- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

July 14

Miami Herald on nuclear arms deal with Iran:

Despite the considerable achievements of the momentous diplomatic pact with Iran unveiled Tuesday - mainly, a surrender of most of that nation’s nuclear-weapons infrastructure for at least a decade - most Americans are bound to have some misgivings and a lot of questions.

They should. Still, the agreement deserves an honest hearing, politics aside, from Congress and the American public, and any rush to judgment is premature.

That goes for either the immediate embrace of a complicated document of almost 100 pages with a nation that is not trustworthy, or, conversely, the out-of-hand rejection of a deal that the U.S. negotiating team led by Secretary of State John Kerry worked hard to deliver over 22 months of arduous bargaining and occasional shouting matches.

Reaching agreement to freeze Iran’s march toward nuclear capability without resorting to war is a credit to the Obama administration’s persistence. But Mr. Obama must still convince the country that this deal will reduce the danger of a nuclear attack by Iran, and that a rigorous inspection program will verify compliance.

In that regard, some benefits are clear and undeniable.

? First, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will be reduced by 98 percent, probably by shipping most of it to Russia.

? Second, the number of centrifuges spinning at the primary enrichment center in Natanz would be reduced by two-thirds.

Together, these two measures would extend to a year the “breakout time” required for Iran to make a bomb, should it abandon the accord. Without an agreement, the current estimate is two to three months.

This is a dramatic shift from the situation the administration faced before it struck an interim nuclear accord with Iran in 2013. Back then, officials around the world were nervously watching Iran race toward bomb production and wondering whether an effective economic-sanctions plan could be put in place to force it to stop. In the end, led by the United States, economic sanctions worked, with the resulting freeze.

Without verifiable inspections, of course, it’s meaningless. Mr. Kerry said stringent verification measures would remain in place permanently, including inspections of military facilities that Iran’s leadership once declared off-limits on any deal.

Even so, legitimate questions remain over what happens when the “breakout time” begins to shrink a decade hence, over the timing and nature of inspections and whether the inspectors can question the scientists who led Iran’s secret nuclear program.

Among the strongest critics of the agreement is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Given the strong level of support for Israel among many Americans, Mr. Netanyahu has a strong hand to play and deserves to be heard. But his early and consistent rejection of a deal, including an ill-timed speech to the U.S. Congress, coupled with his lack of a credible alternative, diminishes his credibility.

Perhaps the biggest question of all is what Iran will do with the economic windfall of up to $100 billion it might receive if economic sanctions are lifted. If all of this goes to support terrorist groups, increased vigilance and support for pro-U.S. interests in the Middle East will be needed.

This agreement is not the end of the road, but rather the beginning of what promises to be, and should be, an arduous debate over its merits. Getting buy-in from Congress is essential, but it’s just as important, if not more so, for the American public to be persuaded that this will enhance our national security and advance our national interests.




July 13

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on gun control:

A troubling but not surprising fact about the rash of shootings in Tampa raises a gun control mandate that doesn’t require a new law.

If you own a gun, control it. It should be kept secure, especially from children, but also where it won’t make for easy picking by a thief.

No law is needed here. Just common sense and personal responsibility.

The Tribune’s Elizabeth Behrman found of the 21 homicides and two-dozen shootings that have taken place this year in Tampa, most of the bullets were fired from stolen guns.

That gives support to gun-rights advocates who argue that restrictions on gun sales affect law-abiding citizens, not outlaws. They are mostly correct, though we see some value in waiting periods and background checks that might occasionally prevent an impulse killing or keep a gun out of the hands of someone with a disturbing record.

But the reality is the murderous predators responsible for killing teens and even a grandmother in Tampa this year don’t worry about the niceties of the law. They easily arm themselves by stealing guns or buying stolen guns from others.

As Behrman found, Tarpon Springs Police Officer Charles Kondek was killed with a gun that had been stolen from an unlocked car in Jacksonville.

Guns are taken frequently during home or car burglaries and make their way to the streets. No gun laws will stop that, but people should reflect seriously about the grave responsibility they are taking on when they buy a gun.

People should not buy guns if they are not prepared to learn how to use them and to store them properly.

The best way to keep guns from being stolen is, as the police told Behrman, to store them in a gun safe, though they can be expensive. Trigger locks, steel gun cabinets and metallic gun cases may not be as effective, but they can discourage theft while also keeping guns out of kids’ hands.

Florida law requires owners to store their loaded guns in a locked container or in a secure area if there is a reason to believe a minor could gain access to the firearm.

There is another element involved here. Many people end up with guns - perhaps inherited or bought on impulse for self-defense - they never use.

These guns too often sit around uselessly for years and may be taken by burglars. It probably would be better for the guns to be sold to gun enthusiasts - or to be taken out of circulation entirely, as occurs with police-organized buybacks such as the one recently conducted in Tampa that collected 521 guns.

After first checking if they have been stolen or used in a crime, police destroy the guns that are acquired.

The buybacks are frequently criticized as meaningless gestures, and they are certainly no solution to gun violence. But there is value in getting guns out of households where owners are uncomfortable about handling them in a way that prevents any possibility of them being used in a future crime.

Of course, the focus on responsible gun ownership should not divert focus from the real villains here: the murderers and thieves. It is critical the state vigorously prosecute felons in possession of guns and the lowlifes who steal and sell stolen guns.




July 14

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on state Supreme Court’s decision on congressional reapportionment plan:

The Florida Supreme Court has overwhelmingly ruled that the Legislature’s congressional reapportionment plan violated the state constitution’s ban against using “partisan intent.”

The 5-2 ruling provided a clear, strong defense of the Fair Districts amendments approved in 2010 by 63 percent of voters. The opinion is notable because it will send the Legislature back to the drawing board.

The amendments forbid the Legislature from creating districts with the “intent to favor of disfavor a political party or an incumbent.”

Last year, a circuit court judge found that Republican operatives secretly influenced the map drawing and that key legislators participated in private meetings to discuss redistricting. The judge questioned why many relevant emails and documents had been deleted - even though the records could be evidence in court.

The judge ordered the Legislature to redraw two of the 27 new congressional districts, which occurred before the 2014 elections. On Thursday, the state’s high court went further. The court determined that the partisan intent of the Legislature undermined the 2012 redistricting plan “as a whole.”

The justices did not technically require the Legislature to redraw the entire map. The court instructed the Legislature to redo eight districts. They include the snake-shaped district stretching from Jacksonville through eastern Alachua County to the Orlando area, currently represented by Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville. The court ordered that the district be redrawn in an east-west configuration.

In light of the Legislature’s defiance of the constitutional amendment, it’s encouraging that the court set guidelines and parameters for the next round. For example, the court encouraged the Legislature to “conduct all meetings in which it makes decisions on the new map in public and to record any non-public meetings for preservation.”

The court said the Legislature should provide a mechanism for public debate on proposals for alternative maps submitted by the public. Additionally, the court said the Legislature should preserve all emails and documents related to the redrawing of the map - it shouldn’t take a court declaration for those things to happen - and to “publicly document the justifications for its chosen configurations.”

The Legislature would be well advised to follow the court’s directions. There is a movement in Florida and nationwide for states to amend their constitutions to allow independent commissions to perform redistricting. The U.S. Supreme Court recently found that practice constitutional in Arizona.

It’s true, as the Florida high court wrote, that redistricting efforts in 2002 and in previous years were rife with partisanship and incumbent protectionism. But, as parents tell their children, just because everyone else is doing it, that doesn’t mean it’s right. Plus, as the latest ruling emphasized, such actions are now plainly unconstitutional.





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