Saturday, April 21, 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: 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