- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Jan. 15

The Palm Beach Post on diversifying the Florida Supreme Court:

It’s not often that a Florida governor gets a second chance to do the right thing. But Gov. Ron DeSantis has such an opportunity within his grasp. With two new vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court, DeSantis can appoint an African-American justice and rightfully bring racial diversity back to the state’s highest court.



Five conservative white men now sit on the court; and after 36 years, there hasn’t been a black state supreme court justice since Justice Peggy Quince’s mandatory retirement last year. President Donald Trump recently appointed two members of the state court to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That opened the door for DeSantis, and his hand-picked Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), to appoint two new justices and bring some racial diversity and possibly moderation to the bench.

Filling any opening on the high court begins with the JNC that oversees state Supreme Court nominations. This JNC consists of nine members – all appointed or approved by the governor – who interview applicants and recommend the best candidates to the governor.

There are six black judges — all well-qualified — among the 32 applicants. It shouldn’t be that difficult for the JNC to include the name of at least one of them for the governor’s consideration.

Our concern stems from the fact that the JNC may again overlook qualified black jurists, and send the governor another lily-white list of nominees. Worse, the governor may again ignore the names of black jurists under JNC consideration, or completely disregard the JNC’s recommendations. Once again, he may squander a chance to have a court that better represents Florida’s rich diversity and appoint jurists who have greater affinity with right-wing ideologues and conservative legal groups, like The Federalist Society.

Last year, with three vacancies, the JNC failed to send the governor the name of one black jurist, which guaranteed the ultimate outcome – a racially homogeneous Supreme Court. A bill filed by state Sen. Perry Thurston Jr., D-Fort Lauderdale — SB 86 — offers a good fix by making the JNC appointment process more transparent while limiting some of the governor’s influence over it. The bill faces long odds. But the governor shouldn’t need a new law to tell him to do what’s best for all Floridians.

The danger here is that our state gets a judiciary that is nothing more than an appendage to the Florida Legislature or the governor’s office. Until recently, the Supreme Court served as a legal check against controversial policies pushed by conservative elements in the state capitol, from curbing abortion rights to redrawing political districts to ensure Republican control of the state. DeSantis changed all that shortly after entering office by replacing three retiring progressive justices, and literally overnight transforming Florida’s highest court from moderate to one of the nation’s most conservative. And more importantly, one less likely to push back against a legislative leadership that covets a rubber stamp for its conservative ideologies.

It should be noted that, the Supreme Court will have a conservative majority no matter who the governor appoints. The point is that Florida deserves better than to have its highest court used as farm team for Trump’s narrow-minded judicial appointments. Our state has its own concerns that demand a more moderate group of justices who better reflect the state’s population both racially and ideologically.

For example, the seven justices who will make up the court’s full complement will shape how ballot initiatives that voters approved and state leaders have ignored — medical marijuana, preserving environmentally sensitive lands and the re-instatement of felons’ voting rights — will be implemented. The court also will consider challenges to Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, determine whether the mass shooting at Parkland can constitute more than a single event in determining legal liability, and consider if a proposed change to the Florida Constitution to raise the minimum wage meets legal requirements to be on the 2020 ballot.

These are just some of the consequential issues that will benefit from justices who bring differing life experiences and a diversity of thought to the deliberations. What confidence can our diverse and growing populace have in a skewed selection process that guarantees a group of justices that seem so unrepresentative to their needs, interests and values?

As we’ve said previously, diversity on the state bench matters.

We urge DeSantis and the JNC to not waste a second chance to show they believe in an independent judiciary that represents all Floridians.

Online: https://www.palmbeachpost.com/

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Jan. 15

The Orlando Sentinel on gun regulations:

When it comes to firearms in Florida, the arc has bent toward less regulation for more than 20 years.

From “stand your ground” to “docs vs. Glocks,” Florida’s been on the front lines in the effort to weaken gun laws at the expense of common sense.

In his final year as Senate president, Bill Galvano is trying to bend that arc - just a little - back toward common sense.

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, is championing a bill that, among other things, would not close but would narrow Florida’s so-called gun-show loophole.

Simply put, if you’re a licensed firearms retailer in Florida you have to check and see if the guy who’s trying to buy a gun has been convicted of a felony, which in most cases means he isn’t allowed to buy a gun.

No such requirement exists if that same guy goes to a gun show and buys a firearm from an unlicensed dealer. The buyer might be a convicted murderer, but the law doesn’t require a background check to find out. The same loophole exists if the murderer is buying a gun from a private party through an online ad.

In other words, even the dumbest ex-con can easily find a way around Florida’s background check law.

To the annoyance of the National Rifle Association, Senate Bill 7028 would change that.

Someone selling a firearm at a public place - a gun show, for example - would have to get a licensed dealer to run a criminal background check for them.

