Editorial Roundup: Florida

Palm Beach Post. June 26, 2022.

Editorial: Florida’s senators failing us on gun reform

If U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott can’t bring themselves to support even a watered-down, bipartisan first step toward easing gun violence amid a contagion of shootings nationwide, it’s time for Florida voters to find senators who will.

Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in 2018, Rubio boasted of co-sponsoring a bill meant to dedicate federal money “to incentivize states to give law enforcement the authority to prevent individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others the ability to purchase or possess firearms, while still providing due process protections.”

But it’s easier for him to have staff dash out a press release than to make a sustained effort to address this issue in good conscience, even an issue as urgent and vital to American families as this one. Of course nothing came of his bill, as Rubio, Scott and the Republican Party have worked far harder to satisfy their NRA contributors.

Here was Rubio this week, in the wake of the Uvalde elementary school massacre, presented with a bipartisan bill to strengthen background checks, incentivize states to implement “red flag” laws, make it harder for convicted domestic abusers to obtain weapons, invest in mental health services for children and families and toughen penalties for evading licensing requirements. Our senior senator responded with a tweet that he couldn’t support this bill because he wasn’t given enough time to read it.

Likewise, Scott, who when Florida governor signed a state law to keep guns out of the hands of people who courts deem dangerous, this week proclaimed the federal bill that has a similar intent unworthy of his support. He accused the bill’s bipartisan sponsors of “secret backroom dealings,” and like Rubio, complained that members weren’t given enough time to read the bill. Please.

It’s not that Scott and Rubio have taken no action on the issue. Why, just this past February, they introduced a resolution to honor the 17 victims of the Parkland school shooting. Well that ought to comfort their parents, who this week were still waiting for the sentencing hearing for their children’s murderer, knowing that four years later, Congress had yet to do anything that might prevent another Sandy Hook, Columbine, Parkland or Uvalde from devastating more children and families.

The bill that ultimately won Congressional approval and awaits President Biden’s signature makes vast concessions to win over those who for far too long have stood in the way of any gun regulation whatsoever. The bill doesn’t raise the age limit from 18 to 21, though it would tighten background check requirements for that age group. And sadly, it doesn’t ban from public sale weapons meant for battlefields, the kind that have devastated so many classrooms.

The bill that ultimately won Congressional approval and awaits President Biden’s signature makes vast concessions to win over those who for far too long have stood in the way of any gun regulation whatsoever. The bill doesn’t raise the age limit from 18 to 21, though it would tighten background check requirements for that age group. And sadly, it doesn’t ban from public sale weapons meant for battlefields, the kind that have devastated so many classrooms.

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Tampa Bay Times. June 28, 2022

Editorial: A sensible gun safety compromise

New bipartisan legislation ends nearly three decades of inaction from Washington.

The gun safety bill that President Joe Biden signed into law Saturday is a welcome if measured improvement in public safety and a vivid reminder of what Washington can accomplish when the public good prevails over partisan politics. The deal was too little for many Democrats and too much for most Republicans, but that’s what made the compromise possible, ending nearly three decades of federal inaction on gun violence.

The Democratic-led House approved the legislation Friday on a mostly party-line 234-193 vote, only one day after the Senate approved the bill by a bipartisan 65-33 margin, with 15 Republicans joining all Democrats in support. Supporters were right to use the public outcry over the recent mass shootings in New York and Texas as an impetus to act. While previous attempts to move gun safety legislation failed in the aftermath of high-profile shootings, Senate Democratic and Republican negotiators focused on what was possible, not what was ideal for either side in the gun rights debate. The outcome is a law that will make Americans safer while both building on these reforms and protecting gun rights.

The measure provides funding incentives for states to adopt so-called red flag laws that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate the weapons of those deemed a threat to themselves or others. (Florida enacted a red flag law after the mass school shooting in Parkland in 2018.) For the first time, people convicted of domestic abuse who are current or former romantic partners of the victim would be prohibited from acquiring firearms, closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole” that’s often a factor in gun-related tragedies.

