Opinions Archives - Florida Politics

Blake Dowling: Flying taxis for you and me!

Chip Kelly to Florida as head coach; Jimbo Fischer pursued by Texas A&M.

Kevin Spacey is a predator; UCLA Hoops players shoplift in China (way to go, guys, making America look great. (Isn’t there another U.S. athlete still in jail in China?)

A mistrial for U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, Roy Moore, etc. … crazy, sad, pathetic, fanatical headlines and behavior from Hollywood, Tallahassee, D.C. and everywhere else.

For a change, how about something fun in the headlines?

Flying taxis!

From the team that brought you the Hubble Telescope (NASA) and the jokers at your fave ride-sharing service (Uber), I proudly present what they call … Uber Elevate.

Yes, an automated (unmanned) flying service just for you. We could see demonstrations as early as 2020 and service by 2023.

Details are fuzzy, but there is an epic video on how this concept might work.

Oh, and they make sure to mock all those silly people in traffic as they zoom above it all as they bounce from one Uber Skyport to another. The video really is brilliant.

Watch here:

Uber is partnering with NASA because its wheelhouse is air and space (literally it’s in their name).

With that expertise and Uber’s aggressive approach to R&D, you have a great match.

Can you only imagine the legal red tape associated with this venture? Jump on in, lobbyists, just wait until airlines, charter services, and transportation companies on the ground get wind of this.

Remember when Uber disrupted ground transportation? This will be the North-Florida-Fair-versus-Disneyland comparison. Insurance? Regulations?

Yikes!

We are seeing the tip of the iceberg in regards to automated air transport – with drones starting to be found everywhere.

Throw this into the mix, add a dash of artificial intelligence, and you come up with some serious things to consider.

This is happening now, it will become a reality.

So, buckle up and put your tray table in the upright and locked position.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

 

Curbelo incident demonstrates pettiness of Congressional Hispanic Caucus

Carlos Curbelo is a two-term Republican Congressman from Kendall, just a few miles southwest of Coral Gables. He is the son of Cuban exiles who fled Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

Put those two facts together and you get an Hispanic Member of Congress. Pretty simple, right?

Not for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC).

Based on his demographic provided by his parents and his occupation provided by voters, Curbelo applied for membership in the CHC. Despite meeting the basic qualifications, he was denied admission.

It turns out there is a third requirement: members must be Democrats. On this point, the moderate Republican fails.

Make no mistake, this is the reason Curbelo had the door slammed in his face. Members revealed their partisan motives in a disingenuous statement following the vote.

“The CHC isn’t just an organization for Hispanics; it is a caucus that represents certain values,” said CHC spokesman Carlos Paz. “This vote reflects the position of many of our members that Rep. Curbelo and his record are not consistent with those values.”

Curbelo did not hold back with his response. While it contained a strong dose of hyperbole, he took on the true motives behind his exclusion.

“This sends a powerful and harmful message of discrimination, bigotry, and division,” he said in a statement. “Unbelievably petty, partisan interests have led the CHC to formally endorse the segregation of American Hispanics.”

Over the past couple of months, the whisper campaign said Curbelo was unworthy because he did not sign on as a co-sponsor of the Dream Act. Launched on July 26, this legislation was designed to grant legal resident status to those younger undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country by undocumented parents or relatives.

There is one problem with that roadblock. Curbelo was four months ahead of them.

On March 10, he introduced the Recognizing America’s Children Act, which also would provide the mechanism for permanent residency for those affected. Why would one co-sponsor another bill when he had his own?

So, what were other values Curbelo might have lacked? He must be an ogre when it comes to climate change, one of the key issues that defines the Democratic Party.

It turns out Curbelo is concerned about climate change, too. That’s why he teamed up in February with Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, to form the House Climate Solutions Caucus.

The bipartisan membership is now up to 50. Apparently, the best way to gain admission to a caucus is to start your own.

The Hispanic Caucus wants Curbelo to pay for his support of the GOP tax bill and his vote to replace the Affordable Care Act. Some think he has not done enough to help Puerto Rico.

He is right about the pettiness of the caucus membership. Look no further than the Congressional Black Caucus for the example on how to do it.

Republicans Mia Love was admitted in 2015, as was former Florida Rep. Allen West 2011. Others before, like former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts and then-Rep. Tim Scott (now Senator) were offered the chance to join, but refused.

In other words, they were black and members of Congress, meeting the qualifications for membership.

Why is that so difficult for the Hispanic Caucus to comprehend?

