passengers and any passenger under 18 must wear a seat belt. Until a few years ago, law enforcement officers could not ticket you for not wearing a seat belt unless they pulled you over for some other infraction. Now, however, not being buckled up is reason enough to stop you.
Miami Herald — Obama should cancel Cuba trip if thwarted
If President Obama cannot meet with the dissidents of his choice — and of his choice alone — when he visits Cuba this month, then he should just stay home. Sure, it’s his chance to make history, his long-sought Nixon-to-China moment.
But he risks looking weak, sycophantic, should he not conduct the trip on his own terms.
Normalization with Cuba is supposed to be a two-way street — give some, get some. But, since December 2014, the United States has done most of the giving, with the Cuban dictatorship smug with the bulk of the getting. And the Ladies in White are still beaten up and thrown in jail every Sunday.
Relations hit a big bump last week when Secretary of State John Kerry canceled a trip to the island in advance of the president’s visit. According to U.S. officials, the State Department and its Cuban counterparts couldn’t reach “common agreement,” including on access to dissidents.
Friday, however, things had been paved over, with Mr. Kerry and Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, affirming their commitment to making the president’s trip a successful one.
Orlando Sentinel — Hillary Clinton is Democrats’ best choice
If any Florida Democrats remain undecided before this state’s March 15 presidential primary, at least they have fewer choices than their Republican counterparts. While three Democrats are on the ballot, just two — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — are still in the race.
To help wavering Democrats make up their minds, we recommend they do what Sanders has urged, and compare the records of the two candidates. Based on that comparison, Clinton, not Sanders, is the better choice.
Before serving as President Obama’s first secretary of state, Clinton was twice elected a U.S. senator from New York. She was known as a hard worker in the Senate who was willing to reach across the aisle. According to a Washington Post analysis, she got more legislation approved in the Senate during her eight years than Sanders has, combined, during nearly a decade in the Senate and 16 years in the House.
Clinton entered national politics as first lady, a time when she might be best remembered for spearheading her husband’s failed health-care reform campaign. But after that campaign collapsed, she worked with leaders of both parties in Congress to launch the Children’s Health Insurance Program. It has provided health coverage to millions of children.
Ocala StarBanner — Tracking Florida’s police shootings
In retrospect, it probably was unrealistic to believe the Florida Legislature would pass a bill this year mandating state police investigations of all officer-involved deaths — especially when key lawmakers aren’t even aware there’s a problem.
Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, is sponsoring SB 810, which would require that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate any time an officer’s use of force results in someone’s death. It’s a needed response to issues raised last year in The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s series “Shots Fired,” which revealed that more than two-thirds of law agencies in the state investigate their own officers’ shootings of civilians (throughout Marion County, though, the FDLE is generally called in to investigate such shootings). There aren’t even standards for compiling data.
Before “Shots Fired” attempted to quantify such incidents, no one had any idea how often police in Florida used deadly force.
Thompson’s bill (and its companion in the House, HB 933, sponsored by Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park) would give a more complete picture of the circumstances surrounding police use of force. Having an outside agency review all officer-involved deaths also would bolster public confidence in the integrity of the investigations.
Pensacola News-Journal —Pluck ‘budget turkeys’
While most Floridians are working and going to school this week, elected officials in Tallahassee are considering how to spend an eye-popping $80 billion of your hard-earned tax money. That’s nearly $4,000 for every adult and child in the Sunshine State.
Too few Floridians have the time to keep an eye on Tallahassee to make sure lawmakers are making prudent decisions with your money. That’s why Florida TaxWatch — the state’s premier independent government watchdog group — is on the job. Part of our mission is to ensure that your money is invested wisely in schools, transportation and many other areas while protecting the public’s right to know.
Lawmakers are finalizing their spending plans for the 2016-17 fiscal year. It seems likely that spending on education will be higher than ever and that other critical investments in other budget areas will be made as well.
However, lawmakers often add funding for projects in their home district into the budget. Such funding for local projects does have a place in the state budget; however, spending with statewide impact should be the priority. When the Legislature decides state money should be sued locally, Floridians deserve to have these decisions scrutinized and prioritized.
Palm Beach Post —For Greenacres council: Willey, Dugo and Pearce
There’s been some tumult on the Greenacres City Council for the last year or so, highlighted by the abrupt firing of a popular city manager, which stuck the city with the cost of an overstuffed $380,000 severance.
But the discord was preceded by years of complacency. While Greenacres mushroomed from a sleepy suburb of 27,000 people in 2000 to 39,000 today, the city government was content to keep spending in check while leaving basic needs such as street paving, tree-trimming and adequate police patrols unaddressed.
