Guest Author – Page 5 – Florida Politics

Guest Author

Brandon Arnold: Florida wins by modernizing NAFTA

Trade officials from the Trump administration recently wrapped up the sixth of seven scheduled rounds of discussions with counterparts from Mexico and Canada to revise and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

President Donald Trump stated that if the process doesn’t go to his liking, he’ll pull the plug on the deal altogether. That would be a huge mistake. While modernization policies would improve NAFTA, the trade agreement has been a huge success in Florida and across the country, creating millions of jobs and boosting the economy for all Americans.

NAFTA was controversial back in 1993 when it was signed by President Bill Clinton and approved by bipartisan majorities in Congress, including Floridian Republican Sen. Connie Mack and Democratic Sen. Bob Graham.

While Trump has called NAFTA “the worst trade deal in the history of the world,” withdrawing would have enormous consequences. There hasn’t been enormous support on either side of the aisle for full withdrawal from NAFTA, but even the suggestion from the president is concerning.

According to new research from the Business Roundtable, terminating NAFTA would come at an extraordinary cost for the country. The total short to medium term job losses would be between 1.8 and 3.6 million. More than 200,000 jobs could be at risk in Florida alone.

The damage to economic output would be staggering — GDP would fall by an estimated $119 to 231 billion per year. Florida’s state economic output would drop by at least $6.3 billion — partly because ending NAFTA would reduce Florida’s exports by $980 million.

Rather than scrapping NAFTA, U.S. officials should continue to work with our trading partners to update and modernize the deal. Indeed, there is plenty of room for improvement. The original pact was crafted in the early 90s, before the advent of the digital economy and the formation of large tech companies like Google and Amazon.

Trump’s trade negotiators can score significant wins for American businesses — especially those in the tech sector — by establishing rules that permit the free flow of data across international borders. Further, a new NAFTA should prohibit any data localization requirements that have the potential to impose unnecessary capital costs on our domestic companies.

Additionally, U.S. negotiators should use this process to pressure Mexico to liberalize its state-owned enterprises. For instance, our neighbors to the south should rein in various subsidies to these entities that give them an unfair advantage relative to private companies.

Our officials should also encourage Canada and Mexico to let more low-priced imports enter duty-free. For example, in the United States, goods that cost less than $800 are not subject to import taxes. In Canada, it’s just $20 (Canadian).

Aligning this threshold with U.S. policy could be a tremendous boon for many U.S.-based businesses, as it would allow our companies to export low-dollar goods to neighboring countries without paying duties or completing bureaucratic paperwork. This would mean faster shipping times, more efficient logistical processes, and lower costs for businesses and consumers. These are but a few of the improvements that could be made to NAFTA — assuming our negotiators are earnestly trying to update, not eviscerate the deal.

On the campaign trail, Trump often threatened a drastic departure from our long-standing commitment to free trade. Now that he’s been in office for over a year, thankfully, we’ve yet to see the president implement many major protectionist measures.

A continued commitment to international commerce has helped the economy grow — especially when paired with deregulatory policies and Trump’s pro-growth tax reform plan.

As Florida’s economy expands, creates jobs, and pushes wages upward, residents and businesses should keep a close eye on how the Trump administration handles trade policy. There are certainly gains to be made by modernizing existing deals, opening up new foreign markets, and leveling the playing field for American businesses.

But extreme actions like withdrawing from NAFTA could be calamitous and undo many of the economic gains our nation has made recently.

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Brandon Arnold is the Executive Vice President of the National Taxpayers Union, a nonprofit citizen group whose members work every day for lower taxes and smaller government at all levels.

Amy Mercer: It is not illegal to threaten a school shooting in Florida

Just days ago, 17 people, mostly teenagers, were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. There were warning signs, and one of them was an online posting under the shooter’s name that dictated “I’m going to be a professional school shooter” on a YouTube video.

These types of threats can be a critical indicator that intervention is necessary in an individual’s life to prevent violence to others. However, under current law, these kinds of threats are not illegal. Individuals can literally post online the time and location of a planned mass shooting, and individuals cannot be prosecuted.

In 2014, a Sarasota teen posted on Twitter “Can’t wait to shoot up my school,” and “It’s time. School getting shot up on Tuesday,” with a photo of a gun being placed in his backpack. In 2016, an appellate court found there was not enough to prosecute him under the current law.

