Florida editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times on U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio owing voters answers regarding the firing of his chief of staff:
Sen. Marco Rubio has some explaining to do. He suddenly flew to Washington and fired his chief of staff for violating “policies regarding proper relations between a supervisor and their subordinates” but refuses to provide more information. This is a public office, and Florida voters deserve more answers.
Without mentioning his name, Rubio announced shortly before that he had fired his chief of staff, Clint Reed. The four-paragraph statement offered no specifics and made clear none would be forthcoming. But Reed is no obscure staffer. He was Rubio’s top staffer in his Senate office over the last year, managed Rubio’s presidential campaign in Iowa and Florida, and oversaw his re-election campaign. Reed’s status is more than enough reason for voters to know more about what exactly was going on in the office of one of their U.S. senators.
There are signs it wasn’t good. Rubio apparently learned of Reed’s conduct Friday afternoon and said in the statement “these allegations were reported directly to me.” He said he began an investigation with his general counsel. Rubio wrote, he had “sufficient evidence to conclude” Reed had violated office policies and “this led to actions which in my judgment amounted to threats to withhold employment benefits.”
What exactly does that mean? How many people were affected, since Rubio wrote about “those impacted by this conduct” will have access to services? Who knew about the behavior, and who kept it quiet? How can voters be sure at this point Rubio did not previously know about it? Rubio won’t answer, and he lashed out at reporters who asked questions.
That is simply not good enough. If Rubio hasn’t noticed, the nation is engaged in a deep conversation about sexual harassment, sexual assault and the exploitation of women in all sorts of work environments. Congress is no exception. Members of Congress such as former Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and former Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, both Democrats, have resigned following accusations of sexual harassment. Two Republican House members who settled sexual harassment claims against them with public money have announced they will not seek re-election. At the State of the Union address tonight, some women members of Congress plan to dress in black and bring survivors of harassment as guests to focus even more attention on the issue.
Of course, it’s more likely that Rubio is keenly aware of the #MeToo movement and moved remarkably quickly to reach an abrupt decision and limit the damage. His statement did not mention sexual harassment, but it said his office planned to inform the appropriate congressional offices on Monday and make sure his staffers had “access to any services they might require now or in the future.”
Congress has a bad record of dealing openly with sexual harassment. News reports indicate the House secretly paid $115,000 to settle three sexual harassment claims between 2008 and 2012, bringing to $199,000 the total amount known to have been paid from a fund controlled by Congress’ secretive Office of Compliance since 2008 to settle four claims. There is far too much confidentiality. A 1995 law requires harassment complaints against members to be handled in secret. That makes it nearly impossible to hold members accountable, or even to account for how much public money is being used to pay off victims.
Rubio should provide more information about why he acted so quickly to fire his chief of staff and details regarding the accusations so voters can determine for themselves the severity of the situation and whether the senator reacted appropriately. He insists he is protecting his staffers, but his abrupt action over the weekend and lack of candor indicates he also is focused on protecting himself from any fallout.
Ocala Star Banner on a committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission rejecting Proposal 95:
In a welcome vote that was too close for comfort, a committee of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission on Friday rejected Proposal 95.
The proposal, by commission member and Republican state Sen. Tom Lee, is designed to radically restrict locally based government. It would most likely generate extensive and expensive litigation, and would definitely diminish both public access to locally elected officials and the ability of local government to respond to community-based needs and conditions.
Although the public did not clamor for such a proposal during the commission’s hearings around the state, it was filed by Lee, a real estate agent and home builder as well as a legislator.
The state constitution calls for a 37-member commission to review Florida’s guiding document every 20 years and, possibly, propose changes for the consideration of voters. Proposals approved by the commission will be placed on the November 2018 general election ballot. In order for a proposed amendment to pass, at least 60 percent of the votes cast must be in favor.
Last Friday, the commission’s seven-member Local Government Committee rejected the proposal 4-3. Three dissenting votes were cast by commissioners working in local government and the fourth by a high-ranking member of the state attorney general’s office.
Unfortunately, one member of the minority maneuvered to “temporarily postpone” the proposal, meaning it could be reconsidered. If it resurfaces, we hope it’s again rejected.
