It is the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by the US Supreme Court in 1973 which defined a woman’s right of personal privacy in making decisions about her own body, and now four decades later, it remains the hottest social issue in the USA.
Center for American Progress’s Think Progress has lined up powerful numbers:
- 70% of Americans now oppose overturning Roe, the highest number since 1989. Most religious groups also want to leave Roe in place.
- 135 new state-level abortion restrictions enacted over the past two years, the worst years for reproductive freedom since the 1973 Supreme Court decision.
- 87% of U.S. counties don’t have an abortion clinic. At least four states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi — only have a single abortion clinic.
- 45 is the age by which nearly half of American women will have had an unintended pregnancy. About one in three will have had an abortion.
- 20 states allow insurers or employers to deny women affordable contraception by refusing to comply with Obamacare’s birth control guarantee. Studies have shown that Obamacare’s contraception provision will help reduce the national abortion rate.
- $470 is the average cost of a first-trimester abortion. Although most women having abortions carry health insurance, the majority pay out of pocket for an abortion because of the cultural stigma surrounding abortion.
- 42% of women who have abortions whose income levels fall below the federal poverty line. Seven out of ten women who have had an abortion would have preferred to have the procedure sooner, but many were forced to delay because they needed more time to raise money.
- 0.3 is roughly the percentage of abortion patients who experience complications from their procedure that require hospitalization. Studies have repeatedly shown that having a legal abortion is actually safer than giving birth.
The range of issues surrounding Roe v. Wade is readily perceived; ethical and religious positions, political partisanship, health care access, human sexuality, poverty, civil rights, employment benefits, health insurance, social taboos, and willful disinformation. It is truly complicated. Yet in simplest terms today, it amounts to personal choice vs. criminal action.
The so-called pro-choice camp insists that the one best suited to make a decision about a pregnancy is the woman who is confronted by it and experiencing it. It is not a condition that men will encounter, and it is not a decision for which they will likely be held responsible or for which they will likely be penalized, certainly not in the same way as a woman.
To criminalize the early termination of a pregnancy oversteps governmental authority which infringes on a woman’s ability to control what happens to her body. Again, for men, there is no control issue applicable to their body. On the simplest level, if a man was required by law to grow something in his body which he did not want, it would be intensely opposed as a violation of basic human rights. Therefore, those who oppose a woman’s right to choose are often seen as insensitive, oppressive, and even hostile to women. Take, for example, the idiotic comments of conservative political candidates in 2012.
The so-called pro-life camp doesn’t believe there should be any choice. Their focus is exclusively oriented to conception and to the fetus, invoking the will of God to fulfill the promise of a pregnancy, and often over-dramatizing the nascent stages of human life. In their dramatization efforts, they play fast and loose with the acknowledged 26 week standard for routinely permitted abortions, after which time medical necessity must be defined.
What is never mentioned is that the aim to end any choice for pregnant women also means that any act of abortion becomes a criminal matter. The outlawing of abortion is also its criminalization. While prior to Roe v. Wade, there was no basis or history for criminalization, the rhetoric employed over the last 40 years by the various anti-abortion groups makes it clear that abortion is the taking of a human life and recourse to prevent abortions – outlawing them – means criminal penalties.
It takes no stretch of the imagination to expect that women who seek an abortion face criminal prosecution. Suspicion would also be cast upon women who miscarry; they stand to be indicted for attempted murder or manslaughter. Negligence in caring for a pregnancy would easily become criminal, as if the woman was trying to induce an abortion. Of course, there could be no corresponding criminal sanction on any man who brought about the pregnancy.
If nothing else, the agenda for criminalization and the gray areas of culpability which any woman would face leads to the conclusion that government needs to stay clear of women and their pregnancies. Legally remove a woman’s right to decide for herself about a pregnancy and the consequence is turning any attempt at opting out of a pregnancy into a criminal act.
Frankly, no one likes the idea of an abortion. Whether to have one or not must be an awful decision for a woman to have to make. One would hope that if a woman wanted to proceed with a pregnancy that she would be given the complete support and encouragement of our society. However, such full support is non-existent today. In fact, condemnation is more likely to ensue, for ‘having more children than you can support,’ or ‘having children so that our tax dollars can pay for it,’ and similar sentiments which we’ve all heard casually.
