South Florida Sun Sentinel. June 18, 2021.
Editorial: Florida election supervisors must keep asking hard questions
Imagine for a moment that you do terrific work, but you have a job where the rules keep changing and the people changing the rules don’t know or care what you do. But they are certain of this: They know your job better than you do.
Now you know what it’s like to be a county supervisor of elections in Florida, where politicians in Tallahassee write the rules.
Two decades after Florida’s wild presidential recount with its butterfly ballots and hanging chads, the 67 supervisors strive for professionalism, even as state political leaders from Gov. Ron DeSantis on down seek to undermine them every step of the way.
For the first time since COVID-19, supervisors met this week to get a grip on the future — the 2022 election. Florida’s election supervisors convened at a Marriott Hotel in Tampa, where federal cybersecurity experts discussed the threats posed by DVE (domestic violent extremists) and MDM (misinformation, disinformation and malinformation).
But the broader focus was Senate Bill 90, the Legislature’s ill-conceived and politically motivated law designed to help Republicans keep winning by making it harder to request a vote-by-mail ballot, use a drop box and register to vote.
That’s plenty enough to make supervisors’ blood boil, but the same law turns them into criminals with fines of $25,000 for leaving ballot drop boxes unattended even briefly “if Grandpa has to relieve himself,” as the supervisors’ lobbyist, David Ramba, put it.
SB 90 took effect May 6. That’s the day DeSantis signed it in private in a West Palm Beach hotel where every news outlet except Fox News was excluded. That display of arrogance infuriated the media, but in hindsight, it was perversely fitting for a voting crackdown cobbled together in the middle of the night and rammed through with such defiance that Democrats at one point were denied the right to protest.
DeSantis’ self-promotional tour is over. That means the real work is just now beginning as elections experts dissect the law line by line before implementing this “absurdity,” as Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays, a former Republican state senator, called it.
At a question-and-answer session, county supervisors fired a flurry of questions at self-conscious staffers of the state Division of Elections about how to ensure that the law is faithfully executed while safeguarding a person’s right to vote — goals that will clash, and not by accident.
For example, SB 90 requires that voters who request a mail ballot must provide a driver’s license number, a state-issued ID number, or the last four digits of their Social Security number. But many voters registered years ago when such documents were not required. They may not have any of them, so how can they vote? (This could have been resolved if lawmakers sought supervisors’ advice when they wrote the law.)
Or this: The law says anyone can return mail ballots, but only those of immediate family members and two others. Yet it doesn’t explain how that is to be enforced. Are poll workers supposed to interrogate people dropping off ballots? Are they supposed to provide proof? How do you prove your sister is your sister? The state offered little help other than to say suspicious behavior should be reported to authorities.
“I don’t know how big this person’s family is,” said Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Julie Marcus. “What are we supposed to ask this person? What would you do if you were us?”
Her questions were directed to the Florida Division of Elections, which, as an extension of the governor’s office, gingerly tiptoed around questions, surely because of four pending lawsuits challenging SB 90′s constitutionality. That only added to supervisors’ anxiety.
There are many unanswered questions, but state officials are in a precarious spot. They can’t criticize SB 90 without ripping the governor. If they praise the law, they’ll infuriate supervisors who know it’s flawed. So the lawyer for the state would say, “that’s a good question,” which accomplished nothing.
DeSantis’ chief elections official, Secretary of State Laurel Lee, ended the questions at noon because of lunchtime. She missed a golden opportunity to keep the questions coming and delay the buffet line. Supervisors respect Lee and view her as an ally who’s trapped in a straitjacket as a DeSantis appointee. Eventually she may have to take sides, and she knows who’s right in this fight: the counties.
Florida supervisors are voters’ strongest and smartest allies. They need to keep asking questions and demanding answers. The trust of future elections is in their hands.
Sarasota Herald-Tribune. June 23, 2021.
Editorial: DeSantis wants to send our officers running for the border. Huh?
Gov. Ron DeSantis is clearly an extremely intelligent man – after all, you don’t earn degrees from two Ivy League colleges without possessing some intellectual heft.
But it’s also equally clear that DeSantis has never gotten around to developing a proper sense of appreciation for the brilliance of William Shakespeare. And why is that so obvious?
It’s because few things exemplify the playwright’s immortal line in “Macbeth” – “ . . . full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” – quite like DeSantis’ declaration that Florida will send police officers to the nation’s border with Mexico to help carry out border control enforcement.