Brecht Heuchan: FHCA ‘wrong on all’ counts

The Florida Health Care Association (FHCA), a nursing home industry trade association, recently attacked my proposed “Resident’s Bill of Rights” amendment to the state constitution saying that it does not belong there, that it “weakens protections for residents,” and that it is “glaringly bad.”

Unfortunately, they offered nothing in the way of evidence to support these claims and are wrong on all. Here is my take:

Heuchan

I cannot count the number of times I have been told one issue or another does not belong in the constitution. When it comes from the mouths of special interest groups it is code for something else.

What they really mean is: 1. they think they have other forums wired in their favor, and 2. they know if voters have a chance to consider the proposal, it would pass.

Make no mistake—rights for residents belong in the Florida Constitution. Our constitution is a place where rights of the individual are protected, especially when it comes to the rights of the vulnerable. As we so sadly saw in the recent, preventable deaths of 14 residents of a South Florida nursing home, the elderly in our society are far too often the most susceptible targets for neglect, abuse, and exploitation.

According to a news account just this week, a hidden camera in a nursing home-room showed a 94-year-old man with dementia being thrown, hit and doused with mouthwash by a facility worker. The man later developed stage three ulcers and bed sores and died.

Is it any wonder the industry opposes cameras in resident’s rooms? We as a society can do better and should demand it.

People that live in these facilities are there necessarily, because they cannot care for themselves. Consequently, they need and deserve the highest levels of protections, and these protections should be free from the cyclical nature of politics and instead guaranteed to residents by the permanency and consistency of the Florida Constitution.

The suggestion by FHCA that the proposed amendment weakens protections for nursing home residents is an ignorant one. It is as if they did not read the proposal, or they have a distorted view of what is in the best interest of residents.

You do not have to be a constitutional lawyer to get this. The plain reading of the amendment is simple and sensible. If adopted by the Constitution Revision Commission and then passed by Florida voters next November, much needed basic rights would be afforded to our frailest and most vulnerable citizens.

The proposal merely says this: Residents of long-term care facilities would have the right to be treated courteously, fairly, and with dignity. They would have the right to adequate and appropriate health care that puts their needs and best interest first.

Residents would have the right to safe, clean, and comfortable living conditions and the right to insist the government does its part to safeguard their welfare. They would have the right to require facilities get meaningful insurance in case something goes wrong. And in the terrible event of abuse, neglect, or death, residents or their heirs would have the right to identify who is ultimately responsible for their harm and hold them accountable.

My proposal clearly strengthens protections for residents of long-term care facilities in Florida; it is obvious to any reasonable person who reads it, and to say otherwise is flatly false. This brings me to my last point.

The FHCA said the proposal is “glaringly bad,” but bad for whom? The FHCA represents facility owners, so we can assume they mean bad for the owners. I do not share that view.

The welfare of residents and the viability of the long-term care industry in Florida do not have to be zero sum games of mutual exclusivity. A healthy industry is in the best interest of residents but not when it comes at their expense.

Thankfully, there are many very good facilities in this state, and the caregivers that work there perform miracles each and every day. But here is the reality, the nursing home industry in Florida is largely a for-profit one.

Undoubtedly, a profit motive encourages efficiencies and innovations and many other desired outcomes. But sometimes the motive for profit in nursing homes is at odds with the objective to prioritize the welfare of residents first. In these circumstances, a Bill of Rights for residents is needed to ensure their safety to the highest degree possible.

Nearly 20 percent of Florida’s 21 million people are over the age of 65, making it the oldest state in the U.S. Approximately 150,000 Floridians live in long-term care facilities in this state, and as the baby boomer bubble hits the hardest, these numbers will exponentially rise along with the cost to care for them.

The Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years to evaluate the Constitution in an effort to prepare our state for the future. In my view, and it is one I believe to be shared by industry and resident advocates alike, is that there are few issues more important or more relevant to the future well-being of our state and its people than how we treat and care for the elderly.

So let’s work to be better.

Brecht Heuchan is a member of the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission.

Joe Henderson: Let’s hope Stu Sternberg was joking

I assume Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg was trying to make a joke Wednesday when he said his organization might come up with $150 million to help pay for a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City that will cost a lot more than that.

I say that because I literally started laughing as I read his quotes in the Tampa Bay Times.

