Opinions Archives - Page 7 of 241 - Florida Politics

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.

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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.

Steve Hough: Florida’s chance to fix its ‘rigged’ election system

Steve Hough

Florida has a once in a generation opportunity to fix our “rigged” political system via the Constitution Revision Commission.

If you’re like me, you don’t need some expert to tell you about the adverse effects of gerrymandering.

Acrimonious partisan rhetoric, high-dollar campaign financing, and a terrible closed primary system locking out 3.1 million independent voters in our state, has allowed power to shift from citizens to politicians and party leaders.

Every 20 years, Florida convenes the Constitution Revision Commission. It’s a group of 37 political appointees that have the power to put constitutional amendments before the voters in 2018. Coming on the heels of the most destructive and divisive presidential campaigns ever, it’s a welcome opportunity for Floridians to demand the commission help fix our broken elections.

Despite very little notice of the commission hearings, Floridians are packing rooms to speak their minds. In fact, the commission had to move several meetings to larger rooms to accommodate the large crowds.

One of the key topics cited by dozens of speakers: getting rid of the horrible closed primary system that locks out over a quarter of our registered voters and forces politicians to cater to a small fraction of the electorate during the primary, where the majority of races are actually decided. These primary voters are often the most ideologically extreme in both major parties.

As one speaker put it at the recent hearing in Orlando, “When I talk to my young daughter about the presidential election, I’m disgusted by both sides. I don’t hear about how I like this candidate or that one. Instead, people talk about how they hate this candidate a little less than the other. That is abhorrent to American democracy.” He goes on to cite the need for open primaries so that candidates have to connect with all voters, not just the partisan extremes.

Another speaker rose at the Miami hearing to say: “The parties claim primary elections are private elections. But they are paid for by the taxpayers and run by government employees in public buildings on public owned voting machines. So I’m sorry, but their argument doesn’t fly. We can do better.”

The speakers have been a diverse group. They have been men and women. White, African-American, Latino and Asian. It’s truly been a showcase for the diversity of our state.

These speakers are not alone. My organization, Florida Fair and Open Primaries, sponsored a poll of Florida voters along with the national organization Open Primaries and the Florida-based Progress for All. The poll findings mirrored the sentiments of those at the commission hearings: 93 percent of Floridians want their elected leaders to bring opposing interests together to create good policies for the state. 92 percent want their elected officials to put the interests of Florida voters ahead of the interests of their own political party. Most importantly, 70 percent of Florida voters, and a full 74 percent of Florida’s Latino community, favor a top-two open primary where all candidates appear on the same ballot, regardless of party affiliation. All voters will be able to vote for any candidate, with the top two vote-getters moving on to the general election.

The commission will continue these public hearings for some time. It’s critical we keep up this drumbeat at every meeting, and increase the volume.

The time is now. The concern is real. We demand change. We want open primaries.

Commissioners, are you listening?

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Steve Hough is the lead spokesperson for Florida Fair and Open Primaries, an all-volunteer grassroots organization of Florida independent voters.

Florence Snyder: Let’s hope someone loves Frank Artiles enough to get him some help

On a busy day of hearings in a busy week of the legislative session, a south Florida woman wanted a picture of herself and a friend and the rain pouring outside the Knott Building. She scanned the immediate vicinity for a friendly face, and held her iPhone out to Jacksonville’s Audrey Gibson.

Plainly the tourist had no idea that Gibson was a member of an elite, exclusive, and powerful club.

The tourist was utterly unaware that the elegant lady she approached is one of a tiny handful of Floridians upon whom the sun rises and sets in #TheProcess. Most definitely, the tourist had no clue that hundreds of people are paid hundreds of millions of dollars to catch a moment of the time of this woman and her 39 colleagues in the Florida Senate.

Gibson smiled, took the iPhone, and spent a stunning amount of time considering camera angles and composing multiple shots.

This is the gracious public servant that Frank Artiles refers to as a “fucking bitch.” To her face. At the members-only venue where people pay through the nose for a quiet place to eat, drink and do business, and pay extra for private lockers for their personalized cigars.

Artiles has a history of verbal violence toward women, African-Americans, and Muslims. His drunken diatribe Monday at the Governor’s Club is not the first time he has embarrassed himself in a bar. We now know that “pussy” is his go-to insult for a white male lawyer who outranks him in #TheProcess pecking order.

