Saturday, December 16, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Florida's shameful policy on rights restoration

Felons who have served their time and paid their debt to society deserve the chance to become functioning members of the democratic system again. But that's all but impossible under a process Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet adopted in 2011, which has denied thousands of felons the opportunity to vote, hold office or serve on a jury. This is a violation of basic rights doubling as voter suppression. Florida has no legitimate reason for holding onto a policy that only smacks of the Jim Crow era.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder brought Florida into the shameful limelight last week in a speech calling out several states for civil rights restrictions that he called "unnecessary," "unjust" and "counterproductive." Holder was referring to prohibitions in Florida and elsewhere that keep felons from fully exercising their civil rights. Tracing these laws to policies that marginalized blacks after the Civil War, Holder called them "profoundly outdated" and disproportionately punitive to African-Americans.

A spokesman for Scott sniffed that Holder's speech "has no effect on Florida's Constitution," a convenient dodge given the power over clemency that rests with Florida's governor and the three-member Cabinet. In 2011, shortly after taking office, Scott and the new Cabinet scrapped the streamlined process under previous Gov. Charlie Crist and raised higher hurdles to felons applying for clemency. Felons now must wait a minimum of five years to apply to have their rights restored. In the four years under Crist's reforms, 154,000 people had their rights restored. In the three years under the Scott-era changes, that number has sunk to under 1,000 as of mid January.

Denying felons the right to more fully contribute to their communities serves no purpose other than to stigmatize them, to deny them a democratic voice and to harden the wall between them and law-abiding society. It does not promote public safety, but rather undermines it. Annual reports that came with the Scott-era changes show that in recent years, felons who had their rights restored reoffended at one-third the rate of other inmates who had completed their sentences. And in its latest report, in July, the Florida Parole Commission noted that of the 420 felons who had their rights restored in 2011 and 2012, not a single one had returned to state custody with a new felony conviction.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, was right Monday to call on Scott and the Cabinet to repeal the restrictions, calling the change "a fundamental civil rights issue of our time." Florida leaders only hurt Floridians with a rule that further segregates the population between those who can contribute to society and those who cannot.

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Editorial: Warren’s smart approach on guns, domestic violence

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren would make it safer for victims and police alike with his plan to remove firearms from defendants charged with domestic violence. These cases are toxic enough, and having guns at the ready only adds to a dang...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

The St. Petersburg City Council made the difficult but correct decision this week to reject the proposed sale of a local nonprofit’s minority stake in Bayfront hospital. Despite months of negotiations, there were too many questions, a few suspicions ...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Here’s a snapshot of misplaced priorities in Washington. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission foolishly rushed to scrap net neutrality rules and allow internet service providers to treat different content differently despite overwhelming ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

With misconduct allegations rippling through all levels of government, Gov. Rick Scott has taken the prudent step of ordering uniform sexual harassment policies throughout state agencies. The executive order strengthens protections for victims, which...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

For three years, the only news about finances at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry was bad news: "Struggling MOSI asks Hillsborough County for $400,000 loan," one headline read, "Audit sees MOSI finances slipping," read another, and "MOSI donor ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

Josephine "Joey" Gay should have celebrated her 12th birthday this week. She should have been surrounded by friends and family in a place festooned with purple, her favorite color.Chase Kowalski should have been working toward a Boy Scout merit badge...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17