Speaking to longtime Rays’ writer Marc Topkin at baseball meetings in Orlando, Sternberg said, “We’ve tried to make some guesstimates, some estimates on what would be prudent for us, what would give us the ability to take this step in committing to a physical place for another generation or two, and our thought process is it’s probably in the $150 million range. We might find out that’s too much. We might find out that we can afford more.”

My guesstimate is that with a stadium to replace decrepit Tropicana Field hypothetically priced at $800 million, give or take a luxury suite or two, Sternberg and Major League Baseball can’t be seriously thinking of asking/demanding taxpayers to pay the $650 million difference.

As Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan noted, “I don’t know if we’ll ever get there.”

Hagan, who worked with the Rays on potential stadium sites in Hillsborough, was speaking at a commission meeting that was going on at roughly the same time Sternberg made his opening gambit.

I love baseball and believe the Rays are a major asset to the overall community, but it has limits. What Sternberg offered up sounded more like an extortion note than a pitch for serious public-private partnership.

I believe Sternberg knows that, too. He is a smart man.

As long as we’re tossing numbers around, how about these: Major League Baseball’s revenues reached $10 billion in 2016, with a goal of topping $15 billion within a few years. The Miami Marlins just sold for $1.2 billion, much of it driven by the team’s five-year-old stadium that will cost taxpayers an estimated $2.6 billion by the time it is paid off in 2049.

That made a nice return on investment for former owner Jeff Loria, who bought the team for $158 million in 2002. Sternberg bought a 48 percent stake in the then-Devil Rays in 2004 for a reported $65 million. The Rays are worth a lot more now.

Then, there is this: In 2014, Sternberg said that without a new stadium, he would sell the Rays and the new owner likely would move them out of the area.

That would be bad, but if the alternative is a take-it-or-leave-it pitch to taxpayers, my guess is the Rays will be some other city’s problem at some point.

The usual ideas for what laughably is referred to as the public’s “contribution” have been floated — some combination of tourist taxes, rental car surcharges, special taxing districts, user fees, and so on.

There are several problems with all those pitches.

First, the mood in Tallahassee has swung dramatically against using any public money to enrich private enterprise. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has been particularly outspoken on this subject.

Second, even if lawmakers would soften their opposition to such solutions, all those sources combined probably would still fall well short of the amount needed to pay for this.

Everyone knows that.

If Sternberg’s statement is just an opener to get talks started, OK. But if he’s serious about what he says the Rays will pay, then it’s over.

That’s no joke.

Joe Henderson: Teachers deserve raise, but where is the money?

The dirty secret for public school teachers in Hillsborough County, or basically anywhere in Florida, is that the amount they are paid doesn’t cover all the work they do.

Many teachers just shrug at that reality and spend part of their “free time” grading papers, preparing lesson plans, or volunteering at school events because they think it’s the right thing to do for their students.

Well, it looks like that will stop. No more freebie time. We’re about to find out what happens now that Hillsborough teachers say they will do only the work specified in their contract. That means grades could be late, lesson plans could be disjointed, and they’ll be out the door and gone as soon as the final bell rings. See you in the morning.

This is happening because the county school board said it doesn’t have the money to pay a $4,000 raise it promised years ago to about one-third of the estimated 14,000 teachers employed by the nation’s eighth-largest district.

About 600 angry, fed-up teachers showed up at a school board meeting Tuesday to deliver that message. They call it “working the contract” and if they follow through, it could cause chaos in the system.

Teachers are given planning time during the day, but it’s frequently inadequate to accomplish all the requirements of the job. That means taking work home, and hundreds of teachers have shared stories about finishing their job tasks at the expense of family time.

Their reward for this has been a kick in the teeth from the Legislature, which has been focused on expanding private charter schools. Lawmakers allow charters to use tax money for their buildings and they can take federal dollars targeted to help low-income students. That cuts into public school budgets.

That doesn’t account for all the fiscal problems, though.

Student population is expanding as Florida grows. Hillsborough has more than 300 public schools, and the maintenance problems at many of them have been well documented. The district also accumulated about $1 billion in debt for new-school construction between 1994 and 2014.

Add to that the expectation that voters will approve a $25,000 increase in the homestead exemption in 2018, and that will cut into school budgets even more.

And, yes, decisions like the one years ago to partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation proved to be a financial disaster. That’s on the school board.

Guess who got caught in the middle?

Those teachers wore blue shirts in solidarity and chanted slogans at the contentious board meeting Tuesday, but that was never going to get them the money they deserve. They see “working the contract” as the only viable way to get the attention of the people in charge.