Shockingly, it is not illegal to threaten mass shootings like at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Florida. Senate Bill 310 would change that.

SB 310 will allow law enforcement to act on a broader range of threats, including those made on social media. The bill makes it a third-degree felony to create and send certain written threats, including electronic communications, to kill or do great bodily injury.

There is a misconception that a law like this is already on the books and that law enforcement can assess, and take action, on threats made online. Although online threats have the potential to be an extreme danger to our communities, law enforcement officers’ hands are tied when they try to act on non-specific threats made through digital platforms. The warning signs aren’t missed, they just don’t have the tools we need to act on them.

In the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, it is critical that we pass this legislation. Gov. Rick Scott has made it a priority to enhance criminal penalties for threats to schools including those made through social media in Friday’s release of his priorities to combat school shootings. We need to move with urgency, just two weeks remain in our regular legislative session.

Law enforcement officers need the tools to protect our schools and our communities in today’s digital age. This bill allows law enforcement to do their job and act on the warning signs.

This bill is supported by a bipartisan group of legislators looking to give law enforcement more authority to keep us safe.

Now is the time to act.

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Amy Mercer is the executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. The Florida Police Chiefs Association is the third largest state police chiefs association in the United States. It is composed of more than 900 of the state’s top law enforcement executives. FPCA serves municipal police departments, airport police, college and university police, private business and security firms, as well as federal, state and county law enforcement agencies. The FPCA has members representing every region of the state.

Brian Mast: I appreciate assault weapons. And I support a ban

The most important and unregrettable time of my life was the 12 years I spent in the Army. I became a bomb technician because I wanted to save lives.

I nearly gave my own life for that — I lost both my legs and a finger when a roadside bomb detonated beneath me — and have known more heroes than I can count who died defending others.

When I was with others on the battlefield and we saw a chance to save a life, we didn’t have a meeting about it; we acted immediately. I never worried about becoming a casualty myself.

Now, as a Republican congressman from Florida, I don’t fear becoming a political casualty, either. If we act now by changing laws surrounding firearms and mental illness, we too can save lives.

Most nights in Afghanistan, I wielded an M4 carbine and a 0.40-caliber pistol. The total barrel length of my M4 was approximately 14 inches with Trijicon ACOG sights, as well as an infrared laser. I usually carried 10 magazines stacked with 20 rounds of 5.56-millimeter ammunition each.

My rifle was very similar to the AR-15-style semi-automatic weapon used to kill students, teachers and a coach I knew at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where I once lived.

I have fired tens of thousands of rounds through that rifle, many in combat. We used it because it was the most lethal — the best for killing our enemies.

And I know that my community, our schools and public gathering places are not made safer by any person having access to the best killing tool the Army could put in my hands. I cannot support the primary weapon I used to defend our people being used to kill children I swore to defend.

The truth is, most gun owners are responsible sportsmen and collectors who enjoy shooting recreationally, like me, or want to protect their home in the way they see fit. I am a longtime member of the National Rifle Association. My grandfather bought me my first NRA membership when I was young, and I have the same pride he and many Americans feel at being responsible gun owners, becoming excellent marksmen and joining in the camaraderie of hunting.

We are Americans and we like to be the best; we should never lose this trait. The AR-15 is an excellent platform for recreational shooters to learn to be outstanding marksmen. Unfortunately, it is also an excellent platform for those who wish to kill the innocent.

I conceal and carry a 9-millimeter pistol most days because I know the threats, and I don’t want to die because I am unprepared to return fire.

I also know that I am made less safe by the threat of tactical rifles. I am confident I can eliminate an active shooter who is attacking with a pistol because the attacker would have to be close to me. But the defense my concealed 9-millimeter affords me is largely gone if the attacker is firing from beyond 40 yards, as he could easily do with the AR-15.

No firearm is evil. Guns are tools that fulfill the intent of their users, good or bad. But we’ve seen that the rifle of choice for many mass shooters is the AR-15.

The Second Amendment is unimpeachable. It guarantees the right of citizens to defend themselves. I accept, however, that it does not guarantee that every civilian can bear any and all arms.

For example, the purchase of fully automatic firearms is largely banned already, and I cannot purchase an AT-4 rocket, grenades, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle or an Abrams tank. I know that no single action can prevent a truly determined person from committing mass murder, and I am aware of other ways to commit mass murder, such as bombings and mass vehicular slaughter. Not being able to control everything, however, should not prevent us from doing something.

