Friday, August 17, 2018
News Roundup

Romano: If a law makes sense, then it’s not meant for Florida

A couple of lawmakers had an idea.

A swell idea, most everyone agreed.

Even, strange as it seems, some people who opposed the plan.

This idea would keep people out of jail, stop clogging up the court system, help struggling residents hold on to jobs and, mainly, lessen the number of drivers with suspended licenses.

And yet this fine idea went nowhere in the state Capitol. Year after year after year.

In technical terms, this dysfunctional condition is known as Florida.

ē ē ē

A few days ago, officials in Duval County announced a program aimed at getting unlicensed drivers off the road while at the same time keeping them from running up large debts and getting arrested.

Yes, the premise is similar to the idea St. Petersburg senators Jeff Brandes and Darryl Rouson have been trying for years to turn into a state law. I donít think the Duval plan is as solid, but itís better than the alternative. The alternative, in this case, being the same old bureaucratic nonsense.

Hereís the basic issue:

Somewhere along the line, suspending a driverís license turned into a default punishment in Florida. Not just for poor drivers, but for a whole host of reasons. Truancy. Graffiti. Writing worthless checks. Underage smoking. Sexting. These are among the offenses that can lead to a suspended license.

Failure to pay a traffic citation is another reason. Now this wasnít such a big deal in the 1990s when running a red light might cost you $54. Nowadays, itís $166. And speeding tickets can top $300.

"To somebody with means, a fine or fee is an annoyance,íí said Brandes. "To somebody who canít afford to pay, itís a catastrophe. You donít pay the original $200 fine, and now it turns into a $500 fine and your license is suspended. You start paying in installments, but if you miss a month your license is suspended again. And now youíve got another $65 reinstatement fee added on.

"Your life just begins to snowball downhill.íí

Thatís not an exaggeration.

Get pulled over three times with a suspended license, and it turns into a felony. Rouson said more than 700 people are serving state prison sentences for driving with a suspended license.

And the problem is just getting worse. In 2013, the state suspended 1.3 million licenses. Last year, the number was up to 1.7 million.

Itís gotten to the point that cops have become reluctant to write tickets because theyíre concerned about sending someone into financial calamity.

"Letís say somebody runs a stop sign and gets a ticket. Thatís not cheap, thatís $166,íí said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. "For some people thatís a choice between feeding your kids or paying the ticket. Thatís not drama, thatís reality. So, of course you feed your kids. Now your license is suspended.

"A few months later you get pulled over again and youíre cited for driving with a suspended license and your life begins to spiral out of control. Youíre not supposed to be driving, you donít have the money to pay the fines, and thatís when some people start stealing to get out of this hole.íí

While suspending licenses was supposed to motivate people to take care of their problems, itís had the opposite effect. You canít pay fines without a job, and itís hard to hold a job without a license.

This means the practical choice can be unemployment or jail.

Gualtieri wasnít familiar with the details of the Duval plan, but said he is generally in favor of some type of reform. The concept is similar in some ways to the hugely successful civil citation program Gualtieri started in Pinellas to help people avoid criminal records for minor offenses.

So why does the Florida Legislature continue to resist these reforms?

Remember when I said even some opponents think this is a good idea? Those would be the stateís clerks of the court. They acknowledge the concept is worthwhile, but they also know it will affect their budgets if the number of suspensions goes down and community service is allowed as a substitute for fines.

So what we have is criminal justice policy being driven by finances.

And yet the bigger picture is that the stateís economy suffers when more people are being funneled into the criminal justice system.

All Brandes and Rouson want is a more common-sense approach. Their bill does not include people who lose their license for dangerous driving, nor those who are penalized for failure to pay child support.

"This is not about unbridled amnesty; itís about smart justice,íí Rouson said. "Itís a way to encourage people to get things right with alternative options.íí

   
Comments
Tampa Bayís seventh renovated Winn-Dixie opens in Hernando County

Tampa Bayís seventh renovated Winn-Dixie opens in Hernando County

SPRING HILL ó The latest Winn-Dixie remodel opened in Hernando County on Thursday.This marks the seventh remodeled Winn-Dixie parent company Southeastern Grocers has unveiled in Tampa Bay this year. The chain promised renovations following emerging f...
Updated: 12 minutes ago
Lawyers, judge hammer out details of the upcoming Jonchuck trial

Lawyers, judge hammer out details of the upcoming Jonchuck trial

LARGO ó The logistics of putting John Jonchuck on trial for the 2015 murder of his 5-year-old daughter were hammered out in a courtroom on Friday.It is one of the most infamous crimes to be tried in Pinellas County in years, with the trial is set to ...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
The Clearwater parking lot shooter was arrested. Debate over stand your ground has just begun.

The Clearwater parking lot shooter was arrested. Debate over stand your ground has just begun.

When Michael Drejka was arrested Monday in the shooting of Markeis McGlockton, it ensured that Floridaís stand your ground law will remain under scrutiny for months to come.Beyond that? Little is clear.PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Shooter charged with manslaug...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
St. Petersburg ranks No. 39 in U.S. for affordable living, study says

St. Petersburg ranks No. 39 in U.S. for affordable living, study says

ST. PETERSBURG ó St. Petersburg is beating the national averages on affordable homeownership, according to a SmartAsset study.The financial technology company ranked 115 of the biggest cities in the U.S., measured by mortgage payments, property taxes...
Updated: 28 minutes ago
Hundreds of animals are dying in red tide. These people are trying to save them.

Hundreds of animals are dying in red tide. These people are trying to save them.

Things are grim in southwest Florida. A toxic algal bloom is poisoning one of most biodiverse regions in the United States. Hundreds of manatees, turtles and dolphins have washed up dead in the worst red tide since 2006.Perhaps the most tragic casual...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Florida unemployment falls to 3.7 percent

Floridaís unemployment rate hit an 11-year low in July. The jobless rate inched down a notch to 3.7 percent, according to state figures released Friday, continuing the stateís 10-month run of a sub-4 percent unemployment rate. "This is one of the big...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Welfont, KnowBe4, Teami and other Tampa Bay companies rank high in Inc. 5000 list

Welfont, KnowBe4, Teami and other Tampa Bay companies rank high in Inc. 5000 list

While a Wisconsin company that makes software to execute shipments and a trendy cellphone grip company out of Colorado may have taken the top spots in this yearís Inc. 5000 list ó Florida still had an impressive showing. Every year, Inc. ranks the 5...
Updated: 1 hour ago
For starters: Rays at Red Sox, in another tough test

For starters: Rays at Red Sox, in another tough test

Coming off their first series win at Yankee Stadium since 2014, the Rays have another tough test, opening the first of back to back weekend series with the majors-best Red Sox.This is the Rays first meeting with the Sox since May 24, and their first ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pinellas commission candidate faced stalking, abuse claims

Pinellas commission candidate faced stalking, abuse claims

ST. PETERSBURG ó A political newcomer seeking a Pinellas County Commission seat has faced accusations of physical abuse and stalking from her former fiance, who twice sought court-ordered protection from her.Both allegations came after Democrat Amy K...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Patriotsí top pick, former Lakewood standout Isaiah Wynn out for season with torn Achilles

Patriotsí top pick, former Lakewood standout Isaiah Wynn out for season with torn Achilles

Former Georgia and Lakewood High School standout Isaiah Wynn's rookie NFL season reportedly has ended before it ever really began.Wynn, an offensive tackle, will be sidelined for the season after tearing his Achilles during Thursday's ...
Updated: 1 hour ago