Friday, April 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: A step toward more sensible drug sentencing

President Barack Obama was right last week to commute the sentences of eight federal inmates serving time for crack cocaine offenses. There is a reason the executive branch has the power to issue commutations and pardons. Used proportionately, they provide a relief valve to address unintended consequences of laws. The president and Congress must now find a way to help thousands of convicts who remain imprisoned under similar unjust sentences.

Congress established harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines for drug crimes in the 1980s amid the crack cocaine epidemic. The guidelines helped to standardize punishments, but they also set up a tremendous disparity between the sentences for crack offenses, which occurred more often in black and low-income communities, and those for powder cocaine, more popular among affluent, white users. Despite the fact that there is no chemical difference between the two drug forms, people convicted of crack cocaine-related crimes received sentences that were 100 times more harsh than those given to powder cocaine offenders. That essentially meant a low-level crack dealer or his girlfriend who hid drugs could receive more prison time than a powder cocaine kingpin.

Approved in 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act was a bipartisan deal that sought to correct a policy with unjust consequences. It reduced the sentencing disparity to 18:1, a good but far from perfect fix. But it did not go far enough. It was not retroactive and left convicts and suspects who were charged, but not yet prosecuted, without protection.

Last week, Obama correctly utilized one of the most powerful privileges of his office to commute the sentences of the crack offenders, who included a Tampa man and two other Floridians who each had served at least 16 years in prison. But nearly 9,000 inmates nationwide remain imprisoned under similar circumstances. A bipartisan bill that would provide retroactive relief for some offenders and allow judges to revisit sentences is making its way through Congress. Lawmakers should pass it, giving particular consideration to nonviolent offenders. Doing so would save taxpayers millions of dollars and align the sentences with what the new law indicates is fair. If legislators fail, the president should step in.

Lawmakers and advocacy groups also must remain watchful of mandatory minimum sentences handed down for other drug crimes such as those involving methamphetamines. Without oversight, the same sort of sentencing disparity that became problematic for crack cocaine offenders could crop up for a new population.

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Editorial: When they visit Natureís Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Natureís Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Natureís Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. ē The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18
Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has wasted months as a politically motivated scam masquerading as a high-minded effort to ask voters to improve the state’s fundamental document. The commission on Monday added amendments to the Nove...
Published: 04/16/18
Editorial: Rednerís court win on medical marijuana sends message

Editorial: Rednerís court win on medical marijuana sends message

Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there is a price for that obstruction, finding t...
Published: 04/15/18
Updated: 04/16/18
Editorial: Hillsborough commission should quit expanding urban area

Editorial: Hillsborough commission should quit expanding urban area

Any movement on modernizing local transportation is welcome, even small steps like the million dollars the state recently approved to design a Tampa Bay regional transit plan.But the region wonít make any progress on transportation, its single most p...
Published: 04/13/18
Updated: 04/18/18

Editorial: Fight harder on citrus greening

A new report by scientists advising the federal government finds no breakthrough discovery for managing citrus greening, a chronic disease killing Floridaís citrus industry. This should be a wake-up call to bring greater resources to the fight.The re...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/13/18

Editorial: Floridians should focus more on health

A new snapshot of the nationís health shows a mixed picture for Florida and the challenges that residents and the health care community face in improving the quality of life.Americans are living longer, exercising more and doing better at managing th...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/13/18