It has been suggested on the Sayfie Twitter Ticker, where some Floridians still get some information, that Artiles. a former Marine, may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Let’s put that one to rest. PTSD doesn’t cause bigotry, but alcohol makes bigots more likely to reveal their pre-existing prejudices.

Artiles didn’t much look like a Marine as he stood on the Senate floor to read an insincere, meaningless apology written for him by some hastily-assembled Committee to Save Artiles Career. The senator from a Diverse Miami Neighborhood shifted on his feet, looking like a rattled schoolboy as he rattled the pages of his prepared text.

When people can’t exercise the control and judgment we expect of a third grader, there is often a medical explanation. Let’s hope someone loves Artiles enough to help him find out.

Joe Henderson: There’s only one ethical course for Senate to take. Ethics? Oh, wait …

If you’re keeping score (and I know you are), Tuesday was a bad day for the Florida Senate. That august body served up a double serving from the “This Is Why People Hate Politicians” buffet.

There was the eye-popping, ear-insulting, are-you-kidding-me story that Sen. Frank Artiles employed the vilest racial insult to describe a pair of African-American colleagues, including the n-word. He called one of them a “f—— a——,” a “b—-” and a “girl.”

He doubled down over adult beverages late at night (senators, take note of the setting and time) to complain to a couple of colleagues that Senate President Joe Negron rose to that position because “six n——-” in the Republican caucus had elected him.

Artiles says he is really sorry.

On that point, he is correct.

Artiles has requested time to formally apologize on the Senate floor, but his speech ought to consist of just four words: “I’m sorry, I quit.”

But there was more Senate buffoonery. The Associated Press reported that the Senate will not consider the sweeping ethics reforms proposed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran on how the Legislature conducts business.

That kills, for now, Corcoran’s gambit to require lawmakers wait six years after they leave office before registering as a lobbyist in Tallahassee

“The Senate has shown us they have expressed zero interest in holding elected officials accountable and draining the swamp,” Corcoran told reporters.

Negron’s comeback?

“The Senate is very committed to the highest ethical standards and we believe that the ethics rules we have in place should be enforced,” he said.

I’ll translate: blah, blah and furthermore, blah.

So, you may ask, how are ethics and racist gutter talk by a sitting senator related?

It goes to perception.

The public already thinks politicians are slimy offspring from a zombie apocalypse. Call me crazy, but I don’t what happened here is going to change that.

Get a hundred people in a room and at least 99 of them would say they don’t like politicians, don’t trust them, and that they’re all on the take.

The last part of that is not true, of course, but the Legislature has helped create its image problem by doing just what the Senate has planned for Corcoran’s bill: closing its eyes, covering its ears, and going “la la la la la la, NOT LISTENING!”

So, as a public service, I offer this bit of sage advice to members of the Florida Senate.

However sincere Artiles’ forthcoming apology might sound (I’m thinking choked-up speech and tears will be involved), don’t accept it. Make it clear that the only acceptable action is his immediate resignation. If he is still in the Senate by the close of business today, that’s too long.

It’s the only ethical choice.

Oh … wait. Ethics. My bad.

Florence Snyder: Richard Corcoran, please show some love to our real life Smokeys

The men and women who take care of Florida’s forests and parks have a serious case of hair on fire, and the Legislature would do well to listen to them.

Trained professional foresters and the people at parks ‘n rec are easily among Florida’s best ambassadors. These stewards of “Real Florida” have been instrumental in attracting tourists since before Mickey Mouse was born, and they work for a lot less cheese.

This crowd is not prone to whining, or crying wolf. It takes a body blow to the budget to make them ask that we think for a moment about the work they do in the places where the wild things try to survive the wildfires that are engulfing the state.

Here’s the map that shows what they’re dealing with. Even Gov. Rick Scott thinks it’s a crisis. Yet the House proposes cutting $10 million — roughly 25 percent — of the current state parks budget.

That’s chump change to the swells and potentates at the Capitol, but in the hands of Florida’s land management professionals, it covers a lot of weed-pulling, lawn mowing, landscaping, and protecting the public from the invasive species that generations of Florida lawmakers never had the wit to do anything about.

More importantly, they are the real-life Smokey Bear, doing whatever it takes to prevent wildfires that increasingly threaten our economy, our way of life, and in some cases, the actual lives of firefighters, park personnel, residents and tourists.