The law makes the juvenile records of people age 18 to 20 available during required federal background checks when they attempt to buy guns. Those examinations, currently limited to three days, would last up to 10 days to give federal and local officials time for a thorough search. The measure expands the use of background checks through federally licensed gun dealers, toughens penalties for gun trafficking and provides billions of dollars for community and school mental health programs and campus safety initiatives.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gave his Republican negotiators the room and political cover to maneuver, and Democrats faced reality by not insisting on deal-killing changes, like banning assault weapons and the sale of large-capacity magazines. While the measure is not ideal, it’s progress to build on, and the reforms will get some guns out of dangerous hands in critical moments.

The compromise shows that Congress can succeed when both parties put the public’s interest first. In that sense, it’s disappointing that Florida’s two senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, chose here to be part of the problem instead of the solution. After all, then-Gov. Scott signed some of these very provisions into Florida law after the Parkland school massacre.

But this was a victory nonetheless for public safety, for civic activism and for the cause of bipartisan negotiation. Now governors need to use the resources this legislation provides to make our communities safer.

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Orlando Sentinel. June 24, 2022.

Editorial: American women, this moment calls for righteous rage

Shortly after 10 a.m. Friday morning, American girls and women lost the right to control their own bodies.

Promising them that freedom was a mistake, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, upholding a Mississippi law.

Alito says American women don’t have the right to terminate a pregnancy (or, presumably, make other intimate medical decisions) because no federal law or constitutional provision specifically gives them that right. Abortion was mentioned nowhere in the constitutional citations the Roe court wove into a fundamental right to privacy and from that, the liberty to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy. Losing that protection could expose women to complete abortion bans ― even if they are the victims of rape or incest, even if this decision drives the most desperate women to seek dangerous, illegal abortions or attempt to end their pregnancies themselves.

“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences,” Alito wrote. In an unconvincing about-face, he then tries to argue that his line of reasoning won’t affect the many cases that cited Roe. But Justice Clarence Thomas carries the ball forward — saying the court has a “duty” to overturn an entire line of judicial precedent, including decisions that upheld the right of couples to use contraception, struck down laws criminalizing homosexuality and authorized same-sex marriage. In fact, Thomas wants the high court to declare war on all cases decided in the name of something called “substantive due process” — which takes rights enumerated in the Constitution and crafts real-world protections against overbearing legislation.

Thomas’ rhetoric clearly went too far for some of the other right-wing justices, but many legal scholars say it’s the only logical conclusion. It won’t stop here, they warn. Take them seriously.

This court, warped by politics, is falling in line with the power-seizing theology that drives today’s Republican Party. From Gov. Ron DeSantis wresting control of the redistricting process, to Senate GOP leaders who blatantly stripped Barack Obama of his right to name a Supreme Court justice, the motto of the right is “because we can.” And there is only one reply for Americans who still believe in the principles of liberty, equality and opportunity that should be our most cherished birthright: No. No, you can’t.

Get ready to fight

That means Americans — particularly American women —- must take their rage and grief at Friday’s despicable ruling and use it to fuel a fight to reclaim their country.

For Floridians, the first skirmish is already scheduled. The Aug. 23 primary and Nov. 9 general election give women the chance to make their sentiments clear to candidates for state and federal public office. DeSantis loves to ramble on about “freedom” — so Florida women should ask him what he’s prepared to do to defend their freedoms. What will he do to roll back Florida’s own draconian 15-week abortion ban, which shackles victims of rape and incest as well as underage girls who become pregnant? How will he support women who can’t afford the most reliable forms of birth control (and could have benefited from funding he vetoed in the recent budget)? What will he do for women who fear that bearing another child could compromise the lives of the children they are already raising?

Shoot the same questions at candidates for Congress and the state Legislature. Make it clear that women have lost a protection they relied on. At the state level, press candidates hard to support the Florida Constitution’s more explicit privacy protections and ask them to walk back the overbearing, paternalistic restrictions Florida has on the books.

But the fight can’t stop there. Because if Friday’s ruling proves anything, it’s that women can’t depend on anything other than explicit protections for abortion rights and other critical health-care decisions. Start with congressional passage of a solid, protective shield that protects Americans from governmental interference in their health-care decisions.

And then take the big step. Revive the Equal Rights Amendment —- even if it means slogging through the ratification process again, though it’s worth noting that since it was introduced in 1972, legislatures in 38 states (enough to earn it a spot in the Constitution) have ratified the amendment. Couple it with a health-care rights amendment that protects every American’s innate authority over their own health care decisions.