The governor’s move smacks of being pure folly: It risks wasting Florida’s public dollars, law enforcement personnel and valuable crime-fighting resources on an undertaking fueled more by a calculated aim to score cheap political points than a genuine desire to make a constructive contribution to securing our border.
During a recent appearance in Pensacola, DeSantis said the state would accept an invitation from the governors of Texas and Arizona to send officers to help those two states patrol their borders with Mexico.
Even more jarring, DeSantis made his announcement while flanked by various law enforcement officials across the state who have already committed their agencies to serving in the governor’s coalition of the witless – all of them, according to DeSantis, bizarrely “champing at the bit” to divert their personnel from protecting neighborhoods in the communities they have taken oaths to safeguard to performing still-vaguely defined roles patrolling border towns in states hundreds of miles away.
We urge our local agencies to resist the the governor’s calling. There are far too many questions and not nearly enough answers behind this headlong rush.
What are the measurable, quantifiable goals that are supposed to be met by having Florida send these officers? We don’t know. What will be the potential cost borne by Florida’s taxpayers in financing this whole endeavor? We don’t know that, either.
And how will those costs be allocated between the state and the 10 counties who have pledged to send assistance? Those counties’ elected sheriffs should communicate any costs associated with this unprecedented action to their taxpayers, even if sheriffs use non-tax revenue sources such as forfeiture funds.Will local purchases or programs run short because local deputies headed west?
Finally, what happens as arrests and detentions that involved Florida officers move through the system? Will they have to return to Texas and Arizona multiple times for depositions and court appearances?
Shouldn’t there be real answers to these legitimate questions – and a whole lot more, by the way – before Florida sends a single officer to perform law enforcement duties in other states that they should be rightfully expected to carry out in our state alone?
Until we get those persuasive answers, both DeSantis and the various law enforcement leaders who are oddly eager to start policing far-flung communities instead of focusing on their own in Florida, would be smart to deeply reflect on yet another perceptive Shakespeare quote:
“Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall.”
Palm Beach Post. June 20, 2021.
Editorial: Court should affirm citizens’ right to video police
Just a week ago, the Pulitzer Prize board gave a special citation to Darnella Frazier, who at age 17 thought to use her cellphone to shoot video of the scene she happened upon in Minneapolis — a police officer holding down a Black man with a knee to his neck.
The man, of course, was George Floyd, and his gasps of “I can’t breathe” to the unheeding cop, then-Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, set off a seismic wave of protest, the tremors of which are still shaking our society and our politics.
We wouldn’t feel the outrage without the video — “a video,” the Pulitzer citation reads, “that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.”
With Frazier’s video every American could see what Black people have long been saying about their experiences with police. Without it, it is safe to assume Floyd’s death would have been brushed away as one more resisting-arrest on one more bland incident report.
No video, none of us sees the death of George Floyd. Or the death by gunshot of Philando Castile. Or the choke-hold death of Eric Garner.
The Pulitzer Board’s wisdom makes a Florida appeals court look even more lunk-headed than it did on May 5 when a three-judge panel of the court ruled, 2-1, against a Boynton Beach woman who was arrested for taking video of police officers while they were detaining her teenage son.
The incident took place in 2009. Sharron Tasha Ford, then 34, was summoned by Boynton Beach police to the then-Muvico Theater to pick up her son for allegedly sneaking in. She came with a video camera, thinking that would help protect him.
Officers repeatedly warned her to stop filming. She refused. They slapped cuffs on her, took her to jail and charged her with resisting arrest without violence and intercepting oral communications — that is, recording police officers without their consent — a third-degree felony.
Prosecutors declined to file charges against Ford or her son. The next year, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Ford sued to protect citizens’ right to turn on a camera when stopped by police. Her lawsuit against the city and the officers claimed false arrest and violations of her civil rights.
A federal court declined to take up the civil rights claims, and the Palm Beach County Circuit Court ruled against her on the false arrest. Now, so has Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeals, upholding the lower court’s ruling that police had the right to arrest Ford for “obstruction” of their duties, mainly because she was “confrontational”for refusing to stop filming. “And when the officers calmly asked to speak with her, she accused them of escalating the situation.”
Moreover, the camera-wielding Ford had violated the officers’ privacy, the appeals court said.
Judge Martha Warner wrote a scorching — and convincing — dissent against the majority opinion of her colleagues, Judges Melanie May and Edward Artau.
