Summary of recent Florida newspaper editorials

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Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Feb. 24

Miami Herald on immigration in limbo:

A pair of recent federal court rulings should convince Americans on all sides of the immigration debate that reform is an urgent priority. The rulings hamstring the president whether he's trying to enforce border security (to please hard-liners) or to ease the plight of families residing here illegally (to please Hispanics and the pro-reform lobby).

Most of the headlines have been captured by a ruling issued early last week by Judge Andrew S. Hanen, an unabashedly outspoken critic of expanded immigration in Brownsville, Texas, that invalidated the president's executive order on immigration. The ruling stops the government from issuing work permits and providing legal protections to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants. Less well-known is a decision late Friday by Judge James E. Boasberg of the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. He ordered the Department of Homeland Security to end a practice of detaining most women and children caught crossing the border illegally even if they had applied for asylum.

The earlier ruling is by far the most troubling. Foes of the president's executive order went court-shopping and found Judge Hanen in Brownsville. His anti-immigration views were well-known. His ruling has been derided by legal experts for making basic mistakes on standing and executive authority, including a failure to make a distinction between federal agency rules and executive orders.

The Obama administration rightly decided to seek a stay, sending a signal that it will vigorously defend its actions and the president's executive authority on immigration. But the ruling has once again cast into limbo a large number of immigrants who had made initial moves to seek legal protection under the order.

Then there is Judge Boasberg's ruling, which found that it was illegal to detain families at the border while their asylum claims are processed as a means of deterring others back home. Depriving asylum claimants of liberty for the sake of "sending a message" to others does not meet legal standards, the judge ruled.

To be fair, the judge found no proof that the administration put in place a blanket policy to deny freedom to all asylum claimants along the Southwest border, but there was a clear tendency to do so, resulting in increased detentions. It's hard to blame the administration for wanting to stop what it deemed an invasion of asylum applicants from Central America, but this ruling, as opposed to Judge Hanen's, seems both fair and impartial.

If all this sounds akin to a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario, that's because it is. Neither the sensible, compassionate approach to immigration reform via executive order nor the government's stepped-up measures to protect the borders has been able to clear the first legal hurdle. The president should lay out his next steps Wednesday when he appears at an immigration town hall at Florida International University's Modesto Maidique Campus.

Bottom line: The courts can't fix what's wrong with the nation's immigration system. A political solution is required, which means Congress and the president must work together — what a concept! — to get the job done.

There has been so much mutual recrimination and finger-pointing that optimism seems unwarranted, but it must surely be obvious that there is no practical, reasonable alternative. The problem will get worse the longer it festers. And the going will only get harder when the presidential primary season makes bipartisan legislation impossible to achieve.



Feb. 25

Tampa (Florida) Tribune on flawed voter fraud effort:

Gov. Rick Scott is right to abandon an appeal to a court ruling that found the state's effort to remove noncitizens from the voters rolls in 2012 was in violation of federal law.

The state is better served by learning from the failed effort and moving on.

The conservative 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta had found the state's systematic attempt to find and purge ineligible voters from the rolls in 2012 was illegal because it occurred within 90 days of an election.

Abandoning the appeal brings an end to a disastrous attempt by Secretary of State Ken Detzner to use driver's license data to identify noncitizens on the voter rolls.

The state identified about 180,000 registered voters it suspected might be ineligible. But the list contained numerous errors, and a number of eligible voters were wrongly targeted.

The list was reduced to fewer than 200 names, and fewer than 100 were removed from the rolls.

Critics claimed the effort was less about uncovering voter fraud than it was about preventing minorities from voting.

Elections supervisors said the scrubbing of their voter rolls is something they do regularly, and many of them resented the state's intrusion.

Scott and Detzner maintain the effort was motivated by possible voter fraud and that they were working to ensure the integrity of Florida's elections. Those are noble causes, but the flawed effort turned into an embarrassment.

In the future, the state should leave the integrity of the voter rolls to the county elections supervisors who are entrusted with maintaining them.


Feb. 25

News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on shooting rules:

A bill filed this month in the Florida Legislature is right to target a state law that pre-empts local governments from regulating backyard shooting ranges. However, its field of fire is a bit too wide.

Currently under Florida Statute 790, anyone can discharge a firearm on their property as long as it is not done "recklessly or negligently," such as firing bullets over a paved public road or into an occupied dwelling. That has been interpreted as allowing homeowners to conduct target practice outdoors.

The risk is evidenced by the death of Bruce Fleming, who on Christmas Day 2013 was killed by a stray bullet while working in the backyard of his home in unincorporated Volusia County near Deltona. More recently, the Bradenton Herald reports that in January a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy and a firefighter took target practice in one of their backyards and apparently shot up an adjacent neighbor's house 300 yards away, shattering one window.

Those incidents occurred outside densely populated areas. Yet, state law doesn't even prohibit shooting ranges in congested residential neighborhoods — nor does it allow local governments to regulate them.

Local governments have been prohibited from pre-empting state gun laws since 1987, but in 2011 the state decided to step up enforcement. That's when Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill in which local officials can be fined $5,000 and removed from office if they interfere with state gun laws. That includes local ordinances prohibiting or restricting backyard shooting ranges.

Thus, there's nothing a county or city can do to prevent someone from setting up some tin cans outside his home and blasting away in the direction of his neighbors. As Scott Simpson, city attorney for Lake Helen, South Daytona and Holly Hill, wrote in The News-Journal last year, police have to wait until a gun is discharged to determine whether it was fired in a negligent manner. The state does not allow local governments to be proactive in preventing the negligent discharge of a firearm in a residential setting.

That's absurd. Local governments should be able to regulate private shooting ranges for safety and noise issues. That would not infringe on an individual's Second Amendment right to possess a firearm or discharge a weapon in defense of himself or his property.

A proposed bill, HB 623, sponsored by Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, would remove the "reckless and negligent" language from the state law and ban firearm discharges on any zoned property in the state. That closes the loophole that was a potential safety issue, but it doesn't end the state's pre-emption of local jurisdiction. Instead, it creates a different kind of one-size-fits-all approach to all outdoor target shooting.

Local governments need the ability to judge for themselves where outdoor shooting might be appropriate. Most probably would consider a subdivision off-limits, but counties with large rural areas in which residences are spaced far apart — such as farms and ranches — might want to carve out some exceptions. They should be allowed to exercise their judgment and be held accountable for those decisions by their voters.


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