Our society can do much to encourage women to proceed with pregnancies, and many worthy organizations with limited resources have that as their mission. However the decision must remain the woman’s about whether to proceed or not. Taking a difficult individual decision and making it criminal is to lose sight of the goal amid ideological confusion and entanglements.
Fulfilled women, happy children, and loving families are not achieved by filling prisons with mommies or forcing women to accept responsibilities and penalties no man has to shoulder. But sadly those positive ideals have been lost in the bitter conflict of the last 40 years. Clearly, Roe v. Wade needs to remain the law of the land.
This year’s ballot is a mammoth mess for voters thanks to the GOP dominated legislature piling all kinds of nonsense into it. With 11 amendments, impenetrable due to longwinded, complex legalese descriptions intended to befuddle even then most astute, the Marion County ballot runs 4 legal sized pages and will require 65 cents postage to mail back. There is a devious reason for this explained in a previous post. At any rate, make sure to show your appreciation to your GOP legislator(s) for their reckless manipulation of voters.
[Pictured are just pages 2 and 3 of the Marion County ballot.]
Counsel from reliable sources is to simply vote “No” on all 11 amendments. It’s good advice. (Marion County voters should stop for the last ballot question and vote “Yes” for community hospital (Munroe) district bonds, a local matter. Also vote “Yes” to retain the three Florida Supreme Court justices; the campaign against retention is a Tea Party/GOP effort to own the Supreme Court lock, stock, and barrel – see Amendment 5 below.)
Here is a quick rundown on why you should vote “No” on each of the 11 amendments.
1. Health care mandate: This is a settled issue, per the US Supreme Court, and was only put on the ballot to make a political point. It was irrelevant to start off, and has now become completely moot. Vote NO.
2. Extra homestead exemption for combat wounded veterans: Nice idea, but amending the Florida Constitution is silly. The GOP has the majority; just pass the legislation if you’re serious, GOP legislators. Vote NO.
3. Revised caps on government revenue: This is a failed idea (see Colorado) that is part of the right wing inspired Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). Colorado suspended it. Florida already has caps based on somewhat sensible criteria. See the post from 2011 on TABOR here. This is proven dumb. Vote NO.
4. Reduces property tax responsibility primarily for commercial, non-homestead property including second homes. This is an unaffordable giveaway, and adds yet another square to the checkerboard of property tax gimmicks for those of doubtful need. Vote NO.
5. Legislature manages the judiciary: This probably wouldn’t pass constitutional muster anyway. Remember separation of powers, kids? The legislature simply wants to run the judiciary so you could forget separation of powers. Yeah, right. Vote NO.
6. Personal medical decisions by politicians: It would hardly be an election without an abortion item on the ballot. This is useless since federal law already covers this issue. It’s primarily intended to get out the Christian/anti-choice vote. Vote NO.
7. Removed from ballot.
8. Government money for religious institutions: This is a mess. It isn’t needed since faith-based operations can already receive government funding through a separate 501(c)3 non-profit. Authorize diverting funding to private, religious schools? Probably unconstitutional, too, but the GOP clearly hasn’t read that document, eh? Vote NO.
9. Property tax exemption for surviving spouse of veteran or first responder: See the comment on Amendment 2 above. There is simply no reason to amend the bloody constitution for this. Give it a rest, GOP! Vote NO.
10. Extra homestead exemption for seniors: This already exists. It simply needs the county to approve it. Most counties have already done something with it. Marion … nothing. Without some income qualification, a lot of rich seniors will get a much lighter tax ride while you pick up the tab. Vote NO.
11. Bigger homestead exemption for low income seniors: Tired of property/homestead pandering yet? Yeah, me, too. Again, this does not require a constitutional amendment. Vote NO.
12. Different student rep on college Board of Governors: This would replace the existing Florida Student Association rep with a whole new council being formed just to pick a different rep. Really? Is this necessary? No. So what should you do? Vote NO.