Warner said the Boynton police had no reasonable expectation of privacy, the events having occurred on a public sidewalk in front of the theater -- with other people watching, no less. And obstruction? Ford didn’t physically block the officers or even speak to them abusively. She only asked questions and raised her voice when police moved to arrest her son. “She merely passionately expressed herself as any mother might do,” Warner wrote.
The consequences would be awful if this panel’s judgment should stand. Police would have probable cause to arrest anyone who refuses their order to stop filming them.
The fact is, ordinary citizens have as much right as professional journalists to gather information about public officials. The First Amendment is not restricted to paid reporters and photographers.
Ford is appealing the latest ruling, an appeal backed by the ACLU and a bevy of journalism groups. It’s an important case, one with national implications at a moment when the interactions between police and the public are under unprecedented scrutiny.
The court ought to reconsider the case, this time with its full membership, and to come to the correct decision: that Ford had the right to video the cops, and that it’s out of bounds for police to arrest someone for merely refusing an order to stop filming in public.
As the Pulitzer Board said, citizens now play a crucial role in the journalistic quest for truth and justice. No court should squelch this revolution that’s being televised.
Orlando Sentinel. June 22, 2021.
Editorial: For the Florida Chamber’s report card, an F is like making the honor roll
The Florida Chamber of Commerce’s legislative report card is a reliable, annual reminder of how out of touch the state’s most influential business group is with the priorities of the state’s working class.
Lawmakers who vote for the interests of working families get failing grades from the chamber, while lawmakers who put business interests first make the dean’s list.
This year’s report card, however, also was a notable for the business-related bills the chamber chose not to grade lawmakers on.
Take Senate Bill 2006, which prohibits a business — including the entire cruise ship industry operating in Florida — from requiring that customers show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. To think all this time we thought the chamber wanted less government regulation, not more.
Also missing from the report card was Senate Bill 7072, which infringes on the free speech rights of certain businesses to decide what they will or won’t publish. Sure, the bill was written to lower the boom on big social media platforms like Facebook, but what’s to stop a newly emboldened Legislature from passing more laws that punish other businesses for speech they don’t like?
Another new law that wasn’t graded by the chamber: Senate Bill 2512, which permanently cuts in half the amount of money for affordable housing from a trust fund set up specifically for affordable housing. Less money for housing means less construction. That means less business for Florida Realtors, who are so annoyed they’re backing a state constitutional amendment to restore full funding for housing.
Problem is, grading lawmakers on those hostile-to-business bills would have meant pushing back against the powerful political forces who supported them: Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican leaders in the Florida Legislature.
That’s not going to happen. The chamber these days is, if anything, a subsidiary of the Florida Republican Party, which is the party of big business in Florida, not working families.
We’re old enough to remember back in November when newly minted House Speaker Chris Sprowls offered up a windy, 5,000-word speech that found space to complain about “cancel culture” but never once mentioned the health-care issues still facing many Florida families or the state’s unemployment crisis.
That’s something else the chamber — unsurprisingly — didn’t grade lawmakers on: Bills that would have improved unemployment benefits for workers who need help the most during hard times.
Most reforms were proposed by Democrats and never even got a hearing. But one Republican’s bill did get a vote.
State Sen. Jason Brodeur’s Senate Bill 1906 to modestly increase weekly benefits got through the Senate — with unanimous GOP support. But it never got considered by the House and didn’t rate a grade from the chamber, probably because it would have lowered the grades of Republican senators who voted for it.
The chamber’s report card did acknowledge unemployment in a different way. It graded lawmakers on Senate Bill 50, which expanded the sales tax to all online purchases but dedicated every dime of that new revenue to a tax cut that holds down unemployment taxes businesses pay.
The chamber’s report card doesn’t reflect the values of working-class Floridians or even free-market principles. It’s basically a loyalty test for Republican policies and priorities.
Thirty-one Republican senators and representatives scored perfect 100s on the report card. The highest scoring Democratic state senator was Linda Stewart of Orlando, who got a 70 — a C. The highest scoring Democratic state representative appears to be Anika Omphroy of Broward County, whose B grade of 82 was inflated because she missed so many votes on bills the chamber liked and her party opposed.
Among the bills lawmakers got dinged for by the chamber: voting against another dramatic expansion of school vouchers without any accountability safeguards (House Bill 7045), against a bill that prohibits local governments from requiring new gas stations to also install electric-car charging stations (House Bill 839), or against a likely unconstitutional new law that prohibits contributions above $3,000 for constitutional amendment petition campaigns (House Bill 1890).
