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Editorial Roundup: Florida | National Post


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Orlando Sentinel. April 18, 2024.

Editorial: Stifling transparency will damage trust between police, community

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State lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis should be working to find ways to bridge the gulfs of fear, anxiety and distrust widening between many Florida law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

Instead, DeSantis just signed a pair of measures that could only serve to deepen those dangerous disconnections. HB 601 strips away the ability of civilian review boards to consider complaints about individual officers’ misconduct. SB 184 allows police and other emergency workers to order bystanders to maintain a distance of at least 25 feet or face a charge of “impeding, threatening, or harassing first responders.”

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Neither is needed. Supporters of these two bills never managed to identify examples of review boards run amok (though one of the sponsors of HB 601 claimed he knew of multiple cases) or situations where bystanders, or the cellphone video they often record, resulted in an innocent officer being accused of wrongdoing.

When he signed the bills in St. Augustine last week, DeSantis parroted the same speculation of review boards harassing officers who have done nothing wrong. “They’ll set up these things called citizen review boards, usually in these very-tilted-politically jurisdictions,” DeSantis said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “They’ll stack it with activists, and they’ll just start reviewing things and trying to put people under the gun even if there’s no basis to do that.”

That’s manifestly untrue. In fact, a review of the cases Orlando’s civilian oversight board looked into over the past year reveals that the board almost always exonerated the officers involved — and that officers benefited from broad protection under Florida’s so-called police officers’ bill of rights. Even so, a study released last year by the Leroy Collins Institute found that communities with oversight boards see less disparity in arrests of marginalized populations, fewer clashes between police and the public and safer communities.

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HB 601 does allow law enforcement agencies to set up their own citizens’ review boards, but they would be limited to reviewing “policies and procedures” of the departments involved.

SB 184 has its own problems. Restricting bystanders from coming into the vicinity of police officers may be appropriate in some situations — which is why interference with an officer is already a crime in Florida. But this law, which takes effect in January 2025, would allow officers to arrest bystanders who “willfully engage in a course of conduct directed at a first responder which intentionally causes substantial emotional distress in that first responder and serves no legitimate purpose.”

That could allow for a defense when a bystander observes an undeniable case of law enforcement abuse. But it wouldn’t stop officers from threatening people who are trying to capture video of suspected aggression.

Threats won’t solve the problem of police/community distrust. Transparency will.

That’s why smart police administrators promote it — mandating that officers wear body cameras, asking for independent review of questionable conduct, and moving quickly to discipline officers who are proven to have abused the powers of their badge.

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They know trust is essential to effective law enforcement _ especially in communities where there’s a history of disconnection between police and residents in some neighborhoods.

And trust flourishes in sunlight. Public oversight by civilians who aren’t part of police culture can be critical to building that trust. In their absence, the narrative is too often driven by noisy conflict between attorneys seeking five minutes of news coverage and “back the blue” posturing from politicians and law-enforcement leaders. Giving a panel of average Joes and Josies access to official records, body-cam video and personal testimony from the people involved — and letting them capture their own records of public altercations — can go a long way toward defusing those ideologically driven faceoffs.

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Miami Herald. April 23, 2024.

Editorial: Stinky Florida? DeSantis paints scary picture of weed amendment but misses key point

Gov. Ron DeSantis is appealing to voters’ fears of streets and businesses being overcome by the stench of pot smoke if a proposed Florida constitutional amendment is approved this fall.

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It’s classical DeSantis: Amp up mental images of children under threat, choking on second-hand smoke — except he fails to mention that he and lawmakers have the power to pass laws to prevent that, even if the measure passes.

DeSantis has, on more than one occasion, claimed that if voters pass Amendment 3 to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over, the state will turn into some kind of stoner’s paradise where people would be allowed to smoke anywhere they want, including in public.

Speaking of other states that have legalized weed, he said last month, “I’ve gone to some of these cities that have had this everywhere. It smells, there’s all these things.”

During a stop in Hialeah Gardens last week, he said Amendment 3 will hurt Floridians’ quality of life — “You will smell it when you’re walking down a lot of these streets.”

“I don’t want to be able to go walk in front of shops and have this. I don’t want every hotel to really smell,” DeSantis said at a March news conference. “I don’t want all these things. But if you’re saying you can’t regulate it or you can’t limit it — which, that’s how I read that — that could be a big, big problem.”

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DeSantis could address his presumed concerns through regulation; it’s what Florida already does when it comes to cigarette and alcohol usage. If voters pass Amendment 3, the Legislature could enact laws to ban marijuana from public places like parks or schools. The text of the amendment states: “Nothing in this amendment prohibits the Legislature from enacting laws that are consistent with this amendment.”

“… the Governor is mistaken about what the amendment does,” lawyers Glenn Burhans and John Bash wrote in a March Tampa Bay Times op-ed. Both represented the amendment sponsors before the Florida Supreme Court, which approved the ballot language of Amendment 3 last month.

“If voters approve the amendment, the Legislature will have full authority to regulate or ban the use of marijuana in public places _ authority that it already exercises for tobacco and alcohol,” Burhans and Bash wrote.

Is the governor truly mistaken or misrepresenting the measure?

If at least 60% of voters approved Amendment 3, it will be up to lawmakers — and DeSantis — to pass and sign so-called implementing bills to create licensing requirements for the production, distribution and sale of marijuana as well as rules on the time, place and manner of marijuana use, Steve Vancore, spokesman for Smart & Safe Florida, which sponsored the measure, told the Herald Editorial Board.

