The highs and lows from Tampa Bay and beyond, including a bipartisan victory for juvenile offenders, a curious bill signing and some sound advice on raising taxes.
The right kind of justice reform. Good to see Hillsborough County’s bipartisan support for expanding its civil citations program for juveniles. Giving young first-time offenders a way to avoid an arrest — and all the life-changing implications that follow — is another step along the road to a more efficient and just system. Hillsborough is following the lead of other counties, including Pinellas, that have had more robust citation programs for longer — and have benefited from the results. The citations will be mandatory for all misdemeanors except in a few extraordinary circumstances. “Our kids, our deputies, our police officers and our community have made this program a success, so we are able to take these next steps,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister, a Republican. Juveniles sometimes engage in youthful transgressions. This smart new policy acknowledges that reality.
Capitol opening. The state Capitol was closed to the public for the two-month legislative session that ended last week. Gov. Ron DeSantis and other prominent state leaders insisted on opening many other aspects of society, but curiously left the Capitol off limits to Joe and Jane Taxpayer. On the bright side, Senate President Wilton Simpson announced Monday that the Capitol will be open in time for the special session on gambling scheduled for May 17-23. Government is best done in the sunshine — and in view of the public.
A long wait for representation. U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings died April 6. His successor in the heavily Democratic seat in Broward and Palm Beach counties won’t take over until January, when Gov. DeSantis scheduled the special election. Nine months is too long for about 800,000 residents to go without representation in one branch of Congress. It only took five months to replace Pinellas Republican Rep. Bill Young when he died in October 2013. Could the discrepancy be any more obvious?
Speaking of obvious … The optics of DeSantis’ recent signing of a voting bill say a lot about the motivations behind the controversial changes. DeSantis chose to do it in front of a fan club of former President Donald Trump in West Palm Beach. He also barred reporters, except for a TV crew from DeSantis-friendly Fox News. Opponents of the changes, which include altering voting by mail rules and limiting ballot drop boxes, have said the moves are an attempt to suppress Democratic turnout. DeSantis’ cherry-picked setting for the bill signing did little to assuage those concerns.
Taxing decisions. Pinellas County is exploring how to raise more money for transportation, from maintaining sidewalks to increasing public transit options. The solutions include raising the county’s gas tax from 7 cents to up to 12 cents and asking voters to agree to a new sales tax to fund transportation infrastructure. A hat tip to Republican Commissioner Karen Seel for stating what should be obvious: “We’re trying to evaluate if it’s the appropriate time to do a transit surtax, and you don’t want to do both at the same time.” Good advice.
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