Friday, June 22, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Swift is not sure on death penalty

In Florida and other death penalty states, it can take years and even decades for evidence of a prisoner's innocence to come out. Yet the Timely Justice Act passed by the Florida Legislature would speed the execution process with arbitrary and rigid time limits and reduce the governor's discretion in choosing which death warrants to sign, making it more likely that the state will execute an innocent person. Gov. Rick Scott should veto the bill so that Florida is not even more likely to make a fatal error.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach and the sponsor of HB 7083, claims Florida's death penalty process is too slow and blames "legal gamesmanship and legal quibbling." Yet the state's system is nearly two years faster than the national average. Florida inmates are on death row an average of 13 years before they are executed; the national average is 14.83 years.

In fact, Florida fares far worse in its excessive and faulty use of the ultimate punishment. This state sentences more people to death than any other state and has the highest number of exonerations. That's because Florida doesn't require juries to unanimously recommend a death sentence or the aggravating factors that justify it, as other states do. While judges impose the final sentence, they almost always follow the jury's recommendation. An effort to require juror unanimity for death sentences failed again this session, and even an attempt to amend the legislation to require a supermajority jury vote of at least 10-2 failed.

The bill would strip the governor of the power to decide when to execute a prisoner, which raises separation of power issues. The governor would have 30 days to issue a warrant from the time that all legal appeals and the executive clemency process have concluded. An execution must then take place within 180 days of the warrant's issue. If this became law, 13 of Florida's 405 death row inmates would face execution within the next six months and dozens more would be on deck, putting an impossible strain on the courts and the state's death penalty lawyers.

By passing legislation to speed up executions, legislators are saying they don't care about what happened to Seth Penalver and prisoners like him. He was recently exonerated after spending 18 years in prison and on Florida's death row. Evidence of his innocence was withheld for nearly 18 years, according to Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. He is the 24th exonerated inmate from Florida's death row. And, the group says, he is the eighth prisoner exonerated after spending more than 10 years on death row because of how long it took evidence of innocence to emerge.

It makes no sense to make legal changes now. A committee established by the Florida Supreme Court is looking into making capital postconviction proceedings more efficient, with a report due by the end of September. Lawmakers should wait for those recommendations.

One positive aspect of the bill — reopening the third capital collateral regional office to provide capital defendants with better lawyers — doesn't balance out the broader problems with the legislation. As a state panel studying wrongful convictions reported last year, mistakes often happen in Florida's criminal justice system because the system is underfunded. Overburdened court-appointed counsel too often can't put on an adequate defense. Accelerating executions without addressing this flaw and others identified by the panel is not just shortsighted and unworkable. It's immoral.

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Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

It’s hard to pick the biggest outrage in the financial and ethical swamp that has swallowed Tampa Bay’s two primary job placement agencies, CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay. Is it the boiler room atmosphere where CareerSource recruite...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Family separation crisis is not over

The family-separation crisis that President Donald Trump created is not over. The executive order Trump signed Wednesday purporting to end the routine tearing of children from their undocumented parents stands on uncertain legal ground. U.S. border a...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Veterans can help veterans deal with trauma resulting from military service in a way no one else can. That’s the theory behind a special hotline set up in the Tampa Bay area that proponents are hoping to take statewide.The expansion would cost some $...
Updated: 6 hours ago
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: 11 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 general’s misguided attempts to revive the unpopular and unjust federal war on marijuana may be having the exact opposite effect — prompting a new bipartisan effort in Congress to allow states to legaliz...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s 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