There are lots of articles on the amendments, few complimentary. Here is a link to a TBO article providing a quick review of the amendments with links to further articles if you want to dig deeper.
Also, highly recommended is the Florida League of Women Voters Voter Guide to the Amendments which is also blessedly brief – download it here.
Also, download the Progress Florida 2012 Voter Guide.
While you’re at the Progress Florida site, be sure to sign up for Daily Clips so that you’re well informed about all developments in Florida politics.
If you haven’t requested a mail-in ballot, do it now. You do not want to be at the polling place on Election Day where people will actually be trying to read and understand this godawful ballot. In Marion County, call the Supervisor of Elections Office at 620-3290 to make your request.
My mail-in ballot arrived today. Woo-hoo! The end of 2012’s election season is in sight!
No, wait; not so fast! With two double-sided, legal sized pages of ballot, and with three quarters of it filled with a cesspool of dense word turds to form 11 proposed constitutional amendments, voters face a major test akin to an FCAT. In a sense, it may be worse.
Let’s call it “ballot bling” – gaudily accessorizing the ballot with unnecessary, overstated attachments. Let’s also be clear that it has been quite deliberately designed to be absurdly impenetrable, evidence of the latest show of Republican contempt for voting and democracy.
As if Dennis Baxley’s ALEC prompted voter suppression law wasn’t enough in targeting minorities, seniors, and young adults with restrictive new voting rules, his law removed the Sunday before Election Day from early voting in a blatant neo-Jim Crow racially motivated targeting of the “Souls to the Polls” effort by black churches. In addition, he insultingly claimed prevention of non-existent voter fraud, thereby donning a thin thong to mask the elephantine backside of their exposed corruption. Yet Baxley, Gov. Scott, and the Florida GOP cabal went further and further.
As if it wasn’t enough that Tea Party Governor Rick Scott’s selectively rescinded voter rights restoration for ex-felons, removing hundreds of thousands of individuals from exercising their vote who had fully paid their debt to society, Scott and his hatchet men sought feverishly to remove 180,000 more voters using inaccurate, inappropriate databases at the last minute while self-indulgently shrieking about undocumented and unproven voter fraud.
As if corrupt former FL GOP Chair Jim Greer’s admissions that the party has had an explicit internal strategy to deny the vote to specific groups like minorities and young adults, as well as recent revelations about open ballot buying in south Florida, the Florida GOP contracted with a third party solicitation business, Strategic Allied Consulting, that paid canvassers to bring in voter registrations, who happened to “lose” or deter citizens registering as Democrats, and filing (hold onto your hat) fraudulent voter registrations for the GOP, making the concerns about ACORN’s field work in 2008 seem totally tame.
Another Florida GOP move, now entering the curriculum at the Vladimir Putin School of Guaranteed Election Victory, will confront the voter who tries to complete their ballot with its 11 amendment proposals that range from utterly unconstitutional to unnecessary/useless, replete with intentionally confusing and obscure language. Having a master’s degree, I find the amendments incomprehensible. Good luck, average Joe and Jane Voter. Remember, this production didn’t happen by accident, friends.
A little history lesson is in order. There are two ways to amend the Florida constitution, either by citizen petition or by legislative action. The GOP dominated legislature holds the citizen petition process (and broad citizen participation in general) in contempt since things unpleasant to the GOP like the Hometown Democracy Amendment and the Fair Districts Amendment, for example, inconveniently found their way to qualifying. Therefore, the GOP legislators increased the voter majority needed for adoption from a simple majority – 50%+1 vote – to requiring 60% approval. They have also greatly shortened the amount of time to gain qualifying signatures, a massive grassroots effort anyway, that now makes it nearly impossible to accomplish without a huge multimillion dollar war chest to pay for a campaign. And thanks again, Dennis Baxley, for your contempt of citizen initiatives – this was another piece of your fine work to thwart democratic process.
Thinking they had everything lined up, GOP legislators put forth a couple of doozies championed by then House Speaker Dean Cannon in 2010 with the assistance of his leadership team including Dennis Baxley. Their three prize proposals were approved by the dominant GOP legislators and headed to the ballot. But then a lawsuit challenged their misleading and disingenuous titling and descriptions which led to their removal from the ballot by the Florida Supreme Court.
