Saturday, June 23, 2018
Editorials

Another power play by brazen lawmakers

Call it the Thursday afternoon surprise. Out of nowhere, the Florida House Judiciary Committee produced legislation that would grant state legislators and their staffs absolute protection from being required to testify or produce documents in civil court cases. The committee approved it along generally partisan lines, and now this dangerous four-page bill appears headed straight to the House floor with just three weeks left in the legislative session and no public scrutiny. There is no need for this blanket protection, and its supporters' motives are suspect at best.

State legislators already have protection in common law from being compelled to testify in civil court about their actions in public office. For example, four legislators and a staff member were subpoenaed to testify in a federal lawsuit involving the election law changes approved last year by the Legislature. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled earlier this month that they could not be forced to testify about the reasoning behind the controversial changes and cited a long-standing legislative privilege.

In state courts, judges have routinely recognized a similar protection and have been reluctant to compel state lawmakers to testify in civil cases about their official actions. But the protection is not absolute. Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, was ordered by a state judge in November to submit to limited questioning in a deposition by lawyers for an online travel company regarding tax legislation. Kriseman's situation was cited by the bill's supporters, but the legislation has much broader implications and Kriseman does not support it.

First, this appears to be aimed at short-circuiting anticipated court battles over redistricting. The House unsuccessfully fought the constitutional amendments approved by voters that establish new rules for drawing districts and refer to the intent of legislators. It would be impossible to determine their intent in drawing the new lines if lawmakers had absolute protection from testifying or producing documents for lawsuits that challenged the districts. When a Democrat offered an amendment to exempt redistricting lawsuits, the Republicans defeated it.

Second, the legislation would make it impossible for Floridians to rely on the courts to force legislators and their staffs to produce public records. When they refuse to produce those records, the only recourse is to ask a judge to compel them to produce the public documents. The legislation says it does not affect the right of access to records, but granting an absolute privilege from any civil action would make it impossible to get the courts to enforce that right. A League of Women Voters representative told the committee the legislation is an "outrageous assault'' on open government, and that may be an understatement.

A suddenly appearing, proposed committee bill with no legislator's name attached to it. One quick committee hearing. A straight shot to the full House as the session nears its usual frantic end. This is another sneaky attempt by brazen lawmakers to bend the law to benefit themselves, and it is an affront to Floridians who demand fairly drawn legislative districts and open government.

Comments
Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

It’s hard to pick the biggest outrage in the financial and ethical swamp that has swallowed Tampa Bay’s two primary job placement agencies, CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay. Is it the boiler room atmosphere where CareerSource recruite...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18

Family separation crisis is not over

The family-separation crisis that President Donald Trump created is not over. The executive order Trump signed Wednesday purporting to end the routine tearing of children from their undocumented parents stands on uncertain legal ground. U.S. border a...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Veterans can help veterans deal with trauma resulting from military service in a way no one else can. That’s the theory behind a special hotline set up in the Tampa Bay area that proponents are hoping to take statewide.The expansion would cost some $...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

It turns out the U.S. Supreme Court has a better grasp of the economic realities of the 21st century than Congress or the Florida Legislature. The court ruled Thursday that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes even if the retail...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Published: 06/21/18
Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Good job, Jeff Sessions! It seems the attorney general’s misguided attempts to revive the unpopular and unjust federal war on marijuana may be having the exact opposite effect — prompting a new bipartisan effort in Congress to allow states to legaliz...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18