- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

June 22

Tampa (Fla.) Tribune on death penalty law:

The state’s Timely Justice Act was an attractive target for death penalty foes looking to bring attention to Florida’s flawed execution process.

They claimed the law, passed in 2013, wrongly shifted authority from the courts to the governor and compromised due process rights by imposing deadlines for death warrants to be signed. Attorneys representing death row inmates sued, hoping to have the law declared unconstitutional.

But the law is far more benign than its critics would have the public believe. And last week the Florida Supreme Court unanimously upheld the law, finding there was nothing in the Timely Justice Act that limits an inmate’s chance to have all appeals heard and for the governor to fully consider clemency before signing a death warrant.

That should quiet the over-the-top rhetoric that accompanied the legislative debate over the law. Lawmakers had hoped to lessen the time it takes to carry out a death sentence, a process that can leave the victims’ families to suffer for decades awaiting an execution.

Opponents made exaggerated claims that it would increase the risk of executing someone wrongly accused. After all, 24 death row inmates have been exonerated over the past 40 years while awaiting execution in Florida, more than in any other state.

But the Timely Justice Act doesn’t speed the appellate process or encroach upon the rights of the accused. In fact, it leaves the post-conviction legal reviews unchanged. Those include a review by the Florida Supreme Court, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, a round of post-conviction proceedings, another appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, a federal court review and a clemency process.

The Timely Justice Act simply instructs the Supreme Court clerk to notify the governor when appeals are exhausted and orders the governor to sign a death warrant within 30 days of that notification, provided the clemency process is completed. Additionally, the law requires the Supreme Court to produce an annual report to the Legislature on cases pending more than three years, and establishes an office in North Florida to represent death row inmates.

Those changes should help the process, but aren’t likely to shorten it.

As lawmakers debated the law last year, 155 inmates had been on death row for 20 years or longer; 10 had been there for more than 35 years. Such numbers are frustrating, particularly for victims’ families. But lawmakers also should tread lightly when considering laws that affect due process rights.




June 23

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on rape crisis:

As funding crumbles for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Volusia and Flagler Counties, area groups are working frantically to ensure that the needs of sexual assault victims are met in a timely, compassionate manner.

The circumstances are lamentable. The Children’s Advocacy Center, which once provided comprehensive services to victims of sexual assault ranging from forensic exams to counseling, has been shedding programs since late last year, turning over exams for sexual assault victims to local hospitals and losing its Rape Crisis Center certification from the Florida Council on Sexual Violence last month.

In response, local providers are stepping up. One group, Medical Legal Education Consultants, Inc., has set up a hotline for police and victims of sexual assault and has a team of experienced nurses able to provide exams. Flagler County’s Family Life Center may seek certification as a rape crisis center as well. Sheriff’s dispatchers are referring victim’s advocates to those who report sexual violence via 911, and the CAC’s old rape-crisis phone line will also be set up to refer victims to services.

But that patchwork of providers could well create confusion for people already traumatized by the aftermath of a brutal assault. The area needs a coordinated, streamlined and comprehensive gateway to services for victims, including those who don’t want to report their cases to law enforcement. At the same time, the community needs to be sure that the longer-term needs of assault victims, such as counseling, will be met.

These urgent issues deserve a comprehensive public discussion - one that should involve officials from Volusia and Flagler county governments, sheriffs and police departments and health departments along with State Attorney R.J. Larizza, Public Defender James Purdy and all the groups currently seeking to help victims. One option: A region-wide summit that includes participation from state-level officials such as a representative from the Florida Council on Sexual Violence.

The logical first step is to get all the relevant officials in the same room - and on the same page - as soon as humanly possible.




June 22

Miami Herald on flight risk:

The news has been scarier than usual: Iraq is on the boil, which has serious implications for U.S. security, random and mass-shooting tragedies seem to be coming at us weekly.

Add to these the fact that air traffic controllers are too sleepy, and anyone who boards a plane should be very afraid. The controllers are suffering from chronic fatigue while on the job - the task of keeping the millions of people who fly from here to there safe in the air. It remains a major threat to the safety of the flying public that the Federal Aviation Administration must address immediately.

It’s not as if the FAA had no idea that too many of its 15,000 air traffic controllers are at risk of nodding off or sluggish thinking. Three years ago, it was disclosed that there were controllers who were falling asleep in front of their screens, which forced the FAA to take a closer look at work scheduling, which has contributed to the problem.

This latest disclosure is a result of a report, mandated by Congress, from the National Research Council. At issue, short-term, is the policy that allows controllers to work five eight-hour shifts over four consecutive days - the last one being a midnight shift.

Controllers love it because they get 80 hours - the equivalent of two traditional work weeks - off before they have to return to work. However, the report says that this scheduling likely results in “severely reduced cognitive performance” during the midnight shift because of fatigue.

The schedule might be popular, but it’s a dangerous one. The FAA should sit down with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and develop scheduling that reduces fatigue on the job and increases flight safety.

To its credit, the FAA imposed a fatigue risk management program after several controllers were caught sleeping on the job a few years ago. Cutbacks, however, have thwarted the program’s effectiveness. This is not encouraging news. Neither is what’s roaring down the pike, coming straight at helpless plane passengers and crew members at the mercy of air traffic controllers who might - or might not - be at the top of their game. The FAA is confronting a deluge of retirements. Controllers are required to retire when they turn 56. The agency will have to replace about two-thirds of this workforce - 10,000 controllers - during the next 10 years.

Flying shouldn’t be a crap shoot because someone was asleep at the switch.



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