- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Feb. 21

Miami Herald on students’ reactions over Florida lawmakers refusing to consider a gun law bill:

That was swift. As swift as Nikolas Cruz was when he killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It took Florida legislators little time to teach some activist students a lesson by refusing to consider a gun law on Tuesday, even as students from Stoneman Douglas sat in the audience.

One student burst into tears in the gallery, stunned and angered by the slap in the face from adults. Another one, student leader Emma Gonzalez, tweeted: “How could they do that to us?.”We are not forgetting this come midterm elections - the anger that I feel right now is indescribable”

Well done, Florida legislators. You just turned those students against The Establishment. What a mistake.

Do you think the kids will now go away quietly since you flexed your procedural muscle?

Doubt it.

So welcome to 1968 and the war between the Vietnam protesters and the government. We were sending young people to die then, too, and they rebelled. Kids are now dying in school mass shootings, and they are about to rebel. The example can extend to the early 1960s, when black youths grew sick and tired of being second class citizens and pushed back and led America in to the Civil Rights Movement.

So yes, what a mistake by Florida lawmakers to not even pretend to show respect for the horrible things those kids saw a week ago. The Stoneman Douglas students got on buses and headed for Tallahassee to get some action. You showed them whose boss.

The students had arrived to witness a move to push a bill banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines directly to the Florida House floor.

Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, the incoming House Democratic leader, called for the bill that had not received a committee hearing to be immediately considered by the full chamber at the start of Tuesday’s House session. A bit unorthodox, yes. But so is the murder of 17 people in a Florida school.

Democrats used the highly unusual procedure to try to move the proposal directly to the House floor for a debate and vote. Republicans voted it down, 71-36. The several survivors watching from the visitors’ gallery were overcome with emotion, and the action set off a firestorm of controversy on social media.

So there you go, brave Stoneman Douglas student activists. This is what you’ll face in the coming days. So brace yourselves.

Online: http://www.miamiherald.com/


Feb. 20

The Palm Beach Post on more funding for school resource officers:

After the worst school shooting in modern Florida history, parents and public school children are mad as hell and are sounding increasingly like they’re not going to take it anymore. And our state leaders are still, well, talking. and talking. and talking.

Gov. Rick Scott held a series of meetings with agencies - including the departments of Education, and Children and Families - to discuss everything from school safety to mental health to restricting certain residents’ access to guns. Again, more talk.

But as state leaders will no doubt hear from thousands of Parkland students, teachers, parents and their supporters today, they want action to protect Florida children from another mass shooting on a school campus.

On Valentine’s Day, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz upended the gun debate by walking into Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and killing 17 people, and wounding at least 15 0thers. Five people remain hospitalized in critical condition. Amid all the recriminations and second-guessing that has followed, it is incontrovertible that Cruz’s horrific actions have shined a glaring spotlight on the indefensible way in which political leaders approach protecting our public schools from our “Gunshine State” culture.

How ridiculous is it that someone who is not old enough to legally purchase liquor or cigarettes is legally able to purchase a military-style assault weapon? But that’s Florida law.

So when our state politicians (those with the courage to speak at all) ask, “How do we make sure that our schools are safe for students?” the answer must be, “Put our children first.”

To be sure, statements have come fast and furious. Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, is confident that measures under consideration - including raising the age to 21 for the purchase of “assault” rifles by people not in law enforcement or the military, establishing a waiting period for the purchase of such weapons and reviewing background screening requirements - can be completed before the 60-day session ends March 9.

The Senate has already proposed a $13 million spending increase, to $78.1 million, for school safety and another $100 million as part of a new category of K-12 school funding specifically to assess and treat mental health (SB 1434).

But faith that this Republican-controlled legislature will take action is hard to come by. On Tuesday, for example, the House voted down a motion to take up a bill that would ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. The vote, 71-36, wasn’t even close.

And then there’s reversing a decade of lackluster spending on school safety.

