Opinions Archives - Page 6 of 241 - Florida Politics

Florience Snyder: St. Pete College’s Soviet-style presidential selection would make Vladimir Putin proud

In less pretentious times, St. Petersburg Junior College hired presidents without the help of consultants who make them look ridiculous.

But it’s a “state college” now, and its presidential search is an expensive and entertaining-for-all-the-wrong reasons mashup of Marcel Marceau and The Muppets.

To be fair, variations on the Soviet- stylings of SPC’s presidential search are happening all over Florida. We know more about SPC’s shenanigans because it is among the few “community colleges” where a reporter is paying attention.

Under the understated headline “Discussion is discouraged as SPC searches for a new president, ” the Tampa Bay Times’ Claire McNeill provides this riveting account of the consultant-driven Kabuki presidential search, and the abuse heaped upon anyone who might challenge it.

Observers “sat quietly while members of the college’s search committee drew check marks beside the candidates they saw fit to advance to the final round. In just 20 minutes, without discussion, the top five emerged,” McNeill reports.

Consulting Puppet Master Jeff Hockaday allowed search committee members to come on down!!! and “take turns at the whiteboard, marking those who should advance.”

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

One thing that won’t happen is the kind of meaningful dialogue that ought to occur when hiring a CEO for a school, a business or a well-managed lemonade stand.

The irony was not lost on former trustee Ken Burke.

“We’re here at the Collaborative Labs, but we’re really collaborating by just tabulating our scores,” he told McNeill, referring to the name of SPC’s conference facility in Clearwater. “(Hearing) what other people see in their resume would help me say, ‘Gosh, maybe I read that a little bit wrong, and I may want to adjust something.'”

Communications Department Chair Albert Farr might well have been risking his job in pointing out that the whole point of a committee is to exchange ideas.

But Hockaday, who has led-by-the-nose more than 80 presidential searches, considers such conversation “dangerous.”

Actual educators like Professor Emeritus Maggie Knoop consider Hockaday’s methodology “about as high school as you can get.”

More like second grade, but that’s good enough for trustees such as Deveron Gibbons. Happy to be on Hockaday’s leash, Gibbons can’t be bothered to consider the opinions and information supplied by the faculty and others whose job descriptions do not include attending receptions and rubber-stamping consultants.

Gibbons fulminated about faculty “questioning the integrity of this board.”

“This is not a witch hunt … You are not going to bully this committee,” Gibbons said. “You’ve got people going out trying to be Sherlock Holmes … You can’t be a renegade out here, assuming you have more information than the consultant. … We have to be clean and be careful that we don’t overstep.”

Overstep who?  Sherlock Hockaday?

As the legislative session enters the homestretch, community colleges are under unprecedented and long-overdue scrutiny.  Trustees do their schools no favor in shutting down the voices of the people who do the heavy lifting on campus, teaching the students who fund those $300,000 presidential salaries, along with all the wine and consultant Kool-Aid that the trustees can consume.

Joe Henderson: House just made life a lot more difficult for public school boards, teachers

It’s a good thing the Florida House of Representatives wasn’t in session when Columbus wanted to sail the ocean blue.

Lawmakers would have passed a bill prohibiting the trip because science hadn’t yet proven that the earth was round. Oh, there were those crackpots who said it was, but the representatives of the day would have known better than to let those poor sailors float right off the edge of the flat planet into oblivion.

Alas, the House is in session now and voted 94-25 Thursday in favor of a bill that has been called a science denier’s dream. HB 989 has been pitched as a way for parents to challenge those terrible things in their children’s textbooks, like, you know – reality.

The language of the bill requires that textbooks “be research-based and proven to be effective” along with being “accurate and factual.” It allows residents – not just parents of school kids – to challenge what is being taught in public classrooms.

What’s wrong with that?

That depends whether you embrace fact-based facts or, as someone once said, alternative facts. And that’s the landmine in this bill.

Supporters of the bill, introduced by Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, say this will make it easier for parents to weed out objectionable material. They say local school boards will still have the final say over what textbooks are used.

However, you can expect those boards to spend time dealing with issues like the one reported by the Orlando Sentinel. It told of an affidavit filed by Lynda Daniel of Martin County, who was peeved about a textbook used in an Advanced Placement course.

She wrote that she was opposed to: Presentation of evolution as fact … The vast majority of Americans believe that the world and the beings living on it were created by God as revealed in the Bible.”

