Thursday, April 26, 2018
Editorials

'Stand your ground' law needs a real review

The disappointing results from a task force that examined Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law are not a surprise. The 19-member panel commissioned by Gov. Rick Scott in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting was packed with the law's supporters, while critics were frozen out. The result — a report that recommends almost no changes to the law, despite overwhelming evidence of its systemic flaws — is not worthy of consideration. Florida's legislative leaders need to undertake a more thoughtful review themselves. This law is a menace that has allowed too many killers to walk free.

The review was prompted by a national firestorm that erupted after George Zimmerman, a Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer, shot dead Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, on Feb. 26 and was not arrested after claiming self-defense. Initially police cited "stand your ground," though Zimmerman was eventually charged with second-degree murder. But the episode put a spotlight on the 2005 law, pushed by the National Rifle Association, that gives legal immunity to people who use deadly force when they reasonably believe their life is in danger.

Unfortunately, the Florida Task Force on Citizen Safety and Protection, headed by Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, wasn't much interested in fairly evaluating the law as her commission traveled the state holding seven public hearings and receiving thousands of comments from the public — including emotional testimonials by those whose loved ones were killed by people who went free under the law.

The report's essentially non-existent findings and sparse recommendations are a sad showing after all the input and indicate a lack of interest in truly evaluating the law's impact. After affirming its support for "stand your ground," the task force leaves it to the Legislature to tweak a few specific parts of the law, but little of substance.

Seven years of experience demonstrate the law is dangerous and gives legal cover to people prone to violence, including during road rage and gang shooting incidents. Nearly 60 percent of defendants who have invoked it, according to a Tampa Bay Times analysis, had at least one arrest before they killed someone, raising questions about the law applying only to law-abiding people defending themselves. Since the law's passage in Florida, justifiable homicides increased 192 percent, according to FBI data, with other "stand your ground" states experiencing similar patterns.

Carroll claims the task force did "a very good, deliberate job," but it largely rejected suggestions from prosecutors, including fellow panelist Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Miami-Dade state attorney. Among other changes, Rundle wants the statute amended so that people who are the initial aggressor or those who initially provoke the use of force can't hide behind the law. The panel wasn't interested.

The task force didn't agree to eliminate the pretrial immunity hearing, an extra, unnecessary proceeding that the national Association of Prosecuting Attorneys suggested be dumped. It didn't address whether "stand your ground" applies when the victim is killed while fleeing. Courts have not ruled consistently. And it didn't recommend rigorous tracking of "stand your ground" cases, beyond some additional study to determine whether it's fairly applied.

This task force failed to do its job thoroughly or impartially. Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who sponsored the law and was on the task force, used the fact that Zimmerman was finally arrested as proof that the law works as intended. That kind of rationalization ignores the real impact of the law and infects the entire report. Incoming legislative leaders, who just saw their Republican majority curtailed by voters, owe it to their constituents to take up their own review of "stand your ground."

Comments
Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

A St. Petersburg waste-to-energy plant now under construction has been billed for years as an environmentally friendly money saver. Now it looks more like a boondoggle, with the cost and mission changing on the fly. It’s yet another example of a city...
Updated: 27 minutes ago

‘Happy hour’ tax cuts may result in hangovers

Evidence is mounting that the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package enacted in December by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump was a bad idea, not only for the long-run health of the economy but for the short-term political prospects of the ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
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
Updated: 04/23/18
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: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

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
Updated: 04/23/18
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