The Florida Legislature creates a direct path for more political cronyism | Editorial
But don’t despair. We also have four highlights from the past week.
Florida representatives at the Capitol in Tallahassee earlier this year.
Florida representatives at the Capitol in Tallahassee earlier this year. [ WILFREDO LEE | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published May 22
Updated May 25

A few highs and lows from around Florida and Tampa Bay this week, including a misguided provision in the new gambling compact and a sheriff cracking down on a predator. Plus, a local state attorney’s office finally signs up for email.

What’s the hurry? The comprehensive gambling compact the Florida Legislature passed this week included the creation of a five-member state Gaming Control Commission, which will feature a law enforcement arm to root out illegal gambling. Originally, the idea contained a provision that legislators could not serve on the commission for two years after they left the Legislature, a smart move to cut down on obvious political patronage. So, of course, the Legislature took out that part. Now lawmakers can leap directly from making laws that affect the gaming industry to policing that same industry, a job that comes with an annual salary of $136,000. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, voted against the gambling compact and rightly acknowledged the obvious appearance problem with allowing lawmakers to so quickly join the Gaming Control Commission. “Shouldn’t we have a little distance between the last PAC (political action committee) check and your next vote on the commission?” Yes, they should. But now they won’t.

Modern communications. For years, the attorneys at the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office didn’t have work email. Former State Attorney Bernie McCabe, who ran the office from 1992 until his death in January, thought his assistants might write something in the emails that was inappropriate for the workplace. That’s right — the prosecutors tasked with seeking justice on the people’s behalf, some of whom decide on whether to seek the death penalty, were not trusted with an email account. Some defense attorneys grumbled that being limited to using phones and old-fashioned mail slowed the wheels of justice. Thankfully, the policy has now changed. Current State Attorney Bruce Bartlett, a loyal disciple of McCabe, rolled out email to the roughly 170 assistant prosecutors working in the office.

Seeking justice. Good for Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique H. Worrell for supporting death row inmate Tommy Zeigler’s request for DNA testing. The test might not conclusively establish Zeigler’s innocence, but the results could shed more needed light on the murky circumstances surrounding the murders of his wife, in-laws and another man at his family’s Winter Garden furniture store on Christmas Eve 1975. Previous DNA testing appeared to back up Zeigler’s story that he was a victim, not a perpetrator, but further testing was blocked. This week, Worrell agreed to let Zeigler’s attorneys test the evidence at a lab certified by the American Society of Crime Laboratory. Zeigler deserves this chance to prove his case.

Cracking down misconduct. For the second week in a row we are praising Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s decision-making. Last week was for his reasoned stand against using a 2018 constitutional amendment that protects the privacy of crime victims to prevent the release of names of law officers involved in use-of-force incidents. This week, he fired a deputy who made unwanted sexual overtures to multiple women who called the Sheriff’s Office for help. Yes, firing a deputy for such egregious conduct should be a no brainer. But in his actions and his words — “This is a predator,” he said — Gualtieri sent the right message to the community he serves and the deputies he leads.

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Doing what’s hard. A hat tip to Republican U.S. Reps. Carlos Gimenez and Maria Elvira Salazar of Miami for breaking party ranks and voting to create a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. One-hundred-seventy five of their fellow Republicans in the U.S. House, including all of the other Florida Republicans, voted against the plan. In this age of hyper-partisanship, it’s refreshing to see some independent thinking. Will Sen. Marco Rubio muster the fortitude to do the same when it’s his turn to vote on the issue, maybe as soon as next week?

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.