Editorial Roundup: Florida

South Florida Sun Sentinel. April 1, 2024.

Editorial: An abortion ban tempered only by the right to vote on it

The Florida Supreme Court tore a page from the Florida Constitution and flung it in the faces of the people Monday by effectively banning abortion in Florida. Six of the seven justices said the word “privacy” does not mean what most people sensibly assume it does.

But in a second ruling that was both sound and surprising, a court dominated by appointees of Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed the people of Florida to vote in November on a ballot initiative that would specifically protect abortion rights. It will be on the ballot as Amendment 4.

In a 4-3 decision, justices rejected Attorney General Ashley Moody’s contrived arguments that the initiative’s ballot summary is misleading. But Justice Carlos Muñiz picked up two votes for a concurring opinion that hints at an eventual “fetal personhood” declaration by the court that would render Amendment 4 moot.

The 6-1 decision to ban abortions, the most radical act yet of this reactionary court’s contempt for precedents it dislikes, says in effect that the people didn’t know abortion would be affected when they approved Florida’s landmark 1980 privacy amendment to the state Constitution.

The privacy provision, gutted

That provision guarantees — or did until Monday — that “every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as provided herein…”

And if the people didn’t know, the majority said, then the court was wrong to conclude in 1989 that abortion was included in the right to privacy.

All seven justices in 1989 agreed with the majority opinion that nothing could be more private or personal than the decision whether to abort or continue a pregnancy.

What the 1989 court said then is still self-evident.

Monday’s decision not only upholds Florida’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks but effectively implements another law, labeled the Heartbeat Protection Act by its legislative supporters, that forbids abortion after six weeks — a time when many women don’t yet know they are pregnant.

It is astonishing, appalling and intolerable that Charles Canady, the senior justice, did not recuse himself and voted for that outcome. While representing Florida in Congress, he opposed abortion stridently. His wife, Jennifer, a freshman state House member, co-sponsored the six-week ban, written so as to take effect immediately if the court upheld the 15-week law.

Ultimate judicial activism

That outcome is no less disgusting for its inevitability since DeSantis began packing the court with candidates curated for their ideologies, first by a nominating commission that DeSantis commands, secondly by a secret cadre of advisers led by a leading abortion opponent, the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo, and finally by DeSantis himself.

It was the ultimate in judicial activism, a trait DeSantis and his justices all claim to abhor. Moreover, the majority opinion also focused on what it imagined were the intentions of those who supported the 1980 privacy amendment rather than on the plain and logical meaning of the text.

Whatever happened to textualism?

The decision also contradicted the unmistakable opinion of a majority of voters who rejected the Legislature’s 2012 attempt to do what the court finally did this week. That failed amendment would have barred public funds for abortion and held that the privacy clause could not be used to provide broader privacy rights than those in the U.S. Constitution.

Once again, Justice Jorge Labarga’s solitary dissent casts harsh light on the majority’s biased conclusions.

“Contrary to the majority,” he wrote, “I am convinced that in 1980, a Florida voter would have understood that the proposed privacy amendment included ‘broad protections for abortion.’

“The right of privacy is no novel concept … even in early considerations of the right of privacy, scholars recognized that the right would be one that would evolve over time — and it did.”

By 1980, Labarga noted, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision (since repealed by a right-wing majority), had educated the entire American public on how privacy bears on abortion.

Seven years after Roe, Florida voters wrote privacy rights into the state constitution. Labarga wrote at length to document what Florida voters heard and knew in the aftermath of Roe.

Labarga’s ‘deep dismay’

Labarga warned that Monday’s decision could jeopardize other aspects of privacy despite the majority’s claim that it doesn’t.

“What the majority has done today supplants Florida voters’ understanding — then and now — that the right to privacy includes the right to an abortion,” he wrote, concluding by expressing his “deep dismay.”

Infuriated voters have options. They can and should vote overwhelmingly for Amendment 4 on Nov. 5.

In the longer range, they should stop electing politicians like DeSantis, and demand that their legislators restore the independence of the judicial nominating commissions, which was destroyed by a 2001 law enabling the governors to appoint all nine members of each panel rather than only three.

They should also demand that Florida’s Judicial Qualifications Commission investigate Canady’s ethics in voting to uphold, in effect, his wife’s new abortion ban.


Miami Herald. April 1, 2024.

Editorial: Florida voters, not politicians, should decide on recreational marijuana. Now they will

Florida has been inching toward this day: In November, voters will be able to decide whether they want to legalize recreational marijuana in the state for adults 21 and older.

It was time.

The decision to put the item on the 2024 ballot came as little surprise from the Florida Supreme Court, which reviews the wording of constitutional amendments. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had already signaled as much, saying as early as January that he thought the item would get onto the ballot.

Medical marijuana is already legal in Florida, and has been since 2016. Recreational marijuana is legal in 24 states plus the District of Colombia, as of February 2024, according to the Pew Research Center, and another 14 allow the drug for medical use only.

The court ruling Monday, which became almost a footnote after a high-profile abortion decision, found that the wording of proposed constitutional Amendment 3 was sufficiently clear for voters, removing the final barrier to putting the question on the November ballot.

The state stepped in when Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody urged the justices to reject the ballot summary language as misleading. The court rejected that argument, as it should have.

Floridians are familiar with this issue. In 2021, the court rejected another recreational marijuana initiative on grounds that the wording of the ballot summary did not address the contradiction with federal law.

This time around, the wording seems to do so pretty clearly, saying, in part, the measure “applies to Florida law.” Also, Americans have known for years now that marijuana laws vary from state to state. This is far from secret.

Times have changed. At the end of 2023, there were more than 800,000 medical marijuana cardholders in Florida.