As much as I hate to see it come to this, this is only leverage they have. The Legislature’s answer to all the school problems has been for officials to manage their money better, but what’s happening in Hillsborough is way beyond that simplistic solution.

The teachers deserve the raise they were promised, and for that to happen Hillsborough needs to find about $17 million somewhere, somehow. Good luck with that.

This problem is about to get real.

Keyna Cory: What have you recycled today?

There are many actions each of us can take to reduce our environmental impact and support a clean community. One of the easiest actions to take every day is to recycle.

That’s why the Florida Recycling Partnership invites all Floridians to join us when we host Florida Recycles Day Wednesday, Nov. 15 beginning at 9 a.m. at the Florida Capitol – Plaza Level in celebration of America Recycles Day, a Keep America Beautiful national initiative.

This will be the 5th Annual Florida Recycles Day at the Capitol hosted by the Florida Recycling Partnership and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Florida has a recycling rate of 56 percent, which is ahead of the national average of 34 percent. Together, we can certainly recycle more and recycle right.

DEP will launch a new statewide recycling education program RETHINK … RESET … RECYCLE during the Nov. 15 event. We need to RETHINK what we recycle and RESET our behavior to focus on what we RECYCLE. The new FloridaRecycles.org campaign is in partnership with the Florida Recycling Partnership, Recycle Florida Today, Waste Management, Waste Connections, Marpan, and Single-Stream Recyclers LLC and is designed to boost awareness of the top items in a successful recycling program including paper and cardboard, plastic bottles and jugs, and aluminum and steel cans.

Through the simple act of recycling (and buying products made with recycled content), we can continue to “give our garbage another life.” That plastic bottle can become a pair of jeans and that aluminum can become a new aluminum can in less than 60 days.

But it all starts with putting more of the right clean and dry recyclable items into your curbside recycle container – and keeping non-recyclable materials OUT especially plastic bags (take them back to your retailer to recycle), cords and hoses, food and clothing. Remember, when in doubt, it’s better to “throw it out” than ruin your good recyclables.

With this in mind, and as America Recycles Day approaches Nov. 15, the Florida Recycling Partnership wants to thank you for your efforts to recycle – at home, at work or school, and on the go. Join us in our effort to make our state environmentally and economically healthier by recycling more and recycling right.

For more information regarding Florida Recycles Day at the Capitol, go to www.flrecycling.org.

#whathaveyourecycledtoday

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Keyna Cory is executive director of the Florida Recycling Partnership, she can be reached at keyna@flrecycling.org. The Florida Recycling Partnership is a coalition of top Florida businesses and associations with the mission to educate policymakers, other businesses and the general public on the benefits of recycling.

 

Joe Henderson: American Exceptionalism not good in this case

The words American Exceptionalism are generally accepted to mean the good ol’ USA stands alone among the nations of the world.

Supporters say that is a good thing, and for the most part that is true. The freedoms we take for granted here aren’t available in many other corners of the planet.

But, alas, those words also stand for something dire. America is now the only nation in the world that isn’t part of the Paris Climate Accord. There is nothing exceptional about that.

That became fact last week when Syria – SYRIA! – said it would sign the pact that seeks global solutions to the effects of greenhouse gases and other factors that are causing the wild fluctuations in our weather.

We know the consequences of that better than almost any other state in the nation. The tip of the planetary climate sword has struck at Florida the last few years with increasingly deadly results.

Multiple powerful hurricanes hit us, bringing death and billions of dollars in damage. And forecasters said the other day that another La Nina is forming in the Pacific. That likely means a warmer, dryer winter here, which will increase the chances for widespread wildfires like we had this spring.

With that in mind, the Miami Herald reported that Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota just repeated his plea for the United States to remain part of the Paris pact.

In May, ahead of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the global agreement, Buchanan tried to “strongly encourage” the U.S. to keep its commitment to stay in. He repeated that Monday, calling on the president to change his mind.

Good idea.

Opponents scoff at volumes of evidence asserting that the problems are man-made – because, you know, those smart-aleck scientists think they know everything.

Buchanan is not the only Republican who believes the U.S. should join the other nations of the world in this agreement. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose 26th district covers parts of South Florida, including the Everglades, also has been vocal about staying in the accord.

A statement on his official webpage reads: “While we have made great strides in protecting these ecosystems, we must acknowledge the direct threats posed by rising sea levels and the erosion of our coastal communities. A crucial step in the right direction is moving past the debate of whether or not climate change is real and towards solutions that will mitigate its detrimental effect on our communities.”

