Thursday, June 21, 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: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

It turns out the U.S. Supreme Court has a better grasp of the economic realities of the 21st century than Congress or the Florida Legislature. The court ruled Thursday that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes even if the retail...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Published: 06/21/18
Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Good job, Jeff Sessions! It seems the attorney generalís misguided attempts to revive the unpopular and unjust federal war on marijuana may be having the exact opposite effect ó prompting a new bipartisan effort in Congress to allow states to legaliz...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBIís handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but itís also suppression

The Supreme Courtís ruling last Monday to allow Ohioís purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they havenít voted, Ohioís purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18