Actually, a 2014 poll by Pew Research said that 65 percent of Americans believe in evolution, although 24 percent of that number believe it was guided by a supreme being. But what’s a fact among friends, right?

There are already plenty of alternatives for parents who don’t like what they see in public schools. They can home school. The number of charter schools is expanding.

My goodness, if they live in Southwest Florida their children could attend the Mason Classical Academy – the charter school which Byron Donalds helped found.

But no.

Since this bill would widen the pool of potential objectors to what is being taught, how long until someone shows up demanding that the Civil War be henceforth called The War of Northern Aggression?

How long until they try to force teachers to say it wasn’t about slavery, when all anyone has to do is look at the various articles of secession by southern states to prove that it was?

Literature could become an endangered species. I mean, Romeo and Juliet promoted teen suicide and defiance of parents, didn’t it?

And forget about presenting Muslims as human beings entitled to the freedom of religion guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Supporters of this bill will tell you none of that will happen. They say this is legitimate oversight. All I know is, life is about to get more difficult for public school teachers, administrators and board members. That’s a fact.

Martin Dyckman: On death warrants, Florida governor’s ‘awesome moral responsibility’

When former Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins was nominated in 1964 to head the nation’s new Community Relations Service, South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond opposed him aggressively because Collins had renounced racial segregation.

“…I hope that as long as the good Lord lets me live on this earth I will continue to grow and to recognize changes and to meet the new responsibility as changes require,” Collins said.

The widely-reported confrontation prompted Dessie Horne Williams, a Miami schoolteacher, to write to Collins, recalling a meeting with him five years earlier at the governor’s office.

“(W)e have always thought of you as a kind, understanding man, who feels compassion for human suffering no matter what color the skin of the sufferer may be,” she wrote … You, Governor Collins, are a true” Southern gentleman. May God keep you through the coming trials.”

Collins’s courtesy to anyone he met was legendary. Even so, the Williams letter was remarkable.

On the occasion she described, she and her parents were pleading for the life of her brother, Willie Horne Jr., who was condemned to die for rape. Collins commuted 10 of the 39 death sentences that came to him, but not Horne’s. The prisoner was executed in January 1959. However, Collins had given his family his personal attention and a full measure of compassionate respect.

At the time, though, Ms. Williams had asked a question that struck his heart: “Do you think that my brother is going to die because he is black?”

Collins assured her that it was only because of the brutality of the crime. The victim’s escort, a court said, had been beaten senseless with a tire iron.

But the governor’s conscience was troubled. He knew that had the victim been black or both parties white, the jury almost certainly would have recommended mercy. He tasked his staff to find reasons to repeal the death penalty, and when the Legislature convened a few months later he asked that it do so.

The House committee that killed the bill said that without the possibility of a death penalty, a resumption of lynchings “can certainly be anticipated.”

It was a rare if unwitting acknowledgment of the profound racism that accounts for the South’s peculiar and persistent obsession with the death penalty.

It clearly matters more to the politicians than to the voters. A Florida survey by Public Policy Polling last year found that only 35 percent of respondents favored execution over life without parole. The question was asked in the abstract however, without a politician waving some bloody shirt in the background.

Collins confronted the racism.

“By far the great majority of those to be executed were Negroes,” he said, “and yet only 17 percent of the state’s population were colored. It was a gross travesty on the principle of equal protection.”

Whites are now the majority on Florida’s death row, but blacks are still disproportionately represented. Florida has never executed a white for a crime against a black but one appeal is pending. As of last October, blacks were still the majorities on 12 other death rows, nine of them in the South.

Although the death penalty remains in force outside the South, it is in near disuse except in Florida and other former slave states. The South accounts for 1,180 of the 1,448 U.S. executions since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment 41 years ago, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington. That’s 81 percent. Florida is fourth highest on the list with 92. Texas leads with a staggering 542. Outside the South, however, there haven’t been any since 2014, except for one in Oklahoma.

Race bias was evident in how Florida governors and the state pardon board commuted death sentences between 1924, when Florida first began to keep track of them, and 1964, when executions paused for 15 years.

In a paper published in 1993, Margaret Vandiver, a criminology professor at the University of Memphis, found that blacks condemned for crimes against whites in Florida were executed in 90 of 95 cases. On the other hand, whites whose victims were white received clemency in 22 of 83 cases. Blacks on death row whose victims were black were spared nearly half the time, in 27 of 61 cases. There were no death sentences, hence no commutations, for whites convicted of crimes against blacks.