If the transaction is a person-to-person sale not occurring at a public place, the seller of the gun would have to check the buyer’s ID to ensure they’re old enough to buy a gun, then create a record of the transaction and ask about the buyer’s bona fides, such as whether he’s a drug addict or a fugitive.

The bill has several other worthwhile provisions, like requiring people to lock up a loaded gun at home if anyone under 18 lives there (the law currently requires securing weapons if someone is younger than 16).

The bill received a unanimous, bipartisan vote Monday (Jan. 13) in the Senate’s Infrastructure and Security Committee, where four Republicans and three Democrats voted to move the bill along.

It’s not a perfect answer to the problem, for sure.

But at least Galvano is looking for answers. At least he’s trying to generate a debate rather than just wringing his hands or pretending the problem doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter. At least he isn’t bowing and scraping before the NRA, as so many of his colleagues have done for so many years.

At least Galvano’s displaying some political courage, just as he did a couple of years ago by leading the legislative response to the massacre of students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

That bill increased the age for buying a rifle from 18 to 21. It banned “bump stocks,” an vile little accessory that allows a semi-automatic rifle to behave more like a fully automatic weapon. It created a “red flag” law so police could seek a court order to take someone’s guns if they pose a threat to themselves or others.

It also set up a “guardian” program, where trained school staffers could carry firearms; a provision was extended to teachers last year.

We didn’t agree with that last part. But we’re on the hunt for better, not perfect. So is Galvano, who’s something of a throwback in casting off ideological purity in this instance to do what’s right for Floridians.

Galvano may feel liberated, knowing this is his final year in the Senate. We don’t know of his plans after this, but we do know that his principled actions on the firearms front will make another run for public office as a Republican more difficult.

All the more reason to appreciate Galvano’s willingness to force this debate. We’ve grown far too accustomed to elected officials calculating their decisions on their political ambitions.

Galvano has a tough road ahead. House Speaker José Oliva isn’t on board. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who isn’t dumb, is playing dumb, wondering what everyone means by this “exemption for gun shows.” (It’s not an exemption, governor, it’s a loophole. Please see the explanation above for clarification.)

DeSantis and Oliva are out of sync with public sentiment on gun issues. Galvano isn’t, and he’s willing to tick off the party’s base to do the right thing.

In his gracious remarks to open the state lawmaking session Tuesday, Galvano asked his colleagues to “let us conduct our business with the discipline to focus on the big picture for Florida, not personal agendas.”

We hope his colleagues were listening.

Online: https://www.orlandosentinel.com/

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Jan. 10

The Tampa Bay Times on the legislature focusing on education and teachers:

This could be the year of the teacher in the Florida Legislature. For more than two decades, Republican governors and legislative leaders have micromanaged their classrooms, evaluated them using factors they could not control and failed to adequately reward them for educating the state’s children. Now Gov. Ron DeSantis has shifted the debate by calling for significant salary increases and a reworked bonus program, and when the legislative session opens Tuesday the pressure will be on his fellow Republicans to deliver.

The governor’s ambitious proposal calls for raising the minimum salary for teachers by nearly $10,000. That would raise the minimum teacher salary to $47,500 and increase the salaries of more than 100,000 of the state’s 170,000 teachers. With a price tag of more than $600 million, it will be difficult to find the money in an era where tax increases are off the table and the state faces pressing needs in areas ranging from prisons to social services. But Florida’s average teacher salary ranks a pathetic 46th in the nation, and it’s past time for the third-largest state to make a statement that it values teachers and public education.

Any bold goal comes with messy details, and this one is no exception. DeSantis has not directly addressed how to ensure veteran teachers are fairly treated and a fair minimum salary does not compress the salary range between beginning teachers and more experienced ones. Teacher pay is set by each school district, not the state. And it’s unclear what would happen to collective bargaining between each school district and its teachers’ union. But those are issues lawmakers can work out if they aim high, and it will be up to the governor to make sure they do.

Continuing to fiddle with a teacher bonus plan is more problematic. DeSantis proposes scrapping the existing bonus plan and replacing it with a “performance pay” plan. But it is a simplistic approach that would tie bonuses to whether their schools rose by a certain percentage on test scores that make up the state’s flawed school grading program. The governor gets credit for proposing to double bonuses at Title 1 schools, which have a high portion of low-income students and need more incentives to attract good teachers to more challenging classrooms. But an outstanding teacher at an under-performing school would not get a bonus, and it’s unwise to create a system that could pit teacher against teacher.

Here’s one idea: Take the money allocated to a bonus program and redirect it toward raising teacher salaries.

Entering his second year as governor, DeSantis is riding high in opinion polls. Unlike his predecessor, he engages with legislative leaders and negotiates so everyone comes out a winner. He has increased the stakes with his bold push to significantly raise teacher salaries, and the next 60 days will test his leadership skills and his ability to deliver on big ideas.

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

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