A new governor and a new Florida Legislature will face some familiar issues in 2019. But there will be a sense of urgency to implement Amendment 4, improve voting procedures before the next big election and enhance school security.
Expect battles on multiple fronts. Serious shortcomings in processing concealed weapons permits have been exposed in the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Senate Democrats want to transfer the work to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, where it belongs. The National Rifle Association wants to move the job to the state's chief financial officer so it can control another politician. Meanwhile, a state commission investigating the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland recommends training and arming teachers. The Legislature should refuse and instead give school districts more money to pay for law enforcement officers. Expect gun control efforts such as banning assault rifles to resume -- and to fail again.
The three recounts in statewide elections this year exposed serious flaws that require lawmakers to make changes to better ensure every legal vote counts. Voters should be promptly notified when their signatures do not match on mail ballots. The deadline for correcting errors such as mismatched signatures should be extended. A more uniform statewide ballot should be required so poor design does not cost any candidate votes. And for the more ambitious, the state should require primary elections to be open to all voters so more mainstream candidates are nominated and No Party Affiliation voters can participate.
Beginning Jan. 8, most Florida felons who have completed their sentences officially have their voting rights restored and should be able to register to vote. But the implementation of Amendment 4, which won nearly 65 percent voter approval, is likely to be rocky. Incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis says the Legislature first needs to pass an implementation bill that he would sign, and lawmakers have started questioning who is eligible and how felons must prove their sentences are completed. The language of the amendment makes clear that everyone with a felony conviction, excluding murder or felony sex crimes, is eligible once they have completed all the terms of their sentence. No legislative interference is necessary.
The state commission investigating the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, capably led by Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, made dozens of recommendations on school safety beyond the controversial step of arming teachers. They include basic measures such as limiting campuses to a single entrance, clearly marking buildings so first responders can navigate campuses and outfitting schools with classroom doors that lock from the inside. Schools should have well-developed assailant response policies, behavioral threat assessment teams whose findings are given serious attention and working communication systems both within schools, and between schools and law enforcement agencies. The Legislature should embrace the recommendations and find the money to pay for them.
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Texting while driving
Driving while texting or talking on a cell phone is dangerous and should be banned. That would bring Florida in line with most other states and make our congested roads safer. In 2017, more than 200 people died on Florida roads because of distracted drivers. Bills (SB 76 and HB 107) introduced by Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, would make both texting and talking while holding a phone a primary offense, meaning drivers could be pulled over and ticketed for that alone. Research shows how dangerous distracted driving is — perhaps as bad as driving drunk — and people should know by now it's foolhardy to text or chat on a cell phone while driving. This is a rare bipartisan issue that the Legislature should easily address.