The disparity was greatest in convictions for rape, which is no longer a capital crime. Of the 40 black men condemned for raping white women during the 40 years Vandiver reviewed, only two got clemency. One was Willie Irvin, of the “Groveland Four,” who had been framed by a racist sheriff. The Florida House of Representatives formally apologized to their families last week. Irvin had exhausted his appeals when Collins drew vehement criticism for commuting his sentence in 1955.

The point is that Collins did commute his sentence, doubting his guilt, and spared nine other men as well. No Florida governor has commuted a sentence since Bob Graham last did so in 1983. In another glaring departure, Florida governors apparently are no longer willing to face or hear from the families of condemned prisoners, as Collins did every time.

I have been trying with scant success to find out how Gov. Rick Scott considers clemency in comparison to how Collins did it. Among the questions I sent his press secretary, Lauren Schenone: Does he accept comments from lawyers for death row inmates? Does he consider each case himself or does he accept the decisions made by former governors whose death warrants were stayed in the courts? Does he consider the trial and appeal process to be essentially infallible?

Her answer was terse, said little, but was revealing in one important respect.

“Signing death warrants is one of the Governor’s most solemn duties. His foremost concerns are consideration for the families of the victims and the finality of judgments. (Emphasis supplied.)

“Our office follows procedures outlined in Rule 15 of the Rules for Executive Clemency on this process,” she said.

Rule 15 shrouds all the process in secrecy and says that the Commission on Offender Review “may” — not shall — conduct an investigation in each case. There is no data on how often it does so. The rule also provides that the Governor and Cabinet may schedule a public discussion, but that practice ceased during Jeb Bush’s term.

The words in italics, “finality of judgment,” suggest that Scott doesn’t care, as Collins did, that the courts might make mistakes with fatal consequences. His conscience is dead to that possibility. Once the legal case is over, that’s it.

That is a profound abdication of a governor’s most awesome moral responsibility.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times and author of “Floridian of His Century: The Courage of Gov. LeRoy Collins,” published by the University Press of Florida. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

If another SCOTUS opening occurs, will Charles Canady get a serious look?

According to Sen. Charles Grassley, the U.S. Supreme Court may need to fill another opening this summer. The Iowa Republican, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, did not name names, but rumors are swirling it could be the Court’s swing vote, 80-year-old Anthony Kennedy.

If that occurs, President Trump will go back to his list of 21 potential nominees, now numbering 20 after the elevation of Neil Gorsuch. Rumored to be on the short list before Gorsuch’s selection was Judge William Pryor of Alabama from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Diane Sykes of Wisconsin from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judge Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania from the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

If those rumors are true, will those three again go to the top? How about some of the others? Also on the Trump list are Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady and Judge Federico Moreno from the Southern District of Florida.

The next nominee will be an appeals court judge or a state supreme court justice. Moreno and Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee are the only two not fitting that description. Moreno’s logical next step is a promotion to the court of appeals.

Will Canady receive serious consideration this time? He has similar educational training to the current Court.

All 9 current justices studied law at either Harvard or Yale (Ruth Bader Ginsburg started at Harvard, but earned her law degree from Columbia). Canady received his degree from Yale, while Pryor came from Tulane, Sykes from Marquette, and Hardiman from Georgetown. Gorsuch attended Harvard and Oxford.

As a former state legislator, four-term Congressman and General Counsel for Gov. Jeb Bush, Canady understands the separation of powers between the three branches of government. He was Chief Justice from 2010-2012 and along with Ricky Polston, comprise the Court’s reliable conservative minority.

If Gov. Rick Scott wanted to bend Trump’s ear about Canady, the President would certainly listen. There is no question Scott and Trump are of like minds on many topics in addition to jobs. Another Trump friend, Attorney General Pam Bondi, could do the same.

On the downside, Canady will be 63 years old in June. Next to Moreno (64) and Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young, who is 65, Canady is the oldest on the list.

Pryor is 55, Sykes 58 and Hardiman is 52. The thought of having someone on the bench for 30 years is an appealing quality for a sitting president.

Confirmation hearings would certainly be lively. Millennials will not likely recall the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, but Canady was one of the House prosecutors. Would Democrats have fun with that?

How about being questioned by Judiciary Committee member Lindsey Graham? The South Carolina Republican was also one of the impeachment prosecutors (known as House Managers).

