Monday, April 23, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: In voting district case, legislators should testify

Can Florida legislators be forced to testify to determine what they intended when they redrew district lines and whether they violated a constitutional amendment approved by the voters? That was the difficult question before the Florida Supreme Court on Monday, and several justices sounded skeptical about requiring that legislators provide sworn testimony on their actions during a redistricting process. But in a state with a long, sorry history of gerrymandering and new rules in the state Constitution to prevent it, the court should not let lawmakers hide behind their offices. The public interest in fair elections and upholding the state Constitution outweighs concerns that legislative activity might be chilled by the possibility of being hauled into court.

Three years ago, to end the routine and disgraceful practice of congressional and legislative districts being drawn to favor an incumbent or a political party, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed two constitutional amendments. The Legislature still draws congressional and legislative district maps every 10 years, but now it has to use neutral criteria, such as not slicing up neighborhoods. Lawmakers are barred from drawing districts with the "intent" to help or hurt a particular lawmaker or political party.

Internal emails of both Republicans and Democrats show that during 2012 there were efforts to get the best political outcomes from redistricting. The U.S. House seats and state Senate districts drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature show signs that politics was a significant factor. The districts are being legally challenged by a consortium of groups headed by the Florida League of Women Voters.

The Florida Supreme Court is being asked to referee a technical fight that significantly affects the lawsuit. The League of Women Voters wants to depose lawmakers and their staffs and obtain relevant documents for their court fight. Florida lawmakers claim a broad legislative privilege from having to testify or turn over information on their lawmaking function. They say public officials shouldn't be harassed in court by people who don't like their legislation, and the courts shouldn't be interfering with the job they do, on separation of powers grounds.

A legislative privilege has long been recognized by the courts, and it makes sense in most situations. But in this narrow case an exception is warranted. Florida voters approved the amendments to end the days of Tallahassee power brokers deciding elections by drawing districts to protect themselves and their political parties. Enforcing the constitutional amendments that specifically mention "intent" will require more information about how district lines were drawn through depositions, emails and other key documents. Otherwise how can legislative "intent" be proven?

A trial judge ruled that some legislative discovery was permissible, but that was overturned by a divided three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal. There is no higher public purpose than ensuring fair elections. It is the foundation of our democracy. The court should stand on the side of protecting that interest, even if it means carving out an exception to the concept of legislative privilege.

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Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
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