- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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July 25

The Miami Herald on the state government paying the wrongly convicted:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has signed into law a bill that relaxes the criteria for compensating those wrongfully convicted and incarcerated. It was a compassionate move on his part, and the right move, too.

The measure modifies a provision to the Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act that allowed, in many cases, the state to largely wipe its hands clean of financial responsibility for wrongfully prosecuting.

In the past, if an exoneree had another, unrelated felony conviction on his criminal record - the state was off the hook from having to pay for restitution for the wrongful incarceration. Only a handful of people unjustly convicted have received automatic compensation.

The new law eases the unfair, so-called “Clean Hands” provision and will allow more wrongly convicted Floridians to seek compensation from the state - as they are constitutionally entitled to do.

In 2008, the Florida Legislature passed the act that entitled anyone unjustly imprisoned to receive $50,000 for each year detained.

Back then, supporters hailed it as a historic move toward justice. But the law came with the loaded provision, which led to unintended consequences, not to mention affecting most unfairly African Americans and Hispanics, who disproportionately have a higher chance of being rounded up, arrested, charged and convicted than whites. And former felons are at the highest risk of being convicted of crimes of which they are innocent.

Largely because of the “Clean Hands” provision, just a small number of inmates cleared by DNA evidence in Florida were able to qualify for compensation. For the others, the only recourse to get financial restitution was filing lawsuits or seeking payment through legislative bills.

Now, the new “Clean Hands” provision only prohibits those wrongfully incarcerated from receiving state compensation if they have been convicted of a violent felony or more than one nonviolent felony. We think that wrongly convicted is wrongly convicted, and that unrelated crimes should not play a role here, but the law is a step toward justice.

Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, succeeded in shepherding House Bill 393/Senate Bill 494 to the governor’s desk.

As he lobbied for the legislation, DuBose said the bill is for people like William Dillon, who after 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit could not seek compensation because he had a past conviction for possessing a Quaalude. “If you take someone away from their family for 26 years, you’re altering generations,” DuBose recently said at a public event. We agree.

Any Floridians asking why they have to foot the bill for more of these restitution claims need to ask themselves: When is imprisoning an innocent person the right thing to do? There’s only one answer: Never. This is a state that has seen the most exonerations of the wrongly convicted. They were sent up by aggressive, sloppy, and even devious prosecutors looking for a win. And prosecutors were working on behalf of all Floridians. Derelict private businesses compensate aggrieved consumers. The state should be no different.

Until recently, Florida was the only one of the 30 states with exoneration compensation laws that had such a punishing clause.

Anyone who respects the Constitution understands that one of the most egregious abuses by any government is unjust incarceration. We’re glad the governor understands that.

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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July 31

The Tampa Bay Times of St. Petersburg on being prepared for unexpected storms:

Hours after forming in the Gulf of Mexico, the surprise Tropical Storm Emily swept into the mouth of Tampa Bay on Monday and waterlogged the region. While the storm was small and the rain worse than the wind, how many Tampa Bay residents had their hurricane supplies all in order and their emergency plans ready to go when they awoke to the breaking news Monday? They weren’t needed this time. What about the next one?

Exactly two months into the 2017 hurricane season, Emily is a reminder that Tampa Bay residents always need to be ready for a tropical storm that can brew up overnight - figuratively and, in this case, literally. There was no cone of uncertainty this time, no forecast of probabilities projected on a map for days, just a sudden appearance. Not all storms that endanger us start off the coast of Africa and give ample warning as they build to their destructive force. In fact, while the looming fear is the massive devastation that a Category 4 or 5 could wreak on the Tampa Bay metropolitan area, smaller tropical storms can also do great damage.

Emily’s winds forced the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to close, and the storm dropped sheets of rain - 8 inches in parts of Bradenton. The flooded streets throughout the area served as a reminder of Tampa Bay’s vulnerability to rising water and a warning that hurricane evacuation routes, relying as they do on bridges that easily bottleneck, require people to be prepared to leave quickly if and when they ever need to, and be ready to hunker down when the moment to evacuate has passed.