The chamber has spent years agitating for laws like that last one, intended to deprive citizens of their right to amend Florida’s constitution. Understandable, from the chamber’s point of view, since a worker-friendly initiative like boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour would never have become Florida law without amending the state constitution.
We’ve been conditioned over the years to associate F with failure. When it comes to the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s report card, an F should be considered a spot on the honor roll.
Miami Herald. June 20, 2021.
Editorial: Lawmakers defunded affordable housing. Florida voters might force them to take crisis seriously
For years, we asked what it would take for lawmakers in Tallahassee to take the affordable-housing shortage South Florida — and most of the state — are facing seriously.
We got our answer this year. And it wasn’t the right response.
After raiding Florida’s affordable-housing trust fund — known as the Sadowski Trust Fund — for more than a decade to pay for unrelated things, the Legislature passed a bill to enshrine that practice into law. Under Senate Bill 2512, money previously slated for affordable housing will now be divided three ways: for sea-level rise mitigation and wastewater projects, in addition to affordable-housing programs. Lawmakers said the state had a limited amount of money for those priorities, even though Florida got billions from the federal government, and tax revenue this year surpassed expectations by $2 billion, making that change not only wrong, but unnecessary.
We have gotten used to the idea that we will just learn to live with whatever the Legislature shoves down our throats, unless lawsuits get legislation overturned. But, now, voters might get to have a say if a proposed constitutional amendment makes it on the 2022 ballot.
Florida Realtors, the trade association representing Realtors, is bankrolling a ballot initiative that would undo SB 2512 and return to the original intent of the affordable-housing trust fund, the group told the Herald Editorial Board.
The proposal would direct 25 percent of the revenue from taxes levied on real estate transaction documents to programs addressing new construction, down- payment and closing-cost assistance, rehabilitation and financing of affordable-housing development. The amendment also would prohibit that money from being used for non-housing purposes and mandate that at least 65 percent be used to help people buy homes instead of renting.
Realtors were among the interest groups that worked to dedicate a portion of documentary-stamp tax proceeds to housing in 1992, when the state’s Sadowski Trust Fund was created.
Now, Florida Realtors has donated $5 million to pursuing the ballot initiative. President-elect Christina Pappas told the Board that the group had been watching the Legislature sweep more than $2 billion from the affordable housing trust since 2007, costing the state an estimated 94,000 housing units that weren’t built, according to the Florida Housing Coalition estimates.
This year’s bill was the last straw, Pappas said.
“These housing funds help people who are first responders, our teachers, our paramedics with down-payment assistance,” Pappas said. “And so, as Realtors, we see this firsthand how hard it can be for some of these great people to afford to buy homes.”
Floridians For Housing, the group sponsoring the proposed ballot initiative, needs to gather nearly 223,000 signatures to trigger a judicial review of the ballot language by the Florida Supreme Court and more than 891,000 by Feb. 1 to get it on the ballot. Then, it would need at least 60 percent of the vote to be added to the state Constitution.
LAWMAKERS FAIL TO ACT
Ballot initiatives are a lousy way to make policy — that’s why we elect representatives to the Florida House and Senate. But, increasingly, it has become the only way to do things when the Legislature fails to act — as was the case with the minimum-wage increase and voting rights for ex-felons.
The housing ballot initiative is far from being a perfect solution.
By undoing the bill passed this year, it would take a steady source of money away from sea-level rise and wastewater projects such as septic-to-sewer conversions, also important needs. That would force lawmakers to find other funding sources for those projects, which is what they should’ve done from the beginning instead of robbing Peter to pay Paul. But there’s no guarantee they will actually do that.
On the other hand, when it comes to our affordable-housing needs, we need all the help we can get.
Miami-Dade currently needs 160,000 affordable rental units — and 210,000 will be needed by 2030, according to a study commissioned by Miami Homes for All.
By putting affordable housing in the state Constitution, the amendment would prevent future legislatures from sweeping the trust fund.
The bill passed this year did that, but at the expense of what will be available for this purpose. It would have been worse if Gov. Ron DeSantis and some lawmakers hadn’t pushed to increase the amount that’s locked in for housing to $209 million in 2021-22, the largest amount in 12 years.
While that’s progress, it’s nowhere near the more than $420 million DeSantis initially asked from lawmakers. (It’s worth pointing out DeSantis has sought to fully fund affordable housing over the years, but the Legislature controls the purse strings.)
We elect politicians so they can focus on what’s important. On this issue, that hasn’t happened.
Now Florida voters might have to resort to fixing this mess themselves.