The Senate budget preserves the status quo, but the better-by-far proposal comes from Gov. Scott. He proposes a 17 percent increase to pay for badly needed fire equipment; long overdue road repairs; and a Parks and Community Trails program to encourage families to VISIT places that aren’t in central Florida.

Scott’s budget also includes money to bring Florida’s parks into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That’s the law President Bush 41 signed in 1990 to facilitate inclusion for our kinsmen with “unique abilities.” How is it possible that this still on the list of Florida’s unfinished business?

Florida’s foresters and park personnel are not asking anything for themselves. They simply want the essential tools of their trades, and they should not have to be begging for the basics.

Ewan Watt, Jordan Richardson: Lessons in lockup — what Florida can learn from Texas

Since 1970, the size of Florida’s prison population has grown by more than 1,000 percent, and its corrections system is now the third largest in the nation.

Under the state’s rigid mandatory minimum laws, more people are being sent to prison for a longer amount of time, with an annual average cost of $20,553 per inmate.

Though each state faces its own unique challenges, Floridians would do well to look to its southern neighbor, Texas, for inspiration on how to think creatively about reform.

A decade ago, leaders in Texas were faced with the daunting prospect of spending billions to construct new prisons to house the state’s exploding inmate population. But they took a different path by offering alternatives to incarceration, providing rehabilitation services for drug addiction and creating new pathways to employment.

Texas closed three facilities, saving $1.5 billion in construction costs, and $340 million in annual maintenance. The Texas model has since inspired other states like South Carolina, Georgia, Utah, and Oklahoma to reform their criminal justice systems.

While these Texas-inspired reforms have helped both cut crime and produce a windfall for taxpayers, Florida has remained wedded to a faltering criminal justice system that’s excessively punitive and costly with minimal public safety benefits.

Mandatory minimum laws require judges to impose a minimum prison term if a defendant has a criminal record or is convicted of an offense that meets “certain statutory criteria.”

While the original intent of Florida’s mandatory minimums was to equip law enforcement to pursue drug “kingpins,” the outcome shows something different. A new study by The James Madison Institute in Tallahassee and the Reason Foundation notes that Floridians can face 15 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for trafficking just 25 grams of oxycodone.

The report also reveals that 1,690 individuals “who have no violent incarceration history and are not currently serving a prison term for a violent offense” are incarcerated for offenses related to hydrocodone or oxycodone trafficking.

These sentences not only fail to deter crime, but — at an average cost of $20,553 per inmate per year — they are also extremely costly to the taxpayer. One solution that has been implemented in Georgia and Oklahoma is empowering judges to diverge from the mandatory minimum if certain mitigating factors exist. This move ensures that offenders are treated on an individual basis rather than with a one-size-fits-all sentence.

A person’s ability to find and maintain gainful employment is a strong indicator of whether he or she will remain out of the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, Florida has an environment that often makes it illegal for former offenders to find work unless they have completed thousands of hours of training and paid steep fines—even to become a barber or construction worker.

According to the Institute for Justice, Florida has the fourth-most burdensome licensing regime in the nation, which raises prices for consumers and makes it more difficult for former inmates to get jobs and contribute to society.

A recent Arizona State University study shows that excessive licensing regulations like Florida’s increase recidivism. If the government makes it illegal for someone to become a taxpayer, illicit activity will seem more attractive to that person. Thus, overhauling Florida’s occupational licensing regulations for all is not just an economic necessity, but a public safety one.

The good news is that Florida voters are supportive of the types of reforms necessary to improve the system. Almost 70 percent of voters in Florida agree that “our prisons house too many individuals,” and 74 percent agree that “we spend too much money” incarcerating nonviolent offenders.

Like Texas and other neighboring states that have considered reforms, Florida could begin to tackle such challenges with a criminal justice task force to identify opportunities that would improve its system by lowering both costs for taxpayers and crime rates.

___

Ewan Watt is the director of external relations at the Charles Koch Institute. Jordan Richardson is a senior policy analyst at the Charles Koch Institute.

 

Martin Dyckman: Clemency and Florida’s overbearing ‘politics of death’

He would put it off as long as he could, aides said, and trembled when he finally had to sign a black-bordered death warrant. Despite his profound opposition to capital punishment, LeRoy Collins sent 29 men to their doom during his six years as Florida’s governor. He was in anguish each time.