The Washington Post has just published a long piece saying that Tampa Bay “is due for a major hurricane, and it is not prepared. If a big one scores a direct hit, the damage would likely surpass Katrina.”

The key passage reads: “Analysts say the metropolitan area is the most vulnerable in the United States to flooding and damage if a major hurricane ever scores a direct hit. A Boston firm that analyzes potential catastrophic damage reported that the region would lose $175 billion in a storm the size of Hurricane Katrina. A World Bank study called Tampa Bay one of the 10 most at-risk areas on the globe.” The report may have had a doomsday feel, and it’s been nearly a century since a Category 3 or greater hurricane hit here, but luck eventually will run out.

As Emily crossed Central Florida, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 31 counties Monday. Of course, government has a responsibility when emergencies strike, but officials at all levels also need to prepare the region for a world in which the climate is changing and sea levels are rising. But in the short term, it is incumbent on all residents to be ready not just for the big one, but also for the small one, like Emily, that came out of nowhere and could catch people unaware if they aren’t already prepared. After all, you never know what weather you’re going to wake up to.

Online: https://www.tampabay.com/

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Aug. 1

The Daytona Beach News-Journal on why the state spends too much money on lawsuits:

Gov. Rick Scott chooses his legal battles the way President Trump selects White House communications directors. Only the ones who ultimately pay the price are Florida taxpayers.

The Associated Press reports that since Scott took office in 2011 the state has paid at least $19 million to cover expenses and fees for lawyers who have sued the state. He recently agreed to pay $1.1 million to cover the legal bills of physicians and medical organizations who successfully challenged the infamous “docs vs. Glocks” law that prohibited doctors from talking to their patients about guns.

In early July, the state also agreed to a $2 million payment that will go to lawyers who sued on behalf of disabled inmates. In the last six years, the state has agreed to pay attorney fees of lawyers who have sued the state over drug testing of welfare recipients and employee discrimination, as well as failing to deliver health services to 2 million children on Medicaid (a case that preceded Scott).

The Scott administration says the expenses are necessary because the governor must “vigorously defend” Florida’s laws. Which is fine - so long as the state passes laws worth defending.

“Docs vs. Glocks” was not one of them. Signed into law by Scott in 2011, it prohibited medical personnel from asking patients about firearm ownership or entering information about firearm ownership into the patient’s medical record. Violators were subject to a $10,000 fine and potential loss of their medical license. However, the law never was implemented because it was immediately tied up in the courts. In February this year, the legal battle finally ended when the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared the law unconstitutional in a 10-1 decision.

A spokesman for Scott defended the state’s fight over the law, telling the AP’s Gary Fineout that the governor was a “strong supporter” of the Second Amendment.” But that bill had nothing to do with the Second Amendment - and everything to do with the First. Physicians who made queries about firearms in the house were in no way infringing on anyone’s right to bear arms. On the other hand, the state punishing doctors for what they asked of their patients violated their right to free speech.

The court found that the Legislature in passing the bill relied purely on six anecdotal complaints about doctors questioning their patients about guns in homes with young children. Legislators cited no other empirical evidence - certainly nothing about doctors removing patients’ firearms. It was a solution in search of a problem, an issue concocted purely to create a partisan vote on the hot-button issue of guns. It wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on, let alone giving more than a million dollars to the plaintiffs’ attorneys for having to challenge it.

That and a lot of the $19 million the state has spent on losing lawsuits is money that could be put to better use, such as bolstering Florida’s mental health services. (The state just notified Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare in Daytona Beach that the $11.8 million grant it was awarded last year to increase the number of treatment beds will either be cut by 40 percent or eliminated altogether.) Or it could go toward education. Or cleaning up springs and estuaries. Or not spend it altogether.

Anything would be an improvement over the mindless waste of time and resources that was “docs and Glocks.”

Online: https://www.news-journalonline.com/


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