How juicy would it be for Canady to be tapped and for Charlie Crist to receive some credit for raising Canady’s profile? It was then-Governor Crist who appointed Canady to the Florida Supreme Court.

Perhaps Canady wound up on Trump’s list as a favor to Scott, or the president will actually give him a serious look. No one has retired yet, but that doesn’t stop playing the “what ifs” game in the meantime.

Blake Dowling: Look out for hackers (and the government)

U.S. Rep Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) with gavel and dog.

What now? More breaches. More leaks. Internet carriers selling your data? Hackers coming at us like United Airlines security?

(For an interesting read, see Nader v. Airlines 1972)

So you are worried about hackers, and — of course — the National Security Agency is watching (and logging) you surf on PredictIT.com or Lolcats.com. Or are you stressing because you might be in the World-Check database (bet on it — just by being an elected official, because it may consider you bribable, and, yes, this site was also breached/leaked recently).

Yes. All of that, and much, much more.

The Internet of Things and the Cyber Renaissance (or apocalypse, depending on your point of view) that we are experiencing in 2017 truly has us going where no one has gone before.

This past weekend, I used a vending machine that would not take cash. ACK! Since I only had cash, no Mountain Dew for me.

Is it too much tech? Too much internetting? Too much exposure?

Last week, one of our elected officials had something to say about the internet. U.S. House Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, had some truly amazing advice for his constituents: you don’t have to use the internet if you don’t like it (according to TheRegister.com). Hmmm.

In today’s world, that’s about the same as saying if you don’t like the air don’t breathe it, same with roads and driving.

Hopefully, Jimbo was just hitting the Hendricks a little hard the night before and was having a fuzzy day. If not we have problems. As the powers that be in D.C. look to an era of deregulation, we are going to potentially see internet providers that have very little oversight. With customer service rankings right there with our pals at United Airlines.

We have a lot to watch out for.

The new law Jimbo was defending involved the ability for national internet carriers to sell customer info/history.

Advocates for digital privacy are outraged, as they should; this is the real deal. I don’t want my info sold to anyone, and if ol’ Jimbo is my advocate, it’s not looking good. Don’t we get harassed enough? Say I visit Solider of Fortune Magazine online a couple of times, and I mysteriously get emails wanting to sell me night vision goggles.

I mean I love some good NV hardware but get outta my business.

As consumers, we are constantly stalked digitally. Jimbo and the gang need to get their heads out of their … err … sand and look out for Mr. and Mrs. Citizen.

The big 5 (Comcast, Charter (now Spectrum), Verizon, CenturyLink, and AT&T) have control over approx. 80 percent of the market; most Americans have only 1 or 2 providers to choose.

Some parting words from Dunder Mifflin’s Corporate office, that is practical advice for all things: tech, driving, politics, social media, business, talking, lawn care, etc. … while staying off the internet for a 73-year-old congressman with aides and assistants galore may be practical; it ain’t so good for you and me, peeps.

___

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

Adam Putnam: Florida is a tinderbox, Florida Forest Service works around the clock

In every corner of our state, severe drought conditions have made Florida a tinderbox. Roughly 100 wildfires are currently burning about 75,000 acres, and our Florida Forest Service wildland firefighters are working side-by-side with partnering agencies to battle these fires and protect life, property and wildlife.

On Friday, Collier County had to evacuate approximately 7,000 homes due to a massive wildfire. We’ve not seen fire conditions this bad since 2011, and we have wildfires burning from the state line to Miami.

Current conditions conjure memories of one of the worst years on record—1998, when at one time I-4, I-75, and I-10 were all closed at the same time, Disney World was closed, the Pepsi 400 was postponed, and an entire county, Flagler County, was evacuated. In 2017 so far, more than 130,000 acres have burned due to wildfires. Many homes have been saved, but some have been lost.

My grandfather used to say, “extremes beget extremes.” Some of the wettest El Nino cycles that we have are followed by the driest conditions that are ripe for wildfire. These tough drought conditions are worsened by the abundance of undergrowth—brush and weeds—that grows and thrives due to the heavy rainfall the prior year. With dry conditions, all of it turns into kindling that fuels large and swiftly moving wildfires, whether caused by people or nature.

Recently, I asked Governor Rick Scott to issue an executive order to enable us to use all available resources to combat these wildfires. National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters are assisting our other aircrafts fighting these wildfires. One of the most concerning aspects of these conditions is the last time an emergency order was issued in 2011, it was mid-June. June is typically the peak of wildfire season, so it’s a very serious situation that it’s even earlier in the year that we’re seeing such extreme conditions.