Proposal 95, which seeks to amend Section 6, Article 8 of the Florida Constitution, reads as follows: “Regulation of commerce, trade, or labor. — A county, municipality, or special district may only regulate commerce, trade, or labor occurring exclusively within the respective entity’s own boundaries in a manner not prohibited by law. A regulation enacted by a county, municipality, or special district may not intrude upon or impede commerce, trade, or labor across the respective entity’s boundaries.”
The point of the proposed amendment is clear — to dramatically limit the ability of counties, cities and special districts to create local ordinances, regulations and zoning codes.
But Proposal 95 is so vague and broad that it fails the fundamental test of a constitutional amendment: clarity.
If this initiative were endorsed by the committee and the Constitution Revision Commission, and placed on the November 2018 ballot, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for voters to know the meaning of “intrude upon or impede.” Voters would be left to guess how “commerce, trade, or labor” would be defined. The proposal appears to create the potential for immense confusion and significant litigation.
An analysis by the commission’s staff points to the likelihood of lawsuits: “Courts may be required to determine the scope and reach of this language in its current form.”
Proposal 95 is yet another assault on the longstanding principle known as “home rule,” which enables local governments to enact ordinances and regulations without, in most cases, interference by the state Legislature. That sensible principle has been embedded in the Florida Constitution since 1968.
The committee and the commission have enough to do: Let the 4-3 vote against Proposal 95 mark its demise.
The Palm Beach Post on a needed push on an ex-felon voting amendment:
Thanks to a public groundswell, Floridians now have a historic chance to erase a racist vestige of Jim Crow and restore rights to more than 1.5 million of our fellow citizens who, despite having served their sentences for felony convictions, cannot vote.
Last week, the petition drive by the political committee Floridians for a Fair Democracy surpassed 766,000 signatures. With that strong show of support, November’s ballot will include a proposed constitutional amendment to automatically return civil rights to felons once they’ve served their sentences, including parole, probation and restitution. It wouldn’t apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses.
Those signatures are heartening. But the momentum can’t stop here. It’s going to take effort to get a 60 percent “yes” vote in an off-year election season and with a ballot stuffed with other amendments, possibly confusing or fatiguing voters.
The change is long, long overdue. Florida is one of only a handful of states, alongside Iowa, Virginia and Kentucky, that permanently bar all felons from voting. In Florida, ex-cons can retrieve their rights only if they complete an arduous, yearslong, case-by-case review by the governor and Cabinet. Only a few succeed.
The result is voter suppression on a mass scale. Of 6.1 million felons who remain barred from voting in the United States, more than a quarter are Floridians. More than 10 percent of voting-age adults in this state cannot vote. That includes, amazingly, 1 out of 5 African-Americans.
It all goes back to the days after the Civil War when defeated Confederate Florida did its best to keep its newly freed slaves away from the polls. The 1868 state constitution stripped felons of the right to vote, while Florida, like other Southern states, passed a slew of laws “essentially intended to criminalize black life,” according to writer Douglas Blackmon.
Florida has grown since then to become the third-most-populous state in the Union, modern and vibrant in almost every way. But that lifelong voting ban remains. In effect, felons in Florida, unlike almost everywhere else, can’t pay back their debt to society by serving their sentences. There is always more debt to pay.
It’s the height of unfairness.
Charlie Crist, when governor and then a Republican, tried to amend all this in 2007 with executive clemency rules that automatically restored voting rights for those who served sentences for lesser felonies. Within a year, more than 155,000 felons got their rights back.
But his successor, Rick Scott, a more conservative Republican, rewrote the rules in 2011, and made Florida perhaps the toughest state in the country for felons to regain their rights. Felons must wait an additional five to seven years after completing their sentence, which includes any parole and probation, before they’re eligible to apply to have their rights restored. Ex-offenders must be crime-free during those years, and the application is tedious. Now, some 12,000 are waiting in line.
The Post Editorial Board repeatedly has advocated that Florida join the rest of America and give second chances to felons who have totally served their sentences (excluding murderers and sex offenders).
And because everyone wants a safer society, the campaign for restoring rights should be a bipartisan one. The Florida Parole Commission found, in a 2011 study, that for felons who have their civil rights restored, the recidivism rate was 11 percent. The usual recidivism rate was 33 percent — three times as high.
Voting restoration will be Amendment 4 on November’s ballot. That’s a big step forward. Now the real work begins.