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“We would strongly support that,” Vancore said. “We don’t want Florida to become the stinky state.”

Indeed, Florida already prohibits the use of medical marijuana, approved by voters in 2016, in public places. South Florida college campuses also ban it, along with other types of smoking and vaping, the Herald reported. When it comes to tobacco smoking, that’s prohibited in most public and private places, including restaurants, under Florida law.

Lawmakers could — and should — extend those same restrictions to recreational marijuana. Marijuana smoke is an obnoxious nuisance and people shouldn’t pay for others’ pot use through second-hand smoke. Neither should families be afraid to take their children to a school or park.

Floridians might have different reasons for supporting or opposing Amendment 3. Learning that the state has the ability to impose restrictions on where people can smoke might not be enough to alleviate the fear that smokers will violate those laws if they are not properly enforced. In the end, some voters might feel that the cons of pot legalization outweigh the pros.

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These are legitimate concerns, not based on a skies-are-falling scenario painted by a governor with a penchant for hyperbole.

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South Florida Sun Sentinel. April 20, 2024.

Editorial: School chaplains law crosses a sacred line in Florida

As he signed the school chaplains bill — another one he should have vetoed — Gov. Ron DeSantis said something that underscored how totally wrong it is.

“There are some students,” he said, who “need soul prep.”

That’s not a legitimate mission for Florida’s public schools, which at least have the authority to reject it, and should.

It is a crass violation of the First Amendment’s separation of church and state as well as of an explicit provision in Florida’s Declaration of Rights, part of the state Constitution.

Taking after Texas, again

Florida becomes the second state to follow Texas down this rathole.

It’s as wrong to throw public school doors open to “volunteer” religious proselytizers as if the state were paying teachers to convert students or drill them for their first communions and Bat Mitzvahs.

Children who want religious activity at school are free to organize it on their own time. But the state must keep hands off and keep outsiders out.

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“Soul prep” belongs with their families and whatever churches, synagogues and mosques they choose to attend or not.

That’s the American way. It has been so ever since the First Congress adopted James Madison’s Bill of Rights.

More political pressure

With this extremely misguided new law, House Bill 931, the Legislature and DeSantis have created a drastic situation for Florida school boards and students. The boards will be under relentless pressure to allow chaplains in their schools.

The children’s peers will badger them to get the required parental consent to participate in whatever chaplains have in store for them, and that means trouble.

By the March 1 voting deadline Texas legislators had set, all 25 of that state’s largest school districts had rejected chaplaincies. So had an unknown number of smaller ones.

All of Florida’s school boards should say no, as firmly and as soon as possible.

Unlike the Texas law, the invitation is open-ended.

It falls to the school boards now to find the courage, conscience and respect for the Constitution that so shamefully eluded the governor and the 25 senators and 89 House members — all but four of them Republican — who voted for the bill.

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Whether they admit it or not, they were fronting for the Christian nationalism movement that means to make the United States into a fundamentalist theocracy. Mainstream religious organizations actively oppose that, just as many pastors opposed this law.

No relevant qualifications for chaplains are required under the law. Florida sponsors scarcely pretended that it would be about anything but religion. Nothing in the bill requires proof of training, qualification or certification other than a clean background check.

It is a pathetic chaplaincy program indeed in which someone ordained through a fly-by-night internet “church” could be considered overqualified.

More lawsuits are coming

HB 931 also extends DeSantis’ string of creating more prosperity for Florida’s legal profession. Lots of litigation lies ahead.

For a Harvard-educated lawyer, DeSantis showed a striking ignorance of the law’s facial unconstitutionality. He said it’s not a problem because of the parental consent requirement. But the Constitution of the United States has never been subject to parental consent.

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The governor also made light of the announced intention of the Satanic Temple, which opposed the bill, to send its agents into the schools.

DeSantis says its chaplains won’t be allowed because “that is not a religion.”

That’s not for him to say. Or for school boards either. It’s not the government’s business to say what is a religion and what isn’t, except in as much as the IRS grants religious organizations tax-exempt status — a status granted to the satanists in 2019.

Florida’s Declaration of Rights, more specific than the federal constitution, adds that “No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.”

A discredit to the state

The fiction underlying Florida’s vouchers for private religious schools turns on them being privately funded by tax credits. But taxes pay directly for the public and charter schools that are now to be stalking grounds for religious proselytizers.

“Introducing religious leaders into official school positions to serve students in schools will cause division among student bodies that are made up of many religions and nonreligious students,” warned an open letter signed nationally by more than 200 chaplains and 38 organizations.

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HB 931 discredits all the legislators who supported it.

They include Rep. Rick Roth, R-West Palm Beach, who was a co-sponsor; Rep. Chip LaMarca of Lighthouse Point; and every other Republican member of the House and Senate.

Nearly all Democrats opposed it. The four who voted yes included Lisa Dunkley of Sunrise and Tom Keen of Orlando. Five Democrats and one Republican didn’t vote.

Everyone involved will be term-limited out of Tallahassee before the harmful effects of HB 931 play out. It should be repealed at the first opportunity, which won’t be soon considering what Florida’s Legislature has become.

Now, it’s up to Florida’s school boards to have the political courage and respect for the Constitution that was so lacking in the Legislature.

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