Unfortunately, the two most common causes of wildfire are people. The leading cause of wildfire is human carelessness, such as allowing a debris pile to grow out of control or a spark from an intentional fire to land on dry land and start a wildfire. The second leading cause is arson. We’ve seen a 70 percent increase in arson cases this year compared to last year with 240 cases so far.

Education and awareness are important components of preventing wildfires. Residents should obey county burn bans, which can be found on FreshFromFlorida.com. They can also track current fire conditions on the website and learn how to create defensible spaces around their homes. Most importantly, if evacuation orders are given, residents and visitors should heed those warnings and keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

Combatting wildfires is truly a partnership. When we recently had a fire on St. George Island, our Florida Forest Service firefighters were out there cutting fire lines, bringing down the intensity of the flames, while the local structural firefighters were up against the houses, making sure they were the last line of defense to protect those homes. As a result, no homes were lost in that fire.

We recently had a firefighter overtaken by flames in his dozer in Okeechobee, and Okeechobee County Fire and Rescue were already on the scene and assisted in getting him out safely. Thanks to their swift rescue efforts, our firefighter is safe and in good health. The comradery of the firefighting service is an extraordinary one, and we should all be proud of them.

The Florida Forest Service will continue to work around the clock to protect residents and visitors, property and wildlife from fire. And I encourage every Floridian to do their part to help prevent wildfires and report any suspected cases of arson by calling local authorities. May God bless our firefighters.

Adam Putnam is Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture.

Florence Snyder: Why children die, Part 4 — Clues in the resignation letters

In the wake of two suicides of teenage foster children in their “care,” the “leadership team” of Miami’s “community-based care” agency took their marbles and accrued benefits and went home.

Judging from their whiny, self-involved letters of resignation, the agency’s name — Our Kids — refers to the six-figure people running the place, and not to Florida’s abused, abandoned and desperate for competent adult attention infants, toddlers and teens.

Our Kids’ president, vice president for information technology and chief operating officer have more in common with overprotected rich kids with helicopter parents than impossibly brave kids like Victor Docter, who survived, barely, the “forever family” the state paid to take off its books.

The IT guy, David Harland, presumably does not have any blood on his hands, but he seems to have absorbed by osmosis the stress his “teammates” were feeling due to “[T]he unnecessary challenges our team continues to encounter from a handful of board and ‘community’ members, whose underlying motivation is questionable …”

President and CEO Jackie Gonzalez‘ resignation letter reads like President Donald Trump‘s daily renderings of how much he’s accomplished idespite inept predecessors in the Oval Office and fifth columns in the courts, the Congress, and the CIA.

Gonzalez offers a Top Ten list of accomplishments and marvels at the “enormous improvements throughout the organization and the system of care” in that brief and shining moment that was apparently known in her fevered imagination as Camelot.

Gonzalez brags about Our Kids’ success in getting foster children off the state’s books and into permanent homes. Improvements to the salaries and working conditions of the men and women in the trenches where children’s lives are saved, or not, would be something to brag about.

But Gonzalez and generations of child welfare “leadership” don’t spend a lot of time forcing that issue.

Gonzalez, Harland, and Chief Operating Officer Barbie Toledo are aggrieved by “meddling” of “a small but vocal group” of board members; a state chartered watchdog group; uppity foster parents; children’s advocates; and judges who have had a bellyful of bad lawyers defending bad social work.

Our Kids is under contract to the Department of Children and Families and subject to Florida’s open meetings and public records laws. Yet, it took a formal public records request by the Miami Herald to pry loose the call-in number for citizens and taxpayers to listen remotely.

When not busy not following the public records law, Our Kids’ board is making plans to hire a public relations firm to “help the agency shape and disseminate its message.” Because if there’s one thing foster kids need, it’s better public relations for snowflake leaders who make lots of money, provide no hands-on services, and wilt under scrutiny from a small, vocal minority of people who pay their salaries.

Eric Draper: Florida making smart progress on solar

Eric Draper

On a sunny day in Florida, I watched the American flag rise and fly over hundreds of acres of solar cells. It was an amazing experience to think the million panels I was looking at in Manatee County were replacing energy from conventional fuel combustion plants. Yet this solar field feeding directly into the power grid was not using any water nor emitting pollution. I could not have been more excited.