Therefore, I support the following:

Defining what constitutes an assault or tactical firearm and not allowing them for future purchase — just as we already prohibit the purchase of fully automatic firearms. The exact definition of assault weapon will need to be determined. But we should all be able to agree that the civilian version of the very deadly weapon that the Army issued to me should certainly qualify. I would not support any version of a ban that results in confiscating existing legally owned firearms.

Ensuring that every firearm purchaser has a background check. We also need to improve the background check system.

Banning the sale of accessories and add-ons that circumvent the ban on automatic firearms and increasing the ages at which individuals can purchase various categories of firearms.

Ensuring that those who have been detained for mental illness, or have been ordered by courts to receive treatment for mental illness, cannot purchase firearms.

Ensuring that someone who is being looked at as a possible terrorist, through a system of due process, cannot purchase a firearm and that any person threatening to shoot or blow up a school, in word or on social media, is placed on an FBI watch list for a long time.

Providing behavior detection training to anyone seeking a Federal Firearms License.

Making substantial resources available to schools, at their discretion, for security measures, including the opportunity to purchase enhanced security screening, install classroom panic buttons wired directly to law enforcement and hire additional school resource officers.

Holding the FBI and state agencies accountable for their failures to identify a threat like Nikolas Cruz, as well as ensuring that schools enforce basic security protocols to prevent access by unauthorized personnel.

And finally, conducting further research into the nexus of gun violence, violence in mass media and mental illness.

The president, House of Representatives, Senate, every state legislature, sheriffs, police officers, school boards, students and parents must unite with one mission: that no one will ever be murdered in school again.

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Brian Mast represents Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

Perry Thurston Jr.: No joke: The ‘Punchline State’ makes history for something good

Thurston, Perry, SD 33
Perry Thurston Jr.

Florida just made history as the first state to have an African-American represent it in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statutory Hall Collection.

By approving HB 139 and its SB 472, the Florida Legislature chose to replace a statue of a Confederate Army general Edmund Kirby Smith with one of Mary McLeod Bethune, an iconic figure in American history whose influence was felt far beyond the borders of the Sunshine State.

The decision to place a statue of Bethune in the Capitol is significant. There are currently no statutes depicting black Americans in the National Statutory Hall Collection, and Bethune will only be the 10th statue to depict a woman in a collection that still has more statutes commemorating Confederate officers (12) than women.

The selection also demonstrates how state leaders came together to avoid what could have been a debilitating controversy of race. Instead of simply removing the Smith statute from the U.S. Capitol, lawmakers agreed to relocate the statue to Tallahassee and “make it available for public display,” thus avoiding false claims of “rewriting history.”

The truth is Bethune embodies the best of Florida and the fact that an overwhelming majority of state lawmakers thought her accomplishments were worthy enough for this high honor bodes well for a state that is too often maligned for its eccentricities.

For a moment, forget the “hanging chads,” the weird crimes involving sex, scams or machetes, and the other antics that have made Florida a favorite punchline for comedians and late-night television hosts.

Now our state can boast of a political achievement that brought men and women from different races, cultures, and family histories to forge an agreement that now separates Florida from the rest of the country.

Of course, it helps to have an iconic historical figure that can foster pride and unity. Florida is blessed to have such a person in Bethune.

As a child, Mary McLeod wanted to be a missionary but turned her attention toward education when the Presbyterian Church rejected her application to serve in Africa. Her dream of opening her own school brought the young teacher and her husband, Albertus Bethune to Daytona Beach, where she established a school for black girls.

The school would grow and become Bethune Cookman University, one of three private historically black colleges and universities in Florida that is recognized nationally as a prominent historic black university.

On the national stage, Bethune became the most prominent black woman of her time. In 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women, a forum for black women to secure human rights and social justice. She was also appointed to several national commissions by three U.S. presidents and became an adviser of Franklin Roosevelt.

Replacing Smith, a St. Augustine native who became a general in the Confederate Army, with a statue of a black woman did not come easily, particularly for a state where the history and traditions of the old American South are still held dear.

Florida was indeed fortunate to have had a process established by a 2016 law to replace the Smith statue with one selected by a state panel that reviewed the names of several prominent Floridians before finally selecting Mary McLeod Bethune for the statuary hall collection.

Bethune’s likeness soon will join that of Dr. John Corrie, a Florida physician who is considered the father of refrigeration and air conditioning.