No more making nice

This last, biggest step might look impossible, especially in the current political climate. But nobody knows what the coming months will look like, as American women take in the reality that —- though they are guaranteed the right to serve in combat, pilot spacecraft, head multi-billion-dollar corporations and even run for president — they no longer have the right to say no to an unwanted pregnancy. Next, they may lose the right to contraception. Their non-straight and non-gender-conforming children are already being exploited for political gain; soon, they may find themselves prosecuted for who they love.

Former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder, who took office the year after Roe was handed down and became a fierce and formidable warrior for women’s rights, puts it succinctly: “It’s time women stopped being nice and fought back.”

Speaking from her home in Celebration, Schroeder described a rage-inducing list of injustices that women still endure — including the lack of a mandate for critical research that would make pregnancy safer. That’s right: The same politicians who want to force women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term have shown little interest in research that would keep them alive during gestation.

After Friday, it should be clear: The people who would use women’s bodies, futures and lives as political bargaining chips aren’t going to stop with Roe. There is more coming. Rights that Americans take for granted will continue to crumble — if those of us who love liberty don’t fill their spirits with righteous rage and vow to fight back.

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South Florida Sun Sentinel. June 23, 2022.

Editorial: Corrine Brown? Again? It’s an insult to voters

But for a dubious decision by a federal appeals court, former Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville would still be serving out a five-year prison sentence for tax fraud and running an $800,000 scam charity. Instead, she’s running for Congress again, piling on the Democrats’ mounting political woes in Florida.

Brown, 75, is a convicted felon. She avoided a retrial and possible return to prison by pleading guilty to a single felony count of corrupt obstruction of the internal revenue laws and was sentenced to time served of two years, eight months and nine days, and $62,650.99 in restitution to the government. She was one of three Black members elected to Congress from Florida in 1992 for the first time since Reconstruction.

Rehabilitation is a noble goal of the criminal justice system, but there are common-sense limits. It is the equivalent of a middle-finger gesture for Brown to now ask voters to entrust her again with a seat in Congress. There are more than enough other people with clean criminal records seeking the same high honor.

The trouble is, the field is so large that Brown could easily win the Democratic nomination with a trifling plurality in the primary. This is one of the baneful consequences of the Legislature having abolished Florida’s runoff primaries without providing anything better in its place — such as ranked-choice voting.

Brown is running in District 10, essentially the same constituency now represented by Rep. Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief who’s vacating her seat to run for the U.S. Senate.

Can’t make this up

Behold! A confessed crook aims to walk in the footsteps of a good cop. You can’t make this stuff up.

Brown doesn’t even live in the Orlando-based district, but she has represented portions of it in the past. The Constitution stipulates only that members of Congress live in the states they represent, not particular districts.

Ten Democrats, six Republicans and two independents have filed for the seat. Other well-known Democrats are former Rep. Alan Grayson and state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Orlando.

Grayson served three nonconsecutive terms in the House before losing a Senate bid in 2016. He was controversial for taking outspokenly liberal positions and for a complaint by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which alleged that he continued to receive compensation from a hedge fund he controlled while serving in Congress. The House Ethics Committee did not pursue it. Unlike Brown, Grayson was never charged with a crime.

As part of Brown’s plea deal, according to the Justice Department, she admitted underreporting income and over-reporting charitable giving “by inflating total gifts.” The plea bargain did away with 17 other counts for which she had been convicted in 2017. By then, she had lost the 2016 Democratic primary for re-election in District 5, stretching from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, to state Sen. Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

It was the same district erased in April by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ partisan gerrymander.

Brown’s charges, which also included mail and wire fraud, were based on a phony “educational” charity she controlled that was used to finance personal expenses including parties, vacations, NFL tickets, a stadium box for a Beyoncé concert and shopping trips. She had served nearly half the sentence when she was released on bond, early in the pandemic, to await the outcome of her appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals at Atlanta.

A replaced juror

That court voted 7-4 to overturn Brown’s conviction because U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan had replaced a juror after deliberations had begun, who told other jurors that God had told him Brown was innocent. Another juror alerted the judge.

The juror’s removal deprived Brown of her constitutional right to a unanimous jury verdict, the majority said. The court’s opinion said Corrigan did not establish that the juror would be unable to follow the court’s instructions on how to deliberate over the evidence.

