Monday, December 11, 2017
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: U.S. House sides with NRA over stateís rights on concealed weapons permits

With the horror of the mass shootings at a Las Vegas country music concert and a small Texas church still fresh, the U.S. House finally has taken action on guns. But the bill it passed last week wonít make Americans safer from gun violence. It is an ...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

Editorial: Hillsborough cannot afford pay raises for teachers

There is no satisfaction for anyone in the standoff over pay raises between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers. Most teachers across the nation already are underpaid, but this district simply cannot afford the raises teachers ex...
Published: 12/07/17
Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

Editorial: Impact of Water Street project extends beyond buildings

With a buildout of $3 billion encompassing entire city blocks, itís obvious that Jeff Vinikís plans will change the look and feel of downtown Tampa. But the Tampa Bay Lightning owner unveiled a broader vision last week that reflects how far the impac...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

Editorial: Make texting while driving a primary offense

It is dangerous and illegal to text while driving in Florida, and police should be able to pull over and ticket those lawbreakers without witnessing another violation first. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has lent his powerful voice to legislation th...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Editorial: Outsourcing common sense on St. Petersburg Pier naming rights

St. Petersburg officials predict that selling the naming rights to parts of the new Pier could generate $100,000 in annual revenue. But first the city wants to pay a consultant to tell it how and to whom to sell the rights. Why do city officials need...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Another voice: Trumpís risky move

President Donald Trumpís decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israelís capital has a certain amount of common sense on its side. As a practical matter, West Jerusalem has been the seat of Israeli government since 1949, and no conceivable formula for Pa...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

Editorial: Tampaís MOSI reinvents itself

A tactical retreat and regrouping seems to be paying off for Hillsborough Countyís Museum of Science and Industry. After paring back its operations, the museum posted a small profit over the past year, enabling the attraction to keep its doors open a...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Times recommends: McClure for Florida House District 58

Voters in Temple Terrace, Plant City and Thonotosassa have an easy choice in the Dec. 19 special election to replace state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons. Republican Lawrence McClure is the only credible candidate.McClure, 30, ow...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

Editorial: Still waiting for flood insurance fix

It has been 1,979 days since all heck broke loose in the flood insurance industry. Apparently, that just wasnít enough time for Washington to react. So with the National Flood Insurance Program set to expire on Friday, itís looking increasingly likel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17

Editorial: St. Petersburg should raise rates for reclaimed water

Raising rates on reclaimed water in St. Petersburg is an equitable way to spread the pain of paying for millions in fixes to the cityís dilapidated sewer system. The city has no choice but to start charging utility customers more as the sewer bills c...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/06/17