To some people, that example casts a poor light on Aramis Ayala, the state attorney for Orange and Seminole counties, whose announced decision to seek no death sentences is the crux of an unprecedented battle in the Supreme Court with Gov. Rick Scott and, now, the Florida House of Representatives.

But it is Scott and five of his predecessors who come off worse in comparison with the totality of Collins’s record. The awesome power to commute death sentence has been a dead letter in their hands.

Collins, however, was unafraid to exercise that power, and he commuted 10 death sentences to life in prison, nearly one in every four that came to him.

No Florida governor has granted clemency to any death row inmate since Bob Graham last did so in 1983. The six sentences that Graham commuted comprise Florida’s entire total since the death penalty was restored in 1976. There have been 76 executions since then.

Meanwhile, 276 condemned men and women have been spared by executive action in 22 other states — including Alabama, Texas and Louisiana — and the federal government.

In Florida, however, what New York’s Gov. Mario Cuomo aptly called “the politics of death” are so overbearing that Gov. Lawton Chiles could not get the necessary majority of the Cabinet to agree with him to spare Danny Doyle, a mentally retarded murderer from Broward County. The outcome was a curious compromise: to postpone Doyle’s clemency hearing for 25 years. Doyle remains on death row. The unconventional reprieve expires this year.

The U.S. Supreme Court has since forbidden the execution of mentally retarded inmates but left it to the states to decide who is sufficiently retarded. Gov. Rick Scott, an avid advocate of the death penalty, could conceivably sign the death warrant that Chiles forestalled in 1992. On that occasion, Doyle’s fate was debated in a public meeting, but Gov. Jeb Bush put a stop to discussing death row cases in the sunshine. Bush, Charlie Crist and now Scott have never offered any reason for denying clemency other than to say they found no grounds to overturn the verdicts of the courts. That simply means they haven’t been looking hard enough.

Throughout history, kings, presidents and governors have been the courts of last resort for prisoners who have exhausted their legal appeals. However, they act or not, largely unbound by any rule of law and subject to no appeal. Clemency is regarded as an “act of grace” that requires no explanation for being granted or denied. Florida’s Administrative Procedure Act explicitly excludes it.

It is hard to understand or excuse why Florida’s most recent governors have refused to spare anyone. Perhaps they have believed that the judiciary is infallible. But it is not. Jurors make mistakes, prosecutors don’t have to explain why they seek death in some cases and not others, and killers can sell out their less culpable co-defendants to save their own skins.

The system is so rule-bound that an inmate can lose his life because an attorney did not make an objection or file an appeal at the right time.

In 1993, even as he voted with a unanimous court to allow the execution of Larry Joe Johnson, Florida Justice Gerald Kogan decried “the problems inherent in applying procedural bars to death cases.” Florida, he said, “will electrocute a man injured and most probably maimed psychologically while serving in his nation’s military in Vietnam and elsewhere. This will happen even though it is clear that, had this case been tried today, the procedures used in the trial court … would have been self-evidently defective … The record, in this case, leads me to the disturbing conclusion that the legal system has failed to give Larry Joe Johnson even one particle of credit for his honorable service to his country or for the injury and disability he suffered while in the armed forces of the United States.”

Kogan’s cry from the heart prompted Chiles to withdraw Johnson’s death warrant for more study, but he signed another one after an expert who had diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder changed his opinion. Johnson died.

A governor who might fear political consequences from showing mercy should consider the courage Collins displayed in December 1955 when he and the Cabinet spared the life of Walter Lee Irvin, a black man who had been twice condemned for raping a white woman in Lake County. Collins was contemplating a campaign for re-election in a climate supercharged by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to ban racial segregation in the schools. The judge in the case and the sheriff, a notorious racist, did everything they could to hurt Collins politically, but he was re-elected.

“In all respects my conscience told me that this was a bad case, badly handled, badly tried, and now on this bad performance I was asked to take a man’s life. My conscience would not let me do it,” Collins said.

Subsequent investigations showed that Irvin and his three co-defendants, two of whom had already been shot dead, were most surely innocent, framed by the sheriff. It wasn’t even clear that a rape had taken place. Two legislators from South Florida are now trying to pass a resolution affirming the innocence of the “Groveland Four.”

Irvin, who lived long enough to be paroled, would have died in the electric chair but for a governor whose conscience defied the politics of death.