For at least the last five budget cycles, Scott and legislative leaders have kept “Safe Schools” funding - which primarily pays for school resource/police/security officers - flat, at $64.5 million compared to roughly $75.6 million in 2007-08. Despite nearly 200,000 additional public school students statewide and corresponding enforcement responsibilities, i.e. bullying and hazing prevention, and a stricter code of conduct, lawmakers have ignored local school officials’ pleas for increased funding.

Only 1,500 of the state’s 4,000 public schools have dedicated school resource officers, although some schools rely on sheriff’s deputies to provide security. To protect our kids, local school districts need help filling this gap. They don’t need potentially dangerous, cockamamie proposals like allowing armed “volunteers” to patrol school campuses.

As we said about such a proposed bill in 2014: “What parent would want some individual they don’t know and don’t pay to protect their children, to walk freely around their campus toting a gun?”

Yet, the day after the Stoneman Douglas shooting, Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley placed a bill that would allow designated people to carry concealed firearms onto school grounds on the agenda of this Senate Judiciary Committee meeting.

Trampling on parents’ fear and grief is just crass. It was a bad idea in 2014; it’s a bad idea now. And it was thankfully removed from the agenda on Monday.

Talk of arming school employees, expanding background checks, revamping the Baker Act, along with better integration of data, coordination of mental health care and services and early screening and assessment, will take a while.

Scott and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, are both promised Douglas High parents they would find a way to keep their kids safe at school.

They can start by simply adding money for trained school resource officers - now.

Online: http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com/


Feb. 18

The Herald-Tribune of Sarasota on legislation promising improved sentencing:

Reform of Florida’s rigid criminal-sentencing laws and dramatic improvement of the state’s judicial-system databases are complementary efforts that warrant simultaneous approval.

Fortunately, according to a Herald-Tribune news report Friday, Sen. Jeff Brandes - a Republican from Pinellas County and a member of the Committee on Criminal Justice - is seeking to blend sentencing-reform legislation with an equally valuable bill in the House of Representatives to upgrade Florida’s databases on sentencing.

Senate Bill 694 would enable judges to sentence illegal-drug sellers to less than the minimum - which can range from three to 15 years, depending on the amount sold - if the defendant was: not engaged in a “continuing criminal enterprise;” did not threaten or use violence; did not cause a death or serious bodily injury.

This bill and others with the same aim are welcome. The mandatory-minimum laws were designed, in part, to promote consistency in sentencing - an important goal. But by eliminating judicial discretion, the sentencing laws resulted in too many people going to jail for nonviolent crimes - ruining the lives of defendants and running up huge expenses for taxpayers when effective alternatives were available.

“We are trying to get the right sentence to the right person, and make sure the sentence fits the crime,” Brandes has said. He added that, in some cases, society is best served by providing someone convicted of illegal-drug possession with addiction treatment rather than long-term incarceration.

Getting “the right sentence to the right person” and ensuring that defendants who need treatment for addiction receive it should be two of the overarching goals of the justice system.

But two Herald-Tribune news series - one on sentencing in criminal cases, the other on access to addiction treatment - have helped document what anecdotal evidence has long suggested: Race-based disparities exist in the justice system.

Those inequities are likely to continue even if Brandes’ bill is approved, unless outcomes are accurately reported and closely monitored.

Determining the causes of such disparities is complicated. But it would be relatively simple for Florida to begin a process of examining longstanding disparities, as well as monitoring the outcome of any sentencing-reform bills passed this year by the Legislature.

Progress is within reach. State Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Republican from Palm Harbor and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is the force behind the committee substitute for House Bill 7071.

The bill would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to compile, maintain and make public sentencing-related data. It would mandate that the data be comparable, transferable and readily usable - criteria that do not currently exist.

Just as important, the bill would require digitized sentencing score sheets to be prepared for all criminal defendants, and create a pilot project to improve criminal justice data transparency and compliance with standards.

The provisions in the House bill are both warranted and commendable. They make sense, regardless of whether sentencing is reformed, but would be even more valuable if Florida embarks upon constructive changes to get the right sentence or other outcome to the right person.

We hope both legislative chambers merge monitoring with sentencing reform for accountability and justice.

Online: http://www.heraldtribune.com/

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