Sunday, April 22, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Gov. Rick Scott should stand up to NRA, veto gun bill

This is what happens when lawmakers abdicate their responsibility to the public in favor of special interests. It now appears that the National Rifle Association's must-pass legislation for the 2014 legislative session — so-called improvements to Florida's "stand your ground'' law — has a significant mistake. The bill includes language that seems to undermine the long-held common law castle doctrine that a person has no duty to retreat if there is a threat in his or her home. This bill, aimed at extending protection to those who fire warning shots, has other major flaws such as closing public records. But this latest revelation should prompt even the NRA to ask Gov. Rick Scott to veto HB 89.

Legislation dealing with the use of deadly force never should have been handled so cavalierly. The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, acknowledges he didn't understand the 24-page amendment that Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, filed on March 18 after consulting with NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer. Nor apparently did the full House, which approved the amended measure on March 20. Nor did the Senate, which substituted the House version for its own, less problematic bill and adopted it on April 3. And the reckless Gaetz isn't talking.

What Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, a Republican and a lawyer, has discovered is that the amendment includes a confusing rewrite of the castle doctrine, now enshrined in state law as part of the 2005 "stand your ground" law. Current law gives an individual in his home the right to use deadly force if he "reasonably believes it is necessary to do so" to prevent death, great bodily harm or commission of a forcible felony. But HB 89 appears to change that standard so that force is only justified if the individual believes there is an "imminent" threat of death, great bodily harm or commission of a forcible felony — the same standard that now applies to self-defense cases that occur outside a person's domicile.

That's not the only problem with HB 89, which expands the flawed law that emboldens individuals to resort to violence when retreat is a better option. The public face of this year's legislation was a Jacksonville woman, Marissa Alexander, who faces up to 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot at her husband, who had a history of domestic violence, while he and two children were present. But it is not even clear whether this bill's expansion of "stand your ground" immunity to cover the threat of deadly force would have helped her had it been in effect.

This bill also erodes Florida's tradition of open government by giving defendants in "stand your ground" who prevail the right to request all records of the incident be sealed from public view. There is no place in a democracy where government investigations of even justified homicides are not part of the open record. The accused have a right to a fair trial, but not to anonymity; and the public has the right to ascertain if officials are actually upholding the law.

This is what happens in Tallahassee when lawmakers ignore good judgment to do the bidding of an emboldened special interest more concerned with bolstering its fundraising than effecting sound public policy. The NRA made a big mistake and pushed legislation that potentially undermines the one self-defense provision — the castle doctrine — that has the broadest support. Scott should stand up for residents protecting their homes and veto this sloppily written bill.

Comments
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 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...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
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