Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Excerpts from editorials in Florida newspapers

By The Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 1:38 p.m.
Here are excerpts from editorials in newspapers in Florida:


Oct. 6

The Miami Herald, on how Florida Senate should approve shield law bill with or without White House help:

The Obama administration's efforts to impede Senate approval of a law designed to protect reporters from punishment if they refuse to divulge confidential sources are both surprising and utterly disappointing.

As a candidate, Sen. Obama endorsed the "media shield" that allows courts to decide whether a confidential source deserves protection. (So did Sen. John McCain, the Republican contender.) As a senator, Mr. Obama co-sponsored an earlier version of the bill that the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering.

Now that he's the decider, Mr. Obama has developed cold feet. Last week, he let lawmakers know that he wanted the bill changed in a way that would cripple key provisions on when and how to invoke protections for reporters and their sources. This would gut the essential provisions of the proposed law.

No one disputes that there are instances when the government should have the right to compel information to safeguard the public. That is why all versions of the bill offer a qualified, rather than absolute privilege, with courts providing meaningful judicial review to determine when the "media shield" should come into play.

It also requires prosecutors to make reporters the last stop, not the first stop, for finding the source of information. More important, it offers a balancing test that weighs the needs of the government for information against "the public interest in gathering news and maintaining the free flow of information."

Mr. Obama apparently decided he didn't want any of this after meeting last week with his national security team. The administration has proposed changes that would eliminate the balancing test in cases deemed "significant" to national security. Judges would be instructed to be deferential to government claims about the significance of a leak.

These changes would turn reporters into government accessories, answerable to prosecutors instead of the public. Judges have never been noticeably partial toward reporters when national security issues are raised, so it's hard to see why the administration would oppose independent judicial review. These proposals stack the deck in favor of investigators instead of obliging them to prove their case - always convenient when your case is weak.

The Judiciary Committee should quit trying to work with the White House and approve the bill as is. A version has passed in the House. That would oblige President Obama to openly oppose the media shield he once favored or veto it when it comes to his desk.

Ideally, he would embrace a bill he once backed.


On the Net:


Oct. 6

Ocala Star-Banner, on how Florida lawmakers should focus on sales tax revenues than cutting millions of dollars on education:

It is perplexing that Florida lawmakers would knowingly let $2 billion or more in sales tax revenues slip through their hands year after year at the same time they are cutting billions in education, health care and public safety dollars because of declining tax collections.

But that is exactly what is happening in our state as the Legislature repeatedly sidesteps changing its own laws and pressing Congress to change theirs so the state can begin collecting sales tax on Internet sales. And with online sales growing at a much faster pace than those of traditional brick-and-mortar retailers - online sales rose 6 percent last year, even in a down economy - the untapped tax bounty is only likely to grow.

The latest effort to reap Internet sales taxes is being led by state Reps. Kurt Kelly, R-Ocala, and Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee. They have introduced a resolution calling for Congress to enact a law requiring retailers to collect sales taxes from customers not physically located in the same state as them. Congressional action is necessary to override a 1992 Supreme Court ruling prohibiting such collections under existing law.

It is inexplicable that Florida has been so resistant to going after Internet sales tax dollars. It is patently unfair that Florida businesses who sell items from storefronts must charge 6 percent more than for the same item bought online. And with anywhere from one-third to one-half of all Americans now shopping online regularly - and growing - it is simply fiscal folly to continue to ignore the issue, especially at a time when the state is facing another year of draconian state funding cuts.

Congress, meanwhile, needs to finally come into the 21st century and recognize that, increasingly, states are losing important tax dollars - sales taxes represent about one in three state tax dollars in Florida - and pass a uniform national law for the collection of online taxes. Their action would supersede the Supreme Court ruling.

Some in Tallahassee and Washington, of course, will argue that this tax reform is a tax increase. Hardly. It merely is collecting taxes that already are due the people of Florida. More to point, it is merely the fair and fiscally prudent thing to do, to put traditional retailers and online retailers on a level playing field.

Kelly and Vasilinda are right to bring this issue to the table - again. We urge them not to quit pushing it. Fair is fair, and as things stand, they are not fair to traditional businesses or the people of Florida.


On the Net:


Oct. 5

The Palm Beach Post, on the delay of FPL's request for a billion dollar annual rate increase:

As usual, Gov. Crist is grandstanding on Florida Power & Light. This time, though, he's got a point.