The Republican Party has been mostly aligned with the scoffers on this issue, but that always seemed like a position of political pandering instead of statesmanship. It’s significant that these two GOP members who broke ranks are from districts that are in particularly vulnerable coastal areas.

Politics goes out the window when flood waters are coming into your living room.

Joe Henderson: Roy Moore and the battle for GOP’s soul

From the moment years ago when Republicans decided victory was worth whatever the cost to their party’s soul, Roy Moore has been lurking out there, waiting for his chance to scream “yeehaw” on the national stage.

Well, he is here now, Republicans. He could still be elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama, even after the Washington Post reported that when Moore was in his 30s, he had multiple sexual encounters with under-aged girls, including a 14-year-old. Polls still show a tight race.

Republicans looked the other way while Moore’s peculiar brand of public policy began gaining grassroots acceptance, including here in Florida, and now they don’t know what to do with him. Denounce him too strongly and a candidate could lose the almighty GOP “base.” Speak softly and they could soon have a pariah in their midst, one dedicated to replace them all with more people who think like he does.

Tough choice, eh? Moore is one of the heroes in a movement where what he says – and how supporters believe he will vote – is far more important than what he does, and how do you deal with that?

Yes, many prominent Republicans, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have called for him to drop out of the race “IF” the allegations are proven true. That’s not exactly a Profiles in Courage stance, given that even though the Post named his accusers, this all happened about 40 years ago.

This is how Republicans believe they have to operate since they fell in line while Donald Trump took over their party (with fewer votes than Hillary Clinton) after a campaign of lies, insults and dark imagery – and maybe with a little help from his BFF Vladimir Putin.

Trump figured, correctly, that the Republican Party would be easier to hijack than Democrats. The new GOP, as envisioned by Steve Bannon, will be filled with people like Roy Moore – gun-waving, rights-trampling, Constitution-spitting fireballs with no regard for any view but their own.

“There’s a coalition coming together that’s going to challenge every Republican incumbent except for Ted Cruz,” Bannon told Sean Hannity. “We are declaring war on the Republican establishment that does not back the agenda Trump ran on. Nobody is safe. We’re coming after all of them. And we’re going to win.”

The wingnut faction of the GOP doesn’t care about law, fairness or diversity. They wrap themselves in the flag and the Bible, but don’t really seem to have a clue what either one stands for.

They believe in their self-righteousness to the exclusion of all else. They see themselves as the only true Americans and patriots. They don’t understand why anyone would be upset over the revelations about Moore.

Is this a good time to mention Moore started The Foundation for Moral Law? It’s true. Try not to laugh.

That group is decidedly Old Testament, finger-wagging “Thou Shalt Not” about the usual things that upset social conservatives. When one of their members is exposed in the way Moore was, they dismiss it as liberal lies.

The more publicity things like this get, the more hardened their stance becomes. Their self-righteousness is reinforced by hard-right outlets like Breitbart, and even if Moore loses and Republicans are walloped in the 2018 midterm elections, the true believers won’t be deterred.

They will blame the loss on a combination of gutless mainstream Republicans and the despised liberal media. They will see statesmanship as betrayal to their ideals. They will view any loss as a temporary setback.

Roy Moore’s supporters in Alabama see this election as another step toward taking their country back from all those liberals, scientists, elitists, Hollywood types and educated smarty pants who stole it. This isn’t a threat as much as it is the plan.

Recent revelations not the only problem with Roy Moore

Florida voters have no say in the race for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. All we can do is watch in amazement and wonder what is coming next.

Alabama’s sitting Senator, Republican Luther Strange (you can’t make this up), was defeated in the GOP primary by Roy Moore, a former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Despite having the backing of President Donald Trump, Strange’s fatal flaw was being branded part of The Establishment.

Moore was expected to defeat his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones. Then came the recent Washington Post story describing sexual encounters with minors nearly four decades ago allegedly involving Moore.

Moore emphatically denies the accusations, but in the era of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and others, the presumption of innocence is seemingly no longer applicable.

For example, in a Friday tweet, 2012 GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney said “Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. Moore is unfit for office and should step down.”

“Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside.”

Moore’s dilemma makes it tough for one of Romney’s former key advisers. Tallahassee’s Brett Doster helped the former Massachusetts Governor win the Florida primary and go on to the nomination.