“The district judge was mistaken in finding that no substantial possibility remained that he was rendering proper jury service,” said the opinion by Chief Judge William Pryor, one of the most conservative members of one of the most conservative federal courts in the country.

Two Trump appointees from Florida, Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, supported the majority opinion, which the court couched almost as a religious liberty issue.

“Juror No. 13′s expression that God had communicated with him may be construed as his description of an internal mental event, not an impermissible external instruction,” the opinion said.

May be? Had the juror listened to any other advice from outside the courtroom, he would have unmistakably violated the court’s instructions.

The four dissenters argued that the trial judge correctly decided that there was “no substantial possibility that a juror who said the Holy Spirit told him to acquit on all charges was basing his decision on the merits of the case.”

Corrine Brown caught an enormous break from an appeals court. She doesn’t deserve a second one from voters.

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Miami Herald. June 24, 2022.

Editorial: 15 Republicans showed courage on gun legislation. Where were Florida’s Rubio and Scott?

The message from Americans to Congress was clear: Do something. Anything.

After the recent mass murder of elementary school children, teachers and grocery shoppers, the U.S. Senate did what’s expected of the people we elected to represent us. They compromised and passed bipartisan gun legislation that its lead Republican negotiator said “will not infringe on any law-abiding American’s Second Amendment rights.”

Where were Florida’s senators?

On the sidelines, grandstanding and digging in their heels because they didn’t get all they wanted. It’s not that the Senate needed the votes of Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to overcome a filibuster. There were 15 other Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had the courage to put their name on the legislation. But what a shame that lawmakers representing the Sunshine State — home of the Parkland and Pulse nightclub shootings — didn’t.

We’re sure their opposition will please the National Rifle Association and the Republican voting base that believes even the most sensible compromise will lead to a “slippery slope” and gun confiscations. We’re sure it will help Scott, as the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, fund-raise for Republicans to take back the Senate.

But both senators represent a diverse state of people looking for their elected officials to show leadership after 19 children were gunned down in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

This bipartisan gun-control compromise is an incremental, yet meaningful, step given Congress’ past inaction. Neither side got everything it wanted — as the word “compromise” indicates.

There’s no ban on so-called assault weapons and no increase of the age to buy a rifle, a measure Scott signed into law when he was Florida’s governor as part of a package that, arguably, goes farther than what came out of the Senate. In fact, the Senate legislation included a school-safety measure that Scott and Rubio themselves pitched earlier this year.

A compromise

The U.S. House passed the bill, and President Biden said he will sign it. The legislation strengthens background checks for gun buyers ages 18 to 21 by allowing their juvenile records to be vetted. It provides incentives for states to pass “red-flag” laws, which allow a judge to order the temporary confiscation of guns from people deemed dangerous — Scott signed a red-flag law as governor. And it will tighten a federal ban on domestic abusers buying firearms and increase penalties against straw-gun purchases and trafficking.

Scott said in a statement released before the vote, the bill allows “the most radical policies, like California’s red-flag law, to be implemented and supported with federal funding.” He said comparisons between the post-Parkland law he signed in 2018 and the Senate bill were unfair.

“One was the product of a collaborative, well-defined and transparent process. The other was the result of secret backroom dealings that did not include input from the majority of Republican members, committee hearings, nor opportunities for amendments, giving members barely an hour to read the bill before we were asked to vote on it,” the statement read, in part.

Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, indeed, was a feat for which Scott deserves credit. But, make no mistake, Republicans controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office. Basically, they held all the cards. In a Congress notorious for gridlock, and a Senate where Democrats have a razor-thin majority, achieving an agreement before senators leave for a July recess seemed like pie in the sky at one point.

Rubio took credit in a statement for including a measure in the bill he, Scott and others co-sponsored that permanently authorizes the “Federal Clearinghouse on School Safety.” But he added he would vote against it because of “insufficient constitutional protections for law-abiding citizens.” He didn’t specify what that means.

“Unfortunately, after careful review, the constitutional protections in the package are inadequate,” the statement read. “In fact, they are significantly weaker than my bipartisan effort with Senators Scott, Reed, and King. I promised the people of Florida I would do everything I could to keep our schools and communities safe while protecting their constitutional rights. This bill fails that test.”

Their carefully crafted statements aside, Rubio and Scott will be on the record as voting against what’s arguably the most meaningful piece of gun legislation to come out of Congress in recent history.

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