Speaker Cannon went ballistic – ther-mo-nuclear! – condemning the court for interfering in the legislature’s agenda by its … um … doing its job as an independent branch of government. Cannon’s vehemence that one party government should always, always, always prevail would never be assuaged, thereby explaining the current concerted effort to cripple the Supreme Court and any independent judiciary in Florida via the declared war on judicial retention by the Florida GOP (really!) plus Amendment 5 on the ballot which empowers the House to control the judiciary (not that unconstitutionality has ever concerned the GOP legislature and governor … ever).
The current effort was aided by (you guessed it) Dennis Baxley whose voter suppression law included a waiver of limitation on the text of any legislatively proposed amendment; citizen petitions remain limited to 140 words while ballot proposals by the legislature can spew verbiage ad nauseum, as can be witnessed on the current ballot.
This gross prosaic indulgence has a despicable purpose. Voters of all kinds, but particularly those visiting a polling location either as early voters or as Election Day voters, are guaranteed – ga-run-teed! – to languish in the polling place, going cross-eyed trying to figure out what on God’s green earth they’re reading on the ballot, and causing lines to back up further and further and further. Breeding discouragement and ensuring that anyone with any kind of schedule will be spitting angry about the delays, plenty of citizens will be frustrated and/or forced to leave the line and relinquish their vote for 2012.
What to do?
- First, request a mail-in ballot from the Supervisor of Elections by calling 620-3290 between 8:30am-4:30pm if you haven’t already.
- Second, vote “no” on every single amendment, as recommended by numerous sources including the Florida League of Women Voters, until you get to the very last item on the ballot.
- Third, the very last item is not a proposed amendment; it is the Munroe Hospital bond issue, and you must vote “yes” for that one.
Now that was easier, right?
Oops, one more thing:
- Fourth, tell your friends to do one, two and three above, and then share with their friends.
Smart voters will save this democracy from the fascists and plutocrats yet.
 Hat tip to former County Commissioner and attorney Judy Johnson, who has provided totally balanced analyses of constitutional amendments for many years throughout the community, for explaining the reason for the change in text length.
Key races and questions will be decided by all registered voters on Primary Election Day, August 14th, so, yes, you do need to vote. Please. And there is always the option to loop the loophole. More on that in a moment.
In Marion County, several races are closed to registered Republicans only, like the race for Sheriff which will likely be decided in the Republican primary between Chris Blair, Dan Kuhn. (Two minor party candidates are also running and will appear on the November ballot against either Blair or Kuhn.)
Non-partisan races for 2 School Board and for 2 County Judges will be fully decided on Primary Election Day since there are only two candidates in each of the School Board and County Judge races, and these races are open to all registered voters.
(A winner in a non-partisan primary needs 50%+1 vote; if no candidate gets that majority, the top two vote-getters would face off in the November General Election. With pairs of candidates in all 4 non-partisan races, they will all be decided on Primary Election Day.)
Further, there are two ballot proposals for critical school funding this August that are open to all registered voters. (Shameless plug: yesformarionschools.com – volunteer to help get these funding proposals passed!)
Voter turnout for primary elections tends to be abysmal, somewhere around the 20% range of eligible voters. That means a small minority of voters actually make major decisions while some 80% of voters yield their voting power by ignoring the primary election. C’mon, wake up, people!
While Florida allows for open primaries – anyone can vote – when there is no competing candidate from outside that party, there is a loophole that invariably gets exercised. A write-in candidate can file and qualify as a candidate for virtually no cost, closing that primary to registered party members only. These write-in candidates usually have no intention of running a campaign and simply act to prevent members of the other party from voting, i.e. closing the primary.
Some voters exercise their rights to loop the loophole. It works like this: in whatever way a person is registered, with or without party affiliation, that designation can be changed quite easily and temporarily. For instance, there are prominent Democrats who will change their party affiliation with the Supervisor of Elections to “Republican” temporarily simply to empower their vote in closed primaries, hence looping the loophole. Once the primary election is over, they switch back. The same holds true for smaller party affiliations like the Constitution Party or Green Party or whatever, or for independents with no party affiliation. Yes, the primary may be closed, but there is still an open door for voters in switching party affiliation.
If you want to loop the loophole and switch party affiliation temporarily, you have until Monday July 16th to change your party registration with the Supervisor of Elections office. Allow enough time to get it done. The Marion County Supervisor of Elections phone number is 620-3290, the address is 981 NE 16th St., Ocala, and the web site is votemarion.com.
Disappointingly, the Supervisor’s office has not posted any Sample Ballot on their web site even though Mail-In Ballots are already being sent out to voters.
While you speak with the Supervisor of Elections office, ask for a “Mail-In Ballot.” Even if you’ve received one in the past, you need to confirm that you are still on the Mail-In Ballot list. All previous mail-in ballot enrollments automatically expired this year unless you acted to renew. Don’t assume anything, and act now!
Nothing beats the hassle-free convenience and tangible assurance of your vote getting counted than a Mail-In Ballot. Sick on election day, car accident, summoned out of town on business or family emergency: it’s no problem with a mail-in ballot – your vote still gets cast and counted.
Click here for early voting locations and schedule which starts August 4th.
This page will begin looking at some of these races and the issues around them in future posts. In the meantime, you can learn about the candidates first hand at free forums that will be occurring around the community, like these:
July 16th, Monday 6:30-8:00 PM – Marion County Commissioner Candidates Forum: sponsored by Marion County League of Women Voters at Live Oak Hall, on the back side of Circle Square Commons at On Top of the World, by SW 80th St. and SW 80th Ave., Ocala – click here for maps – <F> for “Conference space” is where Live Oak and Cypress Halls are located.
July 17th, Tuesday 6:30-8:00 PM - Marion County Superintendent of Schools and School Board Candidates Forum: sponsored by Marion County League of Women Voters at Live Oak Hall.
July 18th, Wednesday 6:30-8:00 PM – Marion County Sheriff, Public Defender, Supervisor of Elections and Judicial Candidates Forum: sponsored by Marion County League of Women Voters at Live Oak Hall.
August 2nd, Thursday 6:00-8:00 PM – Marion County Public Library, Main Branch, 2720 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala – Room #2 – The evening includes brief candidate introductions, voter’s registration, and an evening of networking, music and refreshments; sponsored by The Sircle and Focus on Leadership.
August 6th, Monday 6:00-8:00 PM – School Board Candidates Forum: sponsored by Education Task Force and Marions United for Public Education at First United Methodist Church, 1126 E Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala.
Florida Attorneys General McCollum and Bondi have led the national fight against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to the Supreme Court. Following the US Supreme Court’s decision that largely upheld the ACA, what’s next, as in what will the most unpopular governor in the USA decide to do?
With Florida second with 21% only to Texas with 25% (second again to Texas) in the number of citizens without health insurance, it would seem like the court decision would be cause for celebration, that millions of fellow citizens would be able to obtain health care. You may want to hold off on uncorking that bubbly beverage.
The Supreme Court’s decision included removing the Feds strong arm tactic with the states, requiring them to accept the new Medicaid funding or lose the existing Medicaid funding as well. With that ruling, the ability of Washington to compel the states to participate in the ACA was eliminated. Uh-oh.
It’s still an awesome deal for the states.
To be sure, states have a lot to gain by complying with the Medicaid expansion, since the federal government pays 100 percent of the costs for the first two years and tapers funding to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.
The administrative costs are a 50-50 split, but it still sounds like a tremendous winner. Just think of all of those citizens who will have some form of health insurance, who can get better care, relieving some of the uninsured costs, and likely helping the economy as a whole.
It isn’t as if the ACA hasn’t paid dividends already. Extending family insurance to young adults, removing the onus of pre-existing conditions, closing the “donut” hole in the seniors’ prescription plan are just a few benefits so far.
And there are real cash dividends, too, as insurers have to cough up rebates, like $123.6 million for insurance companies failing to meet the 80/20 rule on health expenses versus administrative expenses mandated by the ACA. Plus, other money has come to Florida from the ACA – another $119 million for a variety of services. Finally, add $400 million more to the total – the just publicized funding for conversion to digital records. (How overdue is this?) Add it all up and it’s beginning to look like real money.
Yet with all of this talk of benefits, pluses, advances, cash, and progress, we have neglected the most important criterion in today’s Florida, the single factor that outweighs all practical considerations. That is ideology.
Although we’re only hours past the court’s announcement of its decision, at least we haven’t had the door slammed already (see Walker, Wisconsin/bandwagon), but you get a sense it isn’t far off, like maybe Monday. Here is some of what the Governor’s office said today:
“…The Justices have declared that the central provision of ObamaCare is a judicially mandated tax. A new tax pure and simple.”
Focusing on the “tax” angle is one big hint; taxes are bad, very bad, very, very bad, even evil, in case you had not heard.
“With the national economy struggling to recover, now is not the time to implement a massive social program that injects nothing but uncertainty and doubt into our economic system. By doing so, they have put up yet another major roadblock to efforts to get people back to work and forced the government into the important relationship between patients and their doctors.
He seems to be hitting all of the talking points, no matter how idiotic they are. Since we all know how the “Jobs Governor” is really the “Corporate Profits Governor” (he doesn’t see any difference), he is also focused on the business costs. You have been asleep since his election if you think for a moment that he cares one iota for people … well, who aren’t wealthy.
Then he drops the I-bomb:
“I stand with Justice Kennedy that the entire act should have been held invalid.”
Need we say anymore? This is the same governor who threw back billions – billions! – in Federal contracts while his state’s unemployment was in double digits, primarily for ideological reasons.
Rick Scott can do one better than Justice Anthony Kennedy. He can make it as invalid as he can in Florida with his executive authority and with the support of the knuckle-dragging GOP cohort in the legislature.
Scott will refuse the money, and Florida will resume its race with Texas to see who can have the most uninsured citizens.
Cross-posted from Progress Florida.
The tragic death of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin at the hands of self-appointed “neighborhood watchman” George Zimmerman has reignited the debate over Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” law. The law, passed with a bi-partisan vote and signed by then Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005 at the behest of the National Rifle Association, is described by its proponents as allowing people to defend themselves when attacked.
The sponsor of the bill in the Florida House, Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) has defended his law using this line of reasoning. From his article defending the law in today’s New York Times:
The Stand Your Ground law, as passed, clarified that individuals are lawfully able to defend themselves when attacked and there is no duty to retreat when an individual is attacked on his property. Since its enactment, 20 other states have implemented similar statues. Additionally, the American Legislative Exchange Council used the Florida law as model legislation for other states. Quite simply it is a good law that now protects individuals in most states.
But media reports about Trayvon Martin’s death indicate that Zimmerman’s unnecessary pursuit and confrontation of Martin elevated the prospect of a violent episode, and does not seem to be an act of self defense as defined by the law.
This has been and continues to be the argument of those who continue to support the so-called “Stand Your Ground law” – that it can’t possibly apply to George Zimmerman’s actions and that public anger is misplaced. Those who are making this argument – including Rep. Baxley – seem not to have read the actual law. Thankfully, Adam Winkler, a professor of law at UCLA, actually took the time to read the law and as he points out in today’s New York Times (emphasis mine):
Florida legislators, however, insist the Stand Your Ground law does not provide a defense for people like Zimmerman, who pursue and confront someone. Florida Senator Durrell Peadon, who sponsored the law, said that Zimmerman “has no protection under my law.” According to state Representative Dennis Baxley, “There’s nothing in this statute that authorizes you to pursue and confront people.” The law, Baxley notes, was designed only “to prevent you from being attacked by other people.”
The problem is that nothing in Peadon and Baxley’s law says this. It provides that any person may use deadly force when “he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.” So long as someone reasonably thinks he or someone else is in danger, he can shoot to kill, regardless of whether the shooter is the one who initiated the hostile confrontation.
Indeed, given the law’s authorization of the use of deadly force to protect other people and, as the law also provides, “to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