Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The Gainesville Sun on the death penalty:
For all its faults, the death penalty retains strong support among the public and politicians. The Florida Senate confirmed this reality this week when it easily approved a bill aimed at shortening the long road to execution, sending it to Gov. Rick Scott.
We can surely understand the Legislature's desire to make the process more time-efficient and reduce the seemingly endless delays that dog the system. But in their push to accelerate executions, lawmakers are bypassing larger flaws in the death penalty.
Those flaws include the enormous added expense of death penalty cases (compared with life-in-prison outcomes) and the tragic reality of erroneous convictions.
The public would be better off restricting the death penalty, not accelerating it. The change would allow millions of dollars to be repurposed toward law enforcement, forensics improvements, crime solving and crime prevention.
To be sure, the wheels of justice often move terribly slowly in capital cases. When killers convicted of heinous murders live for decades on death row as their last-ditch appeals play out, the public and crime victims' survivors are understandably outraged.
But the sad fact is that not all death row prisoners are guilty of the charges of which they've been convicted. ...
The potential to execute the innocent casts a long moral shadow over the death penalty. But it is troubling for other reasons, too. Statistics indicate clear racial disparities in sentencing. Research indicates the death penalty has virtually no deterrent effect. It does not bring back the lives lost to crime.
Most pragmatically, death penalty cases can cost 10 times more than life-term cases. The incremental expense of pursuing the death penalty runs into the billions of dollars nationally, some experts estimate. The public bears that cost.
It's past time for a change in priorities. Execution should be reserved for worst-of-the-worst cases where guilt is certain, the physical evidence ironclad and the killer irredeemable. Many cases simply do not meet those criteria.
The Legislature wants justice to be efficient and timely. But accuracy and fairness must come first.
The Tampa Tribune on North Korea sentencing an American:
North Korea, having alienated most of the rest of the world with its military-flavored belligerence, sentenced an American to 15 years of hard labor as punishment for what has been described as his attempt to overthrow its government.
North Korean officials said the sentence for Kenneth Bae, a tour operator from Washington state, was handed down by its Supreme Court last Tuesday.
Washington has been stymied in its search for a plausible path to dealing with the government of North Korea and its threat to launch nuclear missiles at American targets. Bae's bizarre sentence only compounds the problem.
Bae was arrested in November while traveling with a small group in what the North Korean government had designated a "special economic zone." ...
Given North Korea's behavior in the past, it is possible that the absurdly stiff sentence (and the accusation that he sought to overthrow the government) may be calculated to persuade the United States to be more conciliatory to the Pyongyang regime. For example, in similar situations in the past, former American presidents have been sent to North Korea, enabling the Pyongyang government to boast of its importance.
If Washington rejects such a plan, Bae's future would be a grim one.
What a strange, mysterious place North Korea is. Its people are denied access to news of the outside world and fed a steady diet of nationalist propaganda designed to portray the United States, especially, as a constant and evil threat to their lives. ...
Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders rate North Korea's as the world's least free media. Television sets and radios are rigged to receive only state broadcasts, then sealed. Those caught listening to foreign media are likely to face forced labor, and few people have Internet access.
And the world is supposed to believe that Kenneth Bae, a mere tour guide, was working to topple the North Korean government?
Perhaps Bae's best hope right now is that his sentence will persuade Washington — with all due reluctance — to acknowledge some of North Korea's concerns. But giving any encouragement to its government antics is unlikely to stop its bullying behavior. How much better it would be if that government would simply take care of its own people.
The Miami Herald on Gov. Scott wields veto pen but also signs ethics law:
Gov. Rick Scott pretty much got it right Thursday. The governor signed into law ethics legislation that should make it easier for the state to enforce penalties against public officials who cross the line. He also enacted a campaign finance law that increases campaign contributions.
He took a dim view, however, of lawmakers' attempt at alimony reform and vetoed it. Though an override is unlikely, the veto shouldn't be the end of the story.
Applaud the governor for moving ahead with ethics reforms. ...
The new law makes the commission less of a joke, more of an enforcer. It also bans former legislators from lobbying any state agency for two years after they leave office. Usually, term-limited legislators — or those who've lost their shot at re-election — hang out their lobbying shingles so quickly their leather seats in the House or Senate chamber haven't yet cooled. The new provision puts a little space between former legislators hitting up the colleagues left behind for special favors on behalf of special interests that count on laws to work for them, not for the public.
In certain cases, legislators will be prohibited from taking second jobs on public payrolls, which could help tamp down on those no-show positions. And officials will be able to put their assets in blind trusts, which some critics say will allow them to hide wealth.
Another new law enacted this week will impose more frequent reporting deadlines on candidates for political office and raises maximum contribution limits. ...
As for hard-fought legislation that would have ended permanent alimony and presumed that divorcing parents would share custody of their children, it was a no-go for Gov. Scott. He vetoed the bill, concerned that it contained a retroactive provision that could reopen thousands of divorce cases and upend many families' financial stability. Good point. Still, permanent alimony can hurt families' ability to move on. Lawmakers should give this one another try — to get it right.