Doster, a strong conservative and good at what he does, is one of Moore’s top message guys. On the day the story broke, he revealed the campaign’s first general election ad featuring “Military, the flag and jobs.”

Doster is a good guy and a strong conservative who is four-square behind Moore. But he and his colleagues have a Herculean task in front of them.

Just for a moment, let’s imagine the creepy stuff had never surfaced. Even without the accusations, Republicans who believe in the rule of law should have plenty of problems with Moore.

I am among those conservatives who try to live by the 10 Commandments and care deeply about law and order and the Constitution. We are the ones who sometimes profoundly disagree with court decisions, but are obliged to go along because that’s how our system of government works. Plenty of liberals fall into that category as well.

In 2003, Moore refused a federal judge’s order to remove a stone monument containing the 10 Commandments from a government building, leading to his removal from the bench. After regaining his place as Chief Justice, he refused to abide by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision allowing same-sex marriage, which led to his resignation earlier this year.

An individual’s personal view does not trump a promise made with the left hand on a bible and the right hand in the air. Moore took an oath to “support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of Alabama” in that order. He reneged.

These are not 38-year-old allegations. They are present-day facts.

One of Moore’s supporters in the 10 Commandments controversy was the state’s Attorney General, Bill Pryor. But when the judge ruled, Pryor, unlike Moore, was true to his oath.

“As attorney general, I have a duty to obey all orders of courts even when I disagree with those orders,” Pryor said Aug. 14, 2003.

Unless some irrefutable evidence surfaces somehow proving the 38-year-old allegations against Moore, he is likely to try and ride out the storm. Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead.

Trump said that if the charges are true, Moore “will do the right thing and step aside.” If not, there is a month remaining until Election Day.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is talking up a write-in campaign for Strange.

Though a long-shot, that would at least give thoughtful Republicans a place to go. It was Murkowski who lost in a 2010 primary but won the general election in that manner.

The drama playing out is made for Hollywood in more ways than one. If it ever becomes a movie, may I suggest The Life and Times of Judge Roy Moore as the title?

 

Joseph Thornton: Former Florida Death Row doctor with a Veterans’ Day message

Did you know that 18-percent of Florida’s death row is made up of veterans of our military services?

It is an important fact as we prepare to honor those who have served our country this Veterans Day. I have learned from firsthand experience that veterans sentenced to death can help us all to understand some of the failures of Florida’s death penalty, as well as how to improve our justice system overall.

I am a psychiatrist trained at Stanford University with more than 30-years of clinical experience, including 3-years overseeing medical and psychiatric care on Florida’s Death Row.

In our system, for a conviction and execution, a defendant must meet a legal standard of competency at the time of at the time of the crime, during the trial, through the appeals, and right up to the execution. However, even cases where guilt is certain, we cannot be 100-percent certain of mental capacity, yet an execution is a 100-percent final.

There is a better way.

We can learn from veterans and their experience in the criminal justice system.

Take the case of Michael Lambrix, who was executed by the state of Florida last month. Lambrix served in the Army and was honorably discharged after becoming disabled in a training accident. He became involved with drugs, was arrested for murder in 1983, sentenced to death and executed 33-years later.

Patrick Hannon, who was executed by Florida this week, had extensive drug use while in the military. However, neither of these men had the benefit of current intervention tactics deployed by the Veteran’s Administration to care for veterans with a history of trauma and drug abuse.

In response to the growing needs of veterans suffering from trauma and drug use, in 2008 the Veterans Health System established the Veterans Justice Initiative.

Florida now has 2 dozen Veteran Treatment Courts. While under the supervision of these courts the veterans must attend treatment for indicated conditions such a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse. For those with substance use disorders there is periodic mandatory urine drug testing. The objective is rehabilitation and successful adjustment to the community rather than incarceration.

If we truly want to honor those who have served in our military this Veterans’ Day, then we should expand the number of veterans’ courts and the services they provide.

We should also urge the governor to place a moratorium on executions, and not just those of veterans, but everyone on Florida’s death row.

The fact is, almost all of them experienced childhood trauma, drug use and more. The time and money Florida spends on the death penalty can be much better spent on more mental health treatment services, especially for military veterans, who deserve better treatment after sacrificing so much for our country.

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Dr. Joseph Thornton is a psychiatrist with the North Florida-South Georgia Veterans Health System. From 2003 to 2010 Dr. Thornton served as the medical executive director of the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center a maximum security forensic mental health treatment facility in Gainesville. Before that he was the Medical Executive Director at Union Correctional Institution.

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