If this measure passes in November, it would go into effect in May 2025.

Florida has made it harder and harder for citizen-led ballot initiatives like this one to actually reach voters, mostly for political reasons. In this particular case, Republicans may not want to see the issue on the ballot for fear that it will increase voter turnout for Democrats.

There is no guarantee that having marijuana on the ballot will help Democratic candidates, however. In 2020, Florida approved raising the state minimum wage while also voting for Donald Trump by larger margins than in 2016.

Whatever your feelings about recreational use of marijuana, the fact that this question will reach the ballot is a positive. Voters should decide issues like this, not politicians. In a state dominated by one party, that’s especially true.


Orlando Sentinel. March 30, 2024.

Editorial: Veto this very bad vacation rental bill, Governor

For years, a battle has raged between local governments and the vacation rental industry, a relatively new but deep-pocketed lobbying force that rapidly acquired the loyalty of powerful lawmakers. The result has been a barrage of legislation intended to undercut local control to the point of near-collapse.

Caught in the crosshairs: Floridians whose neighborhoods are crumbling as speculators snap up homes to convert into short-term rentals — disrupting the peace of adjacent homes while driving housing prices sky-high. They, and their closest elected officials, have taken blow after blow for the past 13 years.

Soon, DeSantis will have to decide whether to sign the latest hit: SB 280, which picks away at the few shreds of muscle that local governments have left.

He should listen to the growing desperation in the emails, phone calls and local resolutions by county and city governments across Florida, and veto this bill.

A growing problem

The vast vacation rental industry in Florida sprang from a fairly humble, home-swapping concept. But it quickly expanded, with platforms like Airbnb where potential rentals are listed on a strictly cash (or credit card) basis. It wasn’t long before investors started snapping up homes for conversions, often buying them sight unseen, rarely negotiating on price. As stories proliferated of disruptive rentals that brought temporary (and often irresponsible) neighbors into residential communities, some cities and counties passed ordinances setting standards for rentals, restricting them to areas where they wouldn’t disturb residents. or banning them outright. There was also increasing pressure on the operators of vacation rentals to pay their share of tourist taxes and fees.

Many in the quickly growing industry protested against the variety of local rules — starting with the financial requirements but quickly expanding to attacks on any local control of short-term lodging. They scored their first victory in 2011 with legislation that blocked local governments from banning or regulating rentals if they didn’t already have ordinances in place. Over the years, new laws further eroded local control, though a 2014 statute partially erased the pre-emption on city and county rules.

It’s also worth noting that big sites like Airbnb have taken steps to curb the use of vacation rentals as “party houses” where dozens of revelers cram into single-family homes and proceed to practice drunken disorderliness to the highest degree.

But it’s not enough, especially since the errant owners of these rentals can simply shift to another, less-regulated platform such as Craigslist.

To be fair, those new laws usually passed the duty to review and regulate rentals to the state. But the budget for the coming fiscal year includes funding for only nine agents to enforce vacation rentals statewide.

Predictably, that will result in weaker enforcement.

Less flexibility

The biggest blow is the inability of each city and county to adapt to the new industry in a way that fit each community’s character. The cost of that is obvious: A tourism-intensive economy such as Orlando obviously requires a different approach to rentals than a smaller bedroom community.

SB 280 isn’t as bad as it could have been. but it reinstates the pre-emption of local rules and rolls that exemption back to 2016. That would wipe out local bans on tourism rentals passed in places like Melbourne Beach and St. Johns County. It also hamstrings local controls in myriad ways, including city and county rules that require contact information for rental owners.

If DeSantis vetoes this bill, its proponents will probably be back, pushing for new legislation and brokering new compromises they never intend to honor. But this is an opportunity to defend Floridians against the constant erosion of their rights. The governor can best achieve that by saying “not this year” to the loss of local control and the indifference to the needs of the people he is sworn to defend.


Palm Beach Post. March 27, 2024.

Editorial: Gun violence is too easy for Americans to ignore. A national museum could change that.

The public needs to better understand not only the devastation of a gory crime scene but how deeply firearms are ingrained in American culture.

Fred Guttenberg is on to something. The father of one of the 17 victims of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre wanted government officials to see the shuttered school for what it is now — an untouched crime scene. It worked, culminating earlier this month with a visit by Vice President Kamala Harris.

But, the question remains: Why stop there?

The public needs to better understand, not only the devastation of a gory crime scene but how deeply firearms are ingrained in American culture. From the Second Amendment, to the size of the nation’s munitions industry, the politics behind “Castle Doctrine” and “Stand Your Ground” laws, the testimonies of mass shooting survivors and the various depictions of abuse and violence, whether at a school setting, a street corner or a traffic stop. The story of guns and their pervasiveness in everyday life needs a home — something akin to a national museum or memorial.

Naysayers may scoff at the idea, preferring to downplay any illumination of the true role firearms have in American society. But ignorance is not bliss here. Sweeping badly needed information and insights under the rug only strengthens fear, firearm sales and gun violence. America deserves much better than that.

The idea is similar to that of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Society benefits from knowledge and awareness. It’s through enlightenment of the public that societal problems can move from being ignored to getting addressed. Guns are no different.

Almost 49,000 Americans died of gun related injuries in 2021, according to the latest federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics which includes homicides, suicides, accidental and police shootings. The now-empty school building in Parkland is scheduled to be torn down. However, a site calling attention to guns and gun violence could go just about anywhere, given the recent mass shootings that have occurred across the country.

“We had this idea that we should start bringing in elected leaders, administrators and law enforcement,” Guttenberg told POLITICO. “Let them see this untouched crime scene. This building exists at a minimum before it gets torn down. Let it be able to teach lessons.”

Why stop at public officials when the public at large can benefit?