- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

April 21

The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla., on bolstering public confidence in government:

For decades, Florida’s best leaders have embraced open, accountable, ethical government as a fundamental right of the state’s residents.

But others aren’t so sure. Open-government rules are seen as stumbling blocks to efficient action, and inquisitive members of the public cast as annoying gadflies. Trust us, these officials say. We know what’s best.

These warring points of view play out in nearly every session of the Legislature.

Last year, proponents of good government scored significant victories, pushing back against attempts to increase secrecy in government and making substantial progress in reforming the state’s patchy ethics codes. And when the state’s annual legislative session started in March, it looked like another good year for Florida’s residents.

But with just two weeks left in the session, things aren’t looking so rosy.

First, a straightforward bill that would further strengthen Florida’s open-records rules has stalled out.

The same fate has fallen SB 846, which would improve upon landmark clean-government legislation passed in 2013. The bill would extend ethics rules to quasi-governmental entities like Enterprise Florida, putting better oversight on agencies that spend billions of state tax dollars.

It also would include city and county officials in ethics-training requirements spelled out for state-level officials in the 2013 reforms, and empowers the state Commission on Ethics to act against officials who scoff at the state’s annual financial-disclosure requirements.

Both the ethics and the open-records bills are awaiting action in the House. And they have one more thing in common - the House versions are sponsored by Rep. Dave Hood, R-Ormond Beach. Hood, who has a long and laudable history in local government, should do his utmost to convince House leadership to pass the Senate bills.




April 19

Miami Herald on Guantánamo disclosures:

Another week of hearings at Guantánamo, another series of jaw-dropping revelations and rulings that underline the futility of the whole enterprise. That the system isn’t working has long been obvious. Now the tragedy is turning into farce.

Exhibit A: The disclosure that the FBI allegedly tried to turn a member of the defense team for 9/11 defendants into a confidential informant, spying on colleagues on behalf of the U.S. government.

Did the FBI not realize that by doing so the agency was damaging the trial procedure at Guantánamo (such as it is)? Did it really believe it could flip a member of the defense team and keep it secret? No wonder some skeptical family members of 9/11 victims believe the whole thing was a deliberate effort to derail the hearings. What else are they to think?

Army Col. James L. Pohl did the only thing he could, issuing a bench order to anyone who ever served on the defense teams of the Sept. 11 case to find out if any of them indeed were approached and asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement about the contact. The notion that you can commit an illegal act and get away with it by making the other party sign a nondisclosure agreement is itself farcical. Inspector Clouseau would approve.

The upshot is another delay in an absurdly long process. This is the 10th round of hearings for the 9/11 defendants since the five accused were formally charged (finally) two years ago. If a violation occurred, it could require reappointment of a new defense team, setting the process back yet again for who knows how long.

Prolonged incarceration without formal charges, evidence withheld, limited access by the public, defendants subjected to torture after their capture, severely limited rights to object by the defense, hunger strikes, etc. Now government spying on the defense. All this and more is what passes for justice at Guantánamo, and it is only thanks to a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings for the defendants that matters aren’t even worse.

At this rate, it looks less and less likely that the 9/11 defendants will ever be brought to trial, and victims and family members will have to wait a very long time to have their day in court, unless Congress were to, say, create a conventional federal district court down there. Fat chance.

The frustration of family members of the victims is all the more infuriating because the federal criminal-justice system has shown time and again that it can handle suspects accused of terrorism.

Hundreds of cases have been tried across the country, mostly in New York federal court, with judges and juries rendering guilty verdicts in virtually all significant cases.

And that is another eminently practical reason that the whole Guantánamo project should be shut down: It doesn’t work.




April 22

Gainesville (Fla.) Sun on state felonies:

Florida’s prison population has grown more than 400 percent over the past 35 years, a period in which the state’s overall population rose at a rate just over 100 percent.

More than 102,000 people were imprisoned in the state as of January 2014, according to Florida TaxWatch. An even more startling statistic, and the reason for TaxWatch’s interest, is that state spending on corrections grew 1,200 percent over the same 35-year period to $2.4 billion.

A new report by TaxWatch’s Center for Smart Justice places part of the blame on over-criminalization. The report highlights a number of non-violent offenses that are listed as felonies under Florida law, carrying years-long potential prison sentences.

A college student who uses a fake identification in Florida is committing a third-degree felony, carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison. So is some who accepts a bet on a sporting event, obtains credit with an expired credit card or passes a bad check worth $150 or more.

The state is particularly harsh on drug offenses. Buying more than 20 grams of cannabis or any amount of a controlled substance other than cannabis are also third-degree felonies.

A felony conviction can limit someone’s job and housing prospects. In Florida, it also means the person loses the right to vote or hold office.

One in 10 Florida adults - and nearly one in four African-Americans here - cannot vote because of a felony conviction, according to a 2012 report by The Sentencing Project. More than 1.5 million felons were disenfranchised in Florida, that group found.



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