In recent years, Florida has increasingly lived up to its name as the Sunshine State, with more and more solar panels dotting our landscape. Solar energy makes so much sense for Florida’s natural environment because every watt of solar electricity reduces energy produced by traditional generation.

Growth in Florida’s solar capacity is accelerating largely as a result of large solar power plants Florida Power & Light is building, just like the one I visited in February. On that day alone, six FPL solar plants generated 335 megawatts of electricity — the same capacity as a coal-fired power plant.

Along with saving water and reducing air pollution, solar plants have an additional benefit. The land used to build fields of solar panels can be used to enhance habitats for birds and other wildlife. Fallow land repurposed for solar can recharge groundwater by allowing rainfall to soak into the earth. With so much of natural Florida being gobbled up by development and agricultural uses, I’m for using every acre we can to restore some lost wildlife habitat.

Audubon Florida has long been a proponent of solar power. We were there nearly a decade ago promoting the policy that led FPL to build the state’s first solar plant in DeSoto County, the largest in the country at that time.

On the day I watched our flag fly over the new solar plant, FPL announced one of the largest expansions of solar power ever in the southeastern United States — eight new solar power plants with 2.5 million solar panels that will generate enough electricity to power 120,000 homes by early 2018. Shortly thereafter, FPL furthered its commitment with plans for an additional 1,500 megawatts of new solar under development across its Florida service area.

Each will feed electricity directly into the grid to serve all FPL customers at no net cost.

In support of our clean energy and water conservation goals, and in keeping with Audubon Florida’s commitment to community-based conservation, we are partnering with FPL to advance solar energy while improving the environmental values of the land where the solar plants are sited.

By recommending bird and pollinator-friendly vegetation for the solar plants, Audubon and its local chapters will make these facilities home to wildlife and nature. Audubon already has provided recommendations of native trees, shrubs, grasses and vines.

FPL’s solar energy advancement already aligns with Audubon’s goals. But it is the potential of partnership with local communities to protect and enhance wildlife that says more about FPL’s motivation. They are investing in making these sites friendly for butterflies, bees and birds.

Working together, we can harness solar energy and the power of Audubon’s grassroots community. We can ensure solar power plants not only advance zero-emissions and zero-water-use energy but also benefit the local communities where they are built.

That’s a partnership worth celebrating for Earth Day in the Sunshine State.

___

Eric Draper is executive director of Audubon Florida.

FPL Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center, a 74.5-megawatt solar power plant in Charlotte County, Fla., is one of three massive new solar farms built by Florida Power & Light in 2016. FPL is currently building eight more new solar power plants and plans to add a total of 2,100 new megawatts of new solar over the next few years.
The American flag flies over the FPL Manatee Solar Energy Center in Parrish, Fla. The 74.5-megawatt solar power plant is one of three massive new solar farms built by Florida Power & Light in 2016. FPL is currently building eight more new solar power plants and plans to add a total of 2,100 new megawatts of new solar over the next few years..

 

Mark Holden: A ‘safety valve’ needed for drug mandatory minimum sentencing

William Forrester was 52-years-old, on disability, and suffering from numerous health problems when he was arrested in 2008.

His offense? A pharmacist filled a fraudulent prescription for 120 oxycodone pills.

When he came back the next month to have another prescription filled, which was also fraudulent, the pharmacist called the doctor, who told her he did not authorize either prescription. Forrester was charged with painkiller “trafficking.” He was convicted at trial and sentenced to 15 years in prison, the mandatory minimum sentence for that offense. He will not be released until 2021, a month shy of his 65th birthday.

Unfortunately, Forrester’s story — highlighted in a recent report by the James Madison Institute and Reason Foundation — is not unique. Mandatory minimums have sent thousands of low-level drug offenders to prison unnecessarily since 1999. And though the legislature modestly reformed those sentences in 2014, it’s still possible to be sentenced to decades in prison for comparatively minor drug offenses.

While harsh mandatory minimums were intended to apply to drug kingpins, evidence suggests they are routinely applied to low-level and first-time offenders. A 2012 report by the state’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability found that the majority of inmates incarcerated for these offenses sold roughly the “equivalent to one or two prescriptions.” More than one-third of those inmates — like Forrester — were arrested for just possessing too many pills illegally. The majority had substance abuse problems and were at low risk for recidivism. Nearly two-thirds of inmates incarcerated for painkiller “trafficking” offenses had never been to prison previously.