On Friday, the governor asked Public Service Commission Chairman Matthew Carter to delay a decision on FPL's $1.3 billion annual rate increase until the new commission takes over in January. A day before he sent the letter, Gov. Crist replaced Mr. Carter and Commissioner Katrina McMurrian. The terms of their replacements begin in January.

Hearings on the rate request began in August, and the commission was supposed to rule in October. But a series of ethics controversies has distracted and embarrassed the commission. Last spring, Ms. McMurrian attended a private dinner with utility executives whose cases she was about to hear. Staff members admitted to attending a private party at an FPL executive's home and giving an FPL lawyer back-channel access.

We editorialized that Ms. McMurrian should not rule on the FPL case. On Monday, she went one better and resigned. For that reason, it might make sense for the current commission to decide the FPL rate case. In fact, there are more reasons why the next commission should do so.

First, Ms. McMurrian's resignation makes possible a deadlock among the remaining four commissioners. Second, because the controversies have delayed the FPL rate hearing - three more days of testimony remain - the decision already has been split. On Dec. 21, the current commission is supposed to decide whether FPL will get all or part of the company's request, or will owe customers refunds, as the Office of Public Counsel has argued. On Jan. 11, the new commission would decide how any rate increase would be collected. Finally, a commissioner who voted with the majority on Dec. 21 could ask for reconsideration on Jan. 11, and the new commission could undo what the old commission did.

Admittedly, the two new commissioners would have to be quick studies. The FPL rate case will have taken 15 days of hearings, one of which went until 11 p.m. Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, who represents consumers before the commission, estimates that there will be "tens of thousands of pages" of transcripts. A decision might not come until March.

Still, there is precedent for commissioners ruling on cases on which they did not sit. This commission is so tainted that a new look would be more credible. Also, the Office of Public Counsel argues persuasively that, despite the company's claim, FPL could not raise rates automatically on Jan. 1 while waiting for the commission to rule. Doing so, Associate Public Counsel Joseph McGlothlin said, would violate a rate-freeze agreement FPL signed in 2005.

Gov. Crist said, basically, that he would decide whether to keep Commissioners Carter and McMurrian if they rejected FPL's request. That was irresponsible. Though he's again seeking political points, this time, good politics is better policy.


On the Net:


Oct. 5

The Tampa Tribune, on citizens demanding change for the death penalty:

Who would shed tears for John Couey, the notorious child killer who died last week of cancer?

No one, except perhaps those who still mourn Jessica Lunsford and who believe her killer got off easy.

Indeed, men who rape and murder children make the case for the death penalty. There are some crimes that are so egregious, so malevolent that state-approved execution retributive justice is not only understandable, but necessary.

Think of Danny Rolling, executed by lethal injection three years ago for the 1990 murders of five students in Gainesville. Or triple murderer Oba Chandler, who sits on death row for the 1989 murders of an Ohio mother and her teenage daughters.

Or serial killer Oscar Ray Bolin, who viciously killed three women 23 years ago and, after nine trials and eight death sentences, continues to plague the system with postconviction appeals.

The legacy of men like these hurts the cause of those who would change the state's system of capital punishment or do away with the death penalty altogether.

And it's in large part why lawmakers tend to shun reform efforts meant to assure citizens our system of capital punishment is fair and consistent.

But three years ago the Florida Death Penalty Assessment Team made recommendations that should not have been ignored, and death penalty experts, both pro- and con-, have renewed calls for change. They met last month in Tallahassee to discuss the recommendations and develop strategies to see them put in place.

It's a good time to press lawmakers. Capital punishment is not cheap. The Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment, says it costs Florida $51 million more to house death-row inmates than murderers sentenced to life without parole. With the state financially strapped, the cost of death row should be part of the discussion.

And although Florida demands stringent qualifications for trial lawyers in capital cases, the state caps attorney fees at $3,500 for postconviction appeals, discouraging all but the most inexperienced attorneys. Lawmakers should set a more realistic fee schedule.

Finally, it's important to note that while Florida has executed 68 people since 1976, it has exonerated 23 inmates on death row more than any other state. This statistic certainly suggests our system isn't perfect.

Citizens demand only one thing before the state invokes the ultimate penalty unfailing certainty that the person is guilty. Reforming Florida's death penalty system is the surest way of ensuring it can administer the ultimate penalty to the Coueys, Rollings, Chandlers and Bolins of the world.


On the Net:

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