First, applaud Florida Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, long and loud. His refusal to place needless and dangerous gun legislation before the Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, saved lawmakers a lot of time and, likely saved many Floridians, prospectively, their lives.
Open-carry? Not happening. Guns on campus? Nope. Guns in airport terminals, for goodness sake? Gone. While the Florida House was gung-ho for these bills, Sen. Diaz de la Portilla was right to assume that nothing good could come from them. And he’s a gun owner. More important, he is a responsible lawmaker who exercised common sense — and likely let some nervous colleagues, cowed by the NRA, off the hook.
With guns off the table, and the legislative session galloping toward its March 11 conclusion, lawmakers need to focus on several other issues, and bring the same common sense that Sen. Diaz de la Portilla displayed:
▪ There is encouraging bipartisan support for criminal-justice reform, as lawmakers realize that putting nonviolent or mentally ill offenders behind bars for years, as has been done for decades, is not the way to rebuild lives or make communities safer. There are several bills that warrant support, including those that would make it easier for juveniles to clear their criminal records, which too often prevent them from finding employment as adults; allow some drug-possession offenders to receive sanctions other than a prison sentence; and let police officers issue citations for certain offenses, rather than hauling a person to jail. House Bill 439 and Senate Bill 604 would expand the use of mental-health courts, authorize pretrial mental-health programs for juvenile offenders, broaden intervention programs and focus on getting military veterans into treatment. Prison is the worst place to house mentally ill offenders — it’s too late to ask Darren Rainey. These initiatives introduce the kind of smart justice missing from the criminal-justice system.
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▪ It’s curious that lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott, who’s all about jobs, let this one slip away two years ago. But here’s a do-over that shouldn’t be passed up. Lawmakers should reestablish Florida’s tax-incentive program for filmmakers who come to Florida to make movies, TV programs, videos and commercials. In 2014, the Legislature failed to extend the life of the Entertainment Industry Financial Incentive Program, which rewarded projects that used Florida-based goods and services and hired locals. At that time, every dollar invested through this program brought the state $15 in positive economic impact. This time, the program is being tweaked to identify projects that will yield a higher return on investment. Lawmakers should make this one happen — Georgia is eating our lunch.
▪ Senate Bill 686 would create the Florida Anti-Corruption Act of 2016, expanding the application of the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees to state workers not now covered. It would also require lobbyists to report more often who is paying for their services; and add contractors to the list of officials covered by anti-bribery laws. According to the First Amendment Foundation, the Ethics Commission would be able to render advisory opinions to any public officer, candidate for public office or public employee regarding the ethics code’s application.
These are just a few of the bills flying under the radar. Not as sexy as guns, perhaps, but just as important for Floridians’ quality of life.