Florida editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times on the selection process for Florida Supreme Court justices:
The Florida Supreme Court reached the right conclusion by ruling that the next governor has the authority to appoint three new justices to the court rather than departing Gov. Rick Scott. That is practical and reasonable, and it reflects the will of the voters. The entire screening process should start fresh, because it has been politically corrupted and there may be well-qualified candidates who did not apply as Scott tried to stack the court on his way out the door.
The court’s one-page order issued Monday resolves a long-simmering dispute over whether the outgoing or incoming governor can appoint new justices in these situations. Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince are leaving the court because of the mandatory retirement age of 70, and their terms end Jan. 7. It would defy logic and democratic values that the outgoing governor could appoint their successors minutes or hours before the new governor is sworn into office Jan. 8.
As long as the retiring justices do not leave early and the new governor takes office immediately at the start of his term, the court ruled, the new governor gets to appoint the new justices. That means the new governor probably will be sworn into office in the opening minutes of Jan. 8, but the traditional ceremony always can be held later that day.
The mechanics of how this will work remain unclear. Scott started the process for screening Supreme Court applicants last month, and 59 have applied. The Judicial Nominating Commission has scheduled the interviews to begin on Nov. 3, three days before the election, and Scott wanted the commission’s list of nominations to be sent to him by Nov. 10. The Supreme Court said Scott exceeded his authority by setting that deadline, and it will hear arguments about when the nominations can be submitted on Nov. 8 — two days after the election. Whenever the nominations are submitted, the Florida Constitution says the governor has up to 60 days after receiving them to appoint the new justices.
But the Supreme Court failed to address whether the screening process by the JNC should continue now. If it does, whether Republican Ron DeSantis or Democrat Andrew Gillum is elected as the next governor may be of little consequence. The nine-member JNC has been entirely approved by Scott, and the Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that a governor cannot reject the entire list of JNC nominees and start over. The JNC could load up its nominations with Scott favorites, which could be fine with DeSantis but unfair to Gillum.
The judicial nominating commissions as envisioned by then-Gov. Reubin Askew in the 1970s were supposed to take political patronage out of judicial appointments. For decades, each JNC was comprised of three members appointed by the governor and three members appointed by the Florida Bar, and those six would appoint the final three members. That changed in 2001 under then-Gov. Jeb Bush, when the Florida Legislature changed the law to give the governor five appointments and the authority to approve or reject four appointments proposed by the Florida Bar. Scott has exploited that authority by insisting on conservative JNC members and often rejecting the Bar’s initial selections as he tried to remake the judiciary much as presidents try to do in the federal courts.
The screening under way for three new justices should be halted and restarted under the next governor, and the entire nomination process should be overhauled to protect the integrity of a judiciary that should be nonpartisan and independent.
The Ledger of Lakeland on proposed Amendment 10 to Florida’s Constitution:
We can be thankful the Florida Constitution Revision Commission meets only every 20 years.
It would be foolish to allow it to gather more frequently after watching how it botched this year’s proposed changes to Florida’s Constitution — as shown by state judges temporarily pulling several confusing amendments off the ballot, and with the frequent criticism about bundling unrelated subjects together.
Nonetheless, the ballot is what it is. And one amendment that survived the scrutiny is Amendment 10, which is worthy of support. Thus, we encourage voters to back it.
Amendment 10 illustrates the criticism of the CRC’s haphazard approach. It includes a provision to enshrine in the Constitution the Department of Veterans Affairs as a permanent agency; it formally creates a state office of domestic security and counter-terrorism and cements its function within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement; it requires the Legislature to open its session in January, rather than March, in even-number years; and it ensures that voters must elect the constitutional officers for county sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, elections supervisor and circuit-court clerk.
These things have nothing in common per se. And some of these things already exist — for example, FDLE’s anti-terrorism operations and the state VA.
If there is a link among them, it is that making them part of the Constitution would remove them from the purview of capricious politicians.
This is important considering the election of county-level officials.
Sheriff Grady Judd, and the other 65 elected sheriffs in Florida, are advocating adoption of Amendment 10.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, eight counties stand to be directly affected by this change: Brevard, Broward, Clay, Duval, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola and Volusia.
In some cases, those counties have changed how they hire leaders to run some of the offices in question or how those agencies operate.
Opponents of Amendment 10, such as the League of Women Voters, believe it undermines counties’ home-rule options and restricts powers of local governments.
We’re sympathetic to the home rule argument. As we’ve seen in recent complaints aired by the County Commission and the School Board, limits on authority imposed by outside forces often fails to adequately serve local constituents.
But, on its website, the League notes, oddly, Amendment 10 “limits the voters in local communities from deciding on the election of county officers.” Judd countered that Amendment 10 actually strengthens that. He’s right.
The sheriff acknowledged that this might not be an issue within Polk County right now. But, he adds, the future could change. And it would be counterproductive to invest control of the constitutional agencies under the County Commission or a single official, like a countywide-elected mayor.
Ratifying Amendment 10 helps retain the interlocking system of checks and balances that has existed for decades, Judd argues, and preserves the voters’ right to determine who leads those agencies.
“I don’t think you should ever give away your right to vote,” said Judd.
Reject Amendment 10, Judd notes, and voters could “give away your ability to hire and fire your government.”
The St. Augustine Record on Florida freezing property insurance hikes for 90 days:
The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America estimates insurance losses from Hurricane Michael to range from $2 billion to $4.5 billion. The huge disparity between the high and low number simply reinforces the scope of loss.
The destruction of Michael is so widespread, we can’t yet estimate the losses, let alone to cope with them or begin an organized effort to fix them.
Florida, to its credit, is directing an unprecedented push at bringing in outside aid, be it military, state law enforcement or utility companies from across the Southeast.
The effort is especially difficult because the help we might usually expect from neighboring states is hampered by the unprecedented damage to our neighbors to the north and east. Their resources are insufficient to handle the trail of destruction Michael left, as the stubborn storm wrecked a wide swath of Georgia and Alabama — still as a hurricane. It later set records for damage on its romp up the southeastern states as a powerful tropical storm.
Florida, to its credit, has put into place a freeze on any property insurance hikes for 90 days. Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier has also locked down any non-renewals or cancellations issued in the days prior to Michael in order to allow policyholders more time to find other coverages.
Meanwhile, analysts say Florida losses will be easily covered by its insurers. That, we’re told, is because we have a kind of patchwork kind of coverage, predominantly by smaller insurers. So, losses to these companies will be less damaging than to larger underwriters. Florida also has Citizens Property, a state-created insurer of last resort.
The destruction was calamitous in those areas hardest hit, Mexico Beach for example. Yet, even at the highest estimate in Florida of $6 billion, it’s interesting to recall Hurricane Irma caused $50 billion in Florida last year.
But it should be noted that the $6 billion figure is for private policies. The National Flood Insurance losses are not included in that total. It’s estimated it has 60,000 policies in Florida’s hardest-hit counties.
It’s all a good start, for a huge effort — at a heartbreaking event.