Saturday, January 20, 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.

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Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18