Incarcerating these low-level offenders is expensive. For the roughly 2,310 inmates incarcerated for these offenses, taxpayers are paying $123,562 per day, or approximately $45.1 million per year. These costs might be justified if mandatory minimums were working, but all available evidence suggests Florida’s drug problem is worse today than when mandatory minimums were imposed in 1999.

The problem with mandatory minimums for drug offenses is that they strip courts of all flexibility in sentencing, even when imposing the minimum results in absurdity and injustice. For instance, Judge Mark Blechman, who sentenced William Forrester, told him his hands were tied. Judge Blechman said, “I have to sentence you to 15 years, and there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. The Legislature has said for this particular crime, we prescribe a fixed sentence.” Make no mistake: Forrester committed a crime, and he deserves punishment. But no one is safer when courts are deprived of all flexibility in cases like his.

One way to fix this problem is by enacting “safety valve” legislation. As described in another recent James Madison Institute paper, a safety valve neither eliminates the mandatory minimum sentence, nor requires judges to sentence offenders below the minimum term. It is a narrowly tailored exception for certain offenders and under certain circumstances.

Several states have safety valves for drug trafficking offenses already. Georgia, Oklahoma, and Mississippi have all passed drug safety valve legislation in recent years. In fact, Florida already has safety valve legislation in place for certain offenses, and for habitual offenders. In these cases, judges may depart below the required mandatory minimum if the sentence is “not necessary for the protection of the public.”

A similar safety valve for drug offenses would allow judges to depart below mandatory minimum sentences for individuals who would be better served by shorter terms or alternatives to incarceration, such as drug treatment. It could also save taxpayers millions of dollars annually without negatively impacting public safety, and would limit the negative unintended consequences created by the status quo.

Florida taxpayers deserve the benefits of individualized and proportional sentencing for drug offenses. That’s why more than a dozen national and state conservative organizations, including Americans for Tax Reform, FreedomWorks, and the American Conservative Union Foundation — have asked Florida House and Senate leadership to pass drug sentencing reform this year. And it’s just one reason many of the same groups support a task force to conduct a comprehensive review of Florida’s criminal justice system.

Florida is not made safer when individuals are deprived of all liberty for years — or decades — longer than necessary. Public safety is enhanced, not threatened, when judges are allowed to make individualized sentencing decisions. State Attorney Glenn Hess of Florida’s 14th Judicial Circuit said it best: “Every case should be treated on its merits … Leave it up to the judge to decide which offenders are dangerous and treat them appropriately.”

That makes sense to me.

___

Mark Holden is senior vice president and general counsel for Koch Industries, Inc.

 

Joe Henderson: What damage could follow as Frank Artiles’ rant reverberates around the globe?

The damage wrought by state Sen. Frank Artiles’ racist rant has ripples that extend far beyond the seats of power in Tallahassee.

All it took to confirm that was to type his “Senator Frank Artiles” into Google. Within seconds, a collection of stories popped up that confirms how much impact the bile from his bigoted psyche had when he called African-American colleagues … aw, you know what he said by now.

You know what else though?

Readers who follow the BBC‘s U.S. and Canada site now know. They know about him from the Houston Chronicle. The Washington Post wrote about it. Minneapolis. Oregon. The Daily Mail in London. It was even news in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

If I wanted to dig deeper, I’m sure I could have found stories about this in many, many other places.

So, consider this: While Gov. Rick Scott is campaigning to spend $100 million on VISIT Florida to market the state for tourism, the word is going out through media that our state senate has a racist member.

That’s gonna leave a mark.

Artiles, as I write this, is defiant beyond belief. Not only does he say he won’t do the right thing and resign, but he seriously says he will run again when it’s time for re-election. I doubt it will ever come to that, but you never know.

Artiles is now a cancer, both in the Senate and on the way Florida presents itself to the world. Even if just a small percentage of the people who read this story change their minds about visiting Florida or moving businesses here, the economic damage wrought by Artiles’ unhinged tongue could be considerable. We have to do it better in the South.

There are racists in every part of this nation, but whenever something like this occurs in the South it just reinforces the notion that we’re a bunch of redneck yahoos still fighting the Civil War. We have our share of those for sure, but we’ve done a pretty good job of reducing their number.

Then, along came Sen. Artiles. Can’t you just hear the tittering tsk-tsk around the globe as the weight of judgment comes down on 19 million people because one guy shot off his mouth?

Don’t believe me?

Just go to Google.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons