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  1. Letters to the Editor

Thursday's letters: Change U.S. Senate's filibuster rules

Published Sep. 23, 2015

Iran nuclear agreement

Time for Senate rules to change

The U.S. Senate's refusal to debate or vote on the Iran nuclear agreement is a national embarrassment. The culprit is clear: the 60-vote threshold required to stop a filibuster. It's time to end the filibuster, a relic of the past that is contributing to gridlock and dysfunction.

Last week, I sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging him to end the filibuster and allow the Iran deal to be decided by a simple majority vote. National security is too important to be held hostage by partisan obstructionists who won't even allow a debate on the issue.

The filibuster is being abused in the Senate and it needs to stop. It may have made sense at some point in history but not today. Government dysfunction is at an all-time high and the filibuster is a big part of the reason.

The U.S. Constitution gives the power to set rules to the senators themselves, which in this case means the Senate majority leader. In fact, the founding fathers expressed concern about the use of supermajority thresholds (like the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster) for legislative business.

In Federalist 75, Alexander Hamilton noted that "it has been shown . . . that all provisions which require more than the majority of any body . . . have a direct tendency to embarrass the operations of the government, and an indirect one to subject the sense of the majority to that of the minority."

Some people say ending the filibuster is "the nuclear option" because it would break long-standing tradition in the Senate. I call it the "Constitutional option," because our founding fathers clearly allowed the Senate to set its own rules, as spelled out in the 1892 Supreme Court case of United States vs. Ballin.

The Senate once was known as "the world's greatest deliberative body." Not anymore. And not again until it eliminates the filibuster once and for all.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota

Florida Bar rules

Improper lobbying

It is morally unconscionable that the Florida Bar permits members of lobbying law firms serving in the Legislature to lobby on its behalf.

Opinion 67-5 barred lawyers from lobbying the Legislature if one of their members was a member of the Legislature. In 1999, the Bar withdrew that opinion based on the enactment of the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees requiring disclosure within 15 days after voting on a measure inuring private gain to the officers.

It is amazing that the Florida Bar's Board of Governors would eliminate an ethics opinion because of an ethics rule designed for politicians basically delegating to the Legislature ethical standards for lawyers.

The Florida Legislature is not subject to the Sunshine laws, and there is little transparency.

Based on my experience in the Legislature, including six years in the House and six in the Senate, most decisions on major issues are made behind closed doors and by lobbying each other. Even if the ethics statute prohibited such conduct it would be unenforceable. The disclosure provision or disqualification does not cure the impropriety and appearance of impropriety that is still the standard of conduct for lawyers' actions as public officials.

It is axiomatic that the repeal of Opinion 67-5 has lowered the ethical standard of lawyers to that of the ethical standard of our elected legislators. The Florida Senate has the exact number of lawyers (12) today as it did in 1998 under Opinion 67-5, therefore the argument that it deterred lawyers from public service is a myth.

I have called on the leadership of the Bar and the Board of Governors to modify this morally unconscionable standard.

Thomas M. Gallen, senior circuit judge, Bradenton

GM agrees to settlement in ignition switch scandal | Sept. 18

Unequal treatment

The Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court opinion not withstanding, there seems to be one major difference in law between human persons and corporations.

Human persons whose actions cause the death of another are subject to trial by jury and the prescribed penal consequences for felonies ranging from reckless endangerment to murder in the first degree.

Corporate persons who do the same thing can simply buy their way out. The going rate is $900 million for 124 deaths.

B. Sinnott, St. Petersburg

Poverty in U.S.

Tax credits are key

I have lived in South Tampa in a relatively affluent neighborhood for more than 20 years. I had never seen the poverty in which many Floridian children live. Then I got a job tutoring low-income children and saw how poor some of my fellow Floridians are. Disturbed by my awakening I reported my finding to acquaintances. It is not difficult to skirt the more impoverished areas of Hillsborough County if one sticks close to Bayshore.

More children in Florida live in poverty today than during the Great Depression. One of every four children is in poverty, and these children often come from families in which one or more adults work one or more job. The latest U.S. Census data says that one in seven Americans lives below the poverty line.

What works to reduce poverty?

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) have been praised by both Republicans and Democrats, and for good reason: In 2014, these tax credits moved 9.8 million people out of poverty in 2014 alone, including 5.2 million children. The tax credits promote work by allowing people to keep what they earn. Recipients use their refunds at businesses in their communities, paying for basic needs like groceries and car repairs so they have a reliable way to get to and from work.

Important improvements to these tax credits are set to expire in 2017. If Congress doesn't act in time, 50 million Americans, including 25 million children, will lose part or all of their credits. About 16 million people, including 8 million children, will slip into poverty or deeper into poverty. That includes some 1 million veteran and armed forces families and more than 2 million rural families.

The devastating effects of poverty must be eliminated. The existence of poverty exacts a heavy price from us all whether we are aware of it or not.

Susan Datz, Tampa

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