Now the once-compliant council, which took its direction from the old manager, has a new complexion with the emergence of a three-member majority headed by Deputy Mayor Jonathan Pearce. Pearce has a hard-charging style that has rubbed some residents the wrong way. But so far the changes he has spearheaded — including putting police services in the hands of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office — have been mostly for the better.
This team deserves more time to continue driving for changes in Greenacres. That goes for Judy Dugo, 68, Council District 3. An incumbent in her first term, she is a retired business owner who has made public safety and the paving of sidewalks a priority.
Panama City News-Herald — What Is the fair share of taxes?
Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, along with President Obama, say they want high-income earners, otherwise known as the rich, to pay their fair share of income taxes.
None of these people, as well as the uninformed in the media and our campus intellectual elites, will say precisely what is the “fair share” of taxes. That is because they would look ignorant and silly, so they stick with simply saying that the rich should pay more. Let’s you and I take a peek at who pays what in federal income taxes.
The following represents 2012 income tax data recently released by the Internal Revenue Service, compiled by the Tax Foundation (http://tinyurl.com/j5yr8cd). The top 1 percent, 1.37 million taxpayers earning $434,682 and more, paid 38 percent of all federal income taxes. The top 5 percent, those earning $175,817 and more, paid 59 percent. The top 10 percent of income earners, those earning $125,195 and up, paid 70 percent of all federal income taxes. The top 25 percent, those earning $73,354 and up, paid 86 percent. The bottom 50 percent, people earning $36,055 and less, paid a little less than 3 percent of federal income taxes. According to estimates by the Tax Policy Center, slightly over 45 percent of American households have no federal income tax liability.
With this information in hand, you might ask the next person who says the rich do not pay their fair share of taxes: Exactly what percentage of total federal income taxes should the 1-percenters pay? I seriously doubt whether you will get any kind of coherent answer. By the way, since 1-percenter income starts at $435,000, it might be pointed out that $400,000 or $500,000 a year is not even yacht or Learjet money. Plus, if one has two kids in college, a big mortgage and car payments, I doubt he would declare himself rich.
South Florida Sun Sentinel – Lawmakers keep chipping away at abortion
Let’s end the fantasy that laws restricting abortion, both in Florida and nationally, are all about protecting women’s health.
That’s not it at all.
The laws are meant to chip away at a woman’s legal right to have an abortion.
And so it was Thursday, when Florida’s House of Representatives passed a wide-ranging anti-abortion bill, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court took up a similarly restrictive bill from Texas.
The Florida proposal is a perfect example of the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider laws that are becoming too prevalent nationwide. The laws come with so many rules and regulations that few clinics can remain open, which severely limits access to abortion providers.
The Tallahassee Democrat – District rises to start times challenge
The gears of government move swiftly during an election year so when two moms wrote a column in the Tallahassee Democrat last fall advocating for later high school start times, the issue got attention.
Citing research that found teenagers who begin classes before 8:30 a.m. are sleep deprived, Corinne Porcher and Jana McConnaughhay lobbied the Leon County School Board to take action. Students’ safety, health and academic performance could improve with later start times, they said.
At break-neck speed for government, the School Board unanimously voted Feb. 23 to offer students the option of starting school at a later time. The vote was a first step, but the issue is far from resolved with lingering transportation and financial challenges, as well as the need for additional study of whether students who start school later perform better as a result.
The vote bought some time on the issue, and it will be interesting to see whether the momentum continues after hotly contested superintendent and school board elections in August and November. Is this a case of election-year politics or a process leading to meaningful change?
We hope it’s the latter.
The Tampa Tribune — Tampa’s marijuana gamble
It is disheartening to see the Tampa City Council move ahead with a risky plan to decriminalize marijuana use.
The council voted 6-1 Thursday to support an ordinance to issue only civil citations for possession of 20 grams or less of pot. Mayor Bob Buckhorn has indicated he supports the measure, so it’s likely to go into effect soon after council gives it a second hearing on March 17.
We respect the council’s concerns, but this overly lenient plan is likely to lead to more drug abuse and crime.
We have no problem with the city easing criminal penalties for minor pot offenses, but that can be done without essentially sanctioning drug use, which is what this proposal does.
It allows four offenses before there are serious consequences. A first offense would bring a $75 fine; the second, $150; the third, $300; and the fourth, $450. Only after the fourth citation would offenders be subject to the criminal justice system.
And 20 grams makes about 40 joints, which hardly suggests casual use.