In a subsequent column, I’ll write more about Collins and about the remarkable litigation between Ayala and Scott.

___

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

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran’s invite to Bill Nelson a stick in Rick Scott’s eye, maybe more

There were all kinds of messages being sent to Gov. Rick Scott late last week at the Florida House of Representatives.

The one from Democrat Bill Nelson, a three-term U.S. senator, can be summed up in two words: game on.

Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran had his own two-word message for the governor. I think I’ll leave it at that. Is loathing too strong a word for how those two feel about each other?

Whatever the interpretation of the message, the invitation to Nelson from Corcoran to address the House was intriguing, given that Nelson could face Scott in a bare-knuckle brawl for the 2018 senate race.

It gave Nelson some free airtime on a no-lose issue at a time when Scott’s poll numbers are surging.

His effusive praise of Corcoran for the courageous stand he’s taken with all of those children who are all buriedat the infamous Dozier School for Boys in north Florida” allowed Nelson to look like someone willing to work with everybody for the greater good.

Corcoran came across that way as well, just in case he decides to run for governor in 2018.

Unless …

Corcoran decides to go after Scott for the GOP nomination.

Say what?

That speculation is gaining traction, given the Republican field for governor likely can be winnowed down to “Adam” and “Putnam.”

As a senate candidate though, Corcoran could be the darling of cost-cutters everywhere. He has stood in the legislative doorway to block Scott’s favored programs for business and tourism incentives.

Republicans consider Nelson vulnerable and will pour every nickel they can into the effort to unseat him. And Corcoran is amassing quite a reputation for changing the way business is done in Tallahassee.

It won’t be easy.

Even though a lot has changed since Nelson swamped Connie Mack IV by 13 percentage points in 2012 and much of it hasn’t been good for Democrats, he has made sure to shore up the home front while in office.

He frequently returns to the state to touch base with voters and was a vocal advocate for congressional funding to combat the Zika virus and to address the environmental mess known last summer as the algae bloom.

Just as Republicans will roll out the war chest to unseat Nelson, so Democrats likely will spend what it takes to keep an important seat from going into GOP hands.

That brings us back to Corcoran’s invitation to Nelson. It was a sharp stick in the eye of the governor, one possibly designed to fuel the kind of speculation we have in this column.

Corcoran, a crafty chap, undoubtedly knew that.

He got his wish.

But if his aim is to run against Nelson eventually, why give his rival the chance for free feel-good publicity?

Because he could.

Florence Snyder: Why children die: B.A.B.Y. Court works, but Florida prefers to pay for things that don’t

Planting pinwheels may “raise awareness” of child abuse, but the hard and labor-intensive work of preventing child abuse goes on in places where skilled professionals collaborate to do more difficult things.

One such place is Orange County’s B.A.B.Y. Court. There, Circuit Judge Alicia Latimore offers lollipops to toddlers and tots who have suffered the trauma of abuse or neglect. That’s the fun part. The judge’s serious, life-changing work is to closely monitor the progress of the teams of social workers who help mitigate the long-term damage that predictably follows when pre-verbal children suffer harm at the hands of adults who were supposed to protect them.

B.A.B.Y. Court was incubated at the Florida State University Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy, where “lessons learned” is more than a leaf of word salad tossed into a news release every time a child dies in “state care.” Dr. Mimi Graham and her colleagues are Florida’s head cheerleaders for evidence-based methods of “trauma-informed care.” In the hands of appropriately educated professionals, it is entirely possible to break the intergenerational cycles of abuse, addiction and mental illness that break spirits, drain public treasuries and kill children who could have been saved.

Florida’s social welfare system is stuck in the mid-20th century, where caseworkers in the trenches receive little pay and less respect from a rotating cast of “leadership teams.” Failure is not only an option, it’s inevitable in a system that hasn’t had a new idea since the Graham administration, and isn’t trying very hard to fund programs that will give taxpayers a significantly better ROI.

Judges like Latimore who preside over dependency court dockets of despair say that B.A.B.Y. Court has helped close the revolving door through which families re-enter the child welfare system. The average cost-per-child of getting it right the first time is $10,000, and right now, Orange County has room in the budget for a paltry 10 cases at a time.

The Department of Children and Families, by contrast, has room in its budget for a “communications team” that includes nine flacks and a “Creative Director.”

That says a lot about what we value. And what we don’t.

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