Her presence in the Hall Collection will speak volumes of Florida’s values and serve as a model for other states to follow.

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Perry E. Thurston Jr. is a Democrat who represents Senate District 33 District. Thurston sponsored the Senate bill to place the statue of Mary McLeod Bethune in the National Statuary Hall Collection.

Bob White: Our rights to life and liberty are secured by our right to keep and bear arms

Like many of you, I have been praying for those that were murdered or injured in Parkland, as well as for their families and the community. Our hearts are broken for them.

The grief and sorrow being experienced by this community is no doubt crushing to their souls and we should continue to lift them up in prayer as they live in the aftermath of this tragedy.

We should continue our prayers for the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School family and for the Parkland community, but we must do so as we now come to grips with how this happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again!

What happened in Parkland has not changed my position on government-mandated “gun free zones” one iota. If anything, it has made my resolve to protect our citizens even greater. I have walked the walk in the gun rights debate in Tallahassee, advocating for open carry, campus carry and the elimination of government-mandated gun-free killing zones.

Anyone interested can review my platform position on this issue at www.bobforflorida.com.

The sad truth is that what happened in Parkland could have and should have been prevented.

As reported in the USA Network newspapers, “Long before authorities accused Nikolas Cruz of killing 17 people at his former high school in less than five minutes, state social workers, mental health counselors, school administrators, police and the FBI received warnings about his declining mental state and penchant for violence.”

The FBI has admitted that it received these warnings weeks in advance of this tragedy, failed to recognize the threat and did not forward the information to the Miami field office for investigation.

This systemic failure on the part of the FBI and multiple other government agencies led directly to the massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School..

As I write this article workshops organized by Gov. Rick Scott are taking place at the Florida Department of Education (DOE), the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Florida Sheriffs Association “to discuss ways to keep Florida students safe, including school safety improvements and keeping guns away from individuals struggling with mental illness.”

These workshops are a good idea.

I have no doubt that there are physical improvements that can be made that will make our schools safer. Regarding mental illness, to be brutally frank, a serious discussion regarding how we handle and fund treatment for mental illness in Florida is long overdue and not just as it relates to keeping firearms out of the hands of those that are “struggling with mental illness.”

What a travesty that it took this tragic loss of life to begin this discussion.

However, make no mistake. It is not a cliché, but rather a cold hard fact that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Gov. Scott and the Florida Legislature, for the protection of our students, faculty and staff, must now come to an agreement and proscribe by statute, the specific conditions under which the concealed carry of firearms will be allowed in our public schools, by faculty and administrative staff that choose to do so. We should also consider allowing retired law enforcement officers willing to volunteer their services to act as plainclothes school resource officers available to back up uniformed school resource officers at every public-school campus.

It is maddening that these are not new ideas.

Various versions of school security legislation have been introduced in recent years in the Florida Legislature that would have provided for local school districts to adopt these kinds of security measures, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. We cannot wait any longer.

We need school security measures in place at every school that includes active shooter response plans and additional training and education for members of faculty and staff with concealed carry permits that volunteer to carry on campus.

In our communities at large, those of us that are comfortable doing so, must adopt the mindset that we are our own first responders.

I have the utmost respect for the men and women that serve our communities as law enforcement officers. But they cannot be everywhere at once. It’s been said that you can always count on the police to be there in minutes when seconds count.

That’s not a knock on law enforcement. It’s just reality, as so tragically proven at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

Never again Florida. Never again!

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Bob White serves as the chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Florida and is a Republican candidate for Governor.

Jill Beitscher Fox: ‘The look’

And there it is. The look.  The look I knew I would see.

And I will get it again and again, from this moment forward.  I just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

As my family checked in to our hotel tonight, after two nights of choppy, if any sleep, countless hours spent wandering around aimlessly in a state of daze and confusion, and an exhausting day of traveling.  It was happening now.

But at this moment, this moment that I knew would take place; I was still caught off guard …

The sound of the news helicopters brings back memories of my days in the feed room at NBC and watching the chopper land right outside my window.

In those days, the news was bad, and I saw horrible things. Sheets draped over motorcycle crash victims way too often, a car chase flying down a highway at ungodly speeds, a child laying lifeless in a dirty swimming pool.

However, when you see it that often, it becomes routine. It’s terrible to say, but you get used to it.

Only this was so incredibly different. Maybe it was the eight or so years that have passed, maybe it’s that this time it’s in my backyard, but this is unforgettable.

I’m living in a heartbroken community where everyone in a state of shock, a sea faces with bloodshot eyes, undone hair and traces of mascara, each person looking like they haven’t slept for days, and have obviously been crying.  Endless alerts from residents’ phones with social media updates about victims and constant texts from friends and family with their concerns.

Shaking voices as people tell their stories … whom they knew or knew of, a girl from their synagogue, their daughter’s dance class or the neighboring gated community.  Seeing my neighbors so overcome with emotion that they don’t know what to do next, pacing around our cul-de-sac, screaming in agony in their driveway with cars coming and going at all hours, this is our new reality.

I’m not going to claim that I know how this or any of the affected families feel because I don’t, and I have been thanking God for that as much as possible. But for my husband, and me watching it from just a few doors down put it in perspective.

My son at 8-years-old and just a few days got to experience his first candlelight vigil.  He sat on his daddy’s shoulders as if he was watching a concert, crowded in the same amphitheater where he was handed his football trophy just a few months ago.

He mentioned how he wanted a better look at the lighted angels on the stage and referred to them as “decorations,” as only my son would do.

He listened to the names of the victims read one by one, different members of the community bawling after the senior class president, so thoughtful and composed, announced each one. He observed the 17 sky lanterns fly off into the distance, but I’m not sure he realized what they stood for. He wanted to play in the park, and I had to tell him no.

This wasn’t the time.

We were there to pay our respects to the victims and their families.

 I’ve heard many refer to this experience as surreal.  And I guess what they say is true. You never think it’s going to be you. Well, this one was too close to home. This IS my home.  And even though I’m not close to any of those directly affected by this tragedy, I look at the pictures of the victims and their families, and I ache for them.

I look at them, and I see my family.

A photo of a mom and dad, a son and daughter, a dog or two, and a Star of David around someone’s neck. That’s my family a few years down the road.

The city I live in, our community where we joke about our silly “Parkland problems” will never be the same.

People poke fun of Parkland’s affluent neighborhoods with our fancy cars and golf carts, but if they could witness the outpouring of love and generosity that I’ve seen during the past few days, they would change their views of our Parkland community.

We did drive our golf cart to the community vigil because we knew parking would be an issue, and I wanted to get home to my 4-year-old as quickly as possible, because now I am unsettled when my children are out of my sight.

There is now an underlying sense of fear, and until it subsides a bit, I want my family together, all in one place.

I no longer have to refer to my community as “a little south of Boca” or “pretty close to Coral Springs.” From now on, I know when I say I’m from Parkland, I will get “the look.”  That look of terror in their eyes and shock on their face.

And then, there will most likely be a follow-up question. The same question I asked my neighbor just one day ago: “Did you lose someone?”

But I’m the lucky one. I’m the one that gets to answer with a sigh of relief.

No, thank God. My family is safe.

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Jill Beitscher Fox, a wife and mother of two, is a Parkland resident, a professional producer and PR executive.

Joshua Simmons: Stop the posturing, do something about assault rifles

Like many of you, I have spent the last two days mourning the tragic loss of life at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a loss of life that was caused by an assault rifle legally purchased in Coral Springs.

This community lost daughters, sons, siblings, husbands, cousins and friends. Feb. 14, 2018, will forever be remembered as the day our collective hearts were shattered by this act of horrific gun violence. But now, it is imperative that the emotions felt on that Wednesday are not forgotten and that the lives lost are not in vain.

When the cameras, media attention, tweets and social media stop, the hurt will remain, and we must continue to be there for the families, students, and faculty who have been affected.

We must be there to support those who face a long road to recovery, both from physical wounds and the invisible trauma from the horror our young people and their families experienced.

Here I am writing, and yet I know that there are absolutely no words that will make these families feel better. No words that will take away their pain.

It is crucial that in addition to our sympathies, speeches and platitudes that we also take real, tangible steps to spare another community from experiencing this tragedy.

People look to their leaders in times of crisis and pain. Now is the time for our leaders to act, and bring about changes that will end to these senseless acts of violence.

We are calling on our leaders to bring us into a future where children and teachers no longer fear entering school grounds, and one where parents do not live in fear that a midday text from their student is a text alerting them to yet another active shooter on campus.

Time and time again, Federal and State Governments have failed to protect our children and teachers when it comes to gun violence and mass shootings.

This is not a partisan issue; it is not a political issue. I am not speaking from a partisan position, I am not speaking as a candidate, I am talking as a heartbroken teacher and resident of Coral Springs.

I am speaking as a football coach, and I am speaking as a friend, neighbor, family member. In the coming days and weeks there will be numerous debates concerning what caused these horrific attacks, and so far there has been one obvious common denominator: The AR-15, a high powered, military-grade assault rifle that has absolutely no reason to be in civilian hands.

Even more surprising to me, is that an AR-15 is easier to acquire than a standard handgun.

For years, the abilities of municipalities across Florida to rid our state of the scourge of gun violence through local measures has been undercut and attacked.

Well, if this isn’t a time to take a stand as the municipality of Coral Springs, I do not know when that time will be.

Our legislature has repeatedly turned a blind eye to mass shooting attacks in this state, and I am done waiting. I call on us to band together and take a stand, now, and am asking other cities to join us.

The most recent perpetrator of another mass shooting purchased his AR-15 in Coral Springs, not more than 10 minutes from where I work and live.

I write this to urge the Coral Springs City Commission to ban the sale of all AR-15 weapons within the city limits.

If they see fit, place a ban on all assault rifles, weapons that have been commandeered as an instrument of mass death.

This is not a matter of the left, right or center. This is about protecting our families, our students, and ensuring that every individual that calls our country home, has the opportunity to live out the American dream.

Let’s stop the posturing, and let’s do something.

This is where I stand — for my community, and for the students that I have the privilege of teaching every single day.

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Joshua Simmons is a teacher at Coral Springs High School.

Scott McCoy: Children do not belong in adult jails

More than 1,100 children were prosecuted as adults in Florida last year — taken from their homes, removed from their schools, and locked up in adult jails.

Although children’s brains are still developing, and they cannot fully understand the consequences of their actions, our criminal justice system treats some of them like grown adults. They receive adult punishments that will forever diminish their employment, educational and housing opportunities.

Florida tries more children as adults than any other state; almost all are transferred to the adult criminal justice system at the sole discretion of prosecutors, without the opportunity to even ask a judge to review the decision. Though any child, regardless of age, can be prosecuted as an adult in Florida, most cases involve children who are 14 to 17 years old — mainly high schoolers.

These children should be learning how to drive, applying to colleges, or worrying about who they’ll take to prom. They should not be in the adult criminal justice system, where the primary goal is punishment — not rehabilitation.

Children should be kept in the juvenile justice system — where they belong — so they can benefit from education, counseling and other programs that will make them more likely to succeed.

Jails aren’t equipped to provide these programs, and they particularly don’t offer adequate education. The Southern Poverty Law Center released a report this week titled “Destined to Fail: How Florida Jails Deprive Children of Schooling.” The devastating findings show how children have limited or no access to their legal right of schooling when they are housed in adult jails.

In adult jails, children are sometimes held in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day and are denied access to education. Some children receive nothing more than worksheets — sometimes without a pen or pencil to complete them.

Children who go to adult jails are less likely to receive a high school diploma — further limiting their job opportunities and chances for financial stability. Children tried as adults are also more likely to reoffend than their peers in the juvenile system. This threatens public safety and increases incarceration costs for taxpayers.

Especially troubling is the disparity in the rate of adult prosecutions for black and white children across Florida. While black children make up only 22 percent of the state’s high school student population, they accounted for 64 percent of children sent to the adult criminal justice system last year.

It is time for our lawmakers to intervene. The Legislature is considering bills that would begin to at least limit the number of children who are prosecuted as adults.

SB 936 and HB 509 would set age parameters and reduce the offenses eligible for adult transfer. The proposed legislation would also implement judicial oversight and provide children a way to return to juvenile court.

We cannot throw away the futures of our children and our communities. The adult criminal justice system is no place for a child.

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Scott McCoy is the senior policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center and is based in Tallahassee.

Thomas McMillan Jr.: Attack on oil and gas industry is attacking private property rights

Companion bills SB 462 and HB 237 seek to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and other forms of well stimulation in Florida. Supporters of the bills claim that a ban on fracking in Florida would not impact the state’s existing oil and gas industry.

This is simply not true.

If the bills are passed, they would negatively affect Florida’s oil and gas industry, now and in the future, by eliminating jobs for Floridians, lowering state and local revenues and royalty payments to mineral owners — all of which amounts to a massive attack on private property rights.

These bills attempt to solve a problem that does not exist. Hydraulic fracturing — aka fracking — does not occur in Florida. But if it did, Florida would not be unique: The Energy Information Administration recently said that 69 percent of all oil and gas wells in our country are safely completed using hydraulic fracturing.

And after spending tens of millions of dollars and five years studying the issue, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency essentially reached the same conclusion.

In order to develop Florida’s natural resources, which are predominantly oil, the industry has been using well stimulation techniques — although not fracking — safely for decades. And these techniques include the use of chemicals, which are an important, routine and necessary part of the development process that is already strictly regulated to allow operators to safely develop Florida’s oil and gas resources.

The bill’s authors understand that chemicals are used every day by Floridians to maintain their pools and more importantly, by municipalities to clean water wells in Florida. Why else would they specifically direct their bills against the oil and gas industry but expressly exclude all other wells?

The effect of banning routine practices that have been safely used for decades by Florida’s oil and gas industry would be real and immediate. It would stop development of and investment in new wells in its tracks.

With no available method to improve well performance, a ban would cause existing production to drop to nothing over time. Mineral right owners would receive lower payments as production declines. Aggrieved parties would have no other recourse but to turn to the courts for compensation.

This isn’t a possibility or a threat — it is a fact — and anyone claiming that these ban bills aren’t a ploy to stop the oil and gas industry altogether is either lying or incredibly misinformed.

As America’s fourth largest consumer of energy, Florida must do better than banning the development of a resource upon which we rely so heavily.

We have been safely developing Florida’s oil and gas for decades, and hope that you will see this ban as the political ploy by activists that it is.

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Thomas E. McMillan Jr. is president of the Florida Independent Petroleum Producers Association, Inc.

Jeff Kottkamp: ‘Catch and release’ proposal for criminals a bad idea

Jeff Kottkamp

We are currently having an important discussion in our state and nation about criminal justice reform. This discussion generally focuses two issues: the length of sentences for nonviolent criminal offenses and creating a criminal record (especially for juveniles) for what was essentially a stupid mistake.

Some are using this important discussion to push more radical ideas like eliminating the bail system. In place of bail, they want to simply release criminals give them a reminder call to show up to Court.

Those pushing this radical “catch and release” idea make two broad assertions that are less than accurate. The first assertion is that there is no proof that the bail system works. In fact, the use of bail has successfully been used in the criminal justice system for as long as we have been a country.

The bail system was brought to our country from England where it has been used for over 1,600 years. If you open your Bible to Acts 17:9 you will even see a reference to bail — and that was in A.D. 50!  The bail system has a long history of success.

The other bald assertion is that thousands of people are sitting in Florida jails for the sole reason that they can’t afford bail. That is flat out not true. You can get a bail bond for even small amounts of money and bail bondsmen will also take payments.

In almost every instance someone who claims they are in jail because they can’t afford bail has either been to jail so many times that they have burned every bridge with family, friends and acquaintances — or they have a mental illness and they are in jail because their community doesn’t have enough mental health beds. Money alone is almost never the reason someone is sitting in jail.

The “catch and release” experiment of trading bail for a reminder telephone call system has been tried — and failed — all around the country. Generally, it results in a simple equation: no bail = no show.

The problem has been particularly bad in Texas. In Harris County, after a Federal Judge ruled they couldn’t hold poor misdemeanor defendants in jail while awaiting trial — 45 percent of defendants failed to show up for trial. The costs associated with the waste of Judicial resources, not the mention the manpower costs to find and bring in the “no shows” is in the millions.

A University of Texas study shows that 30 percent of Dallas County misdemeanor defendants failed to appear in court after doing away with bail. Again — no bail = no show … with a hefty price tag to boot.

The current law in Florida is comprehensive and has two guiding principles. First, the purpose of bail is to ensure the appearance of criminal defendants at trial. The second purpose of bail is to protect the community against danger from criminal defendants.

The guiding principles of the current bail law in Florida are right on the mark — especially as it relates to public safety. Governments first and foremost responsibility is public safety. When it comes to criminal justice reform — keeping our citizens safe must always take priority over what is convenient for criminals.

The bottom line is this — the bail system in Florida works. We should keep it.

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Jeff Kottkamp is founder and president of Jeff Kottkamp, P.A. He served as the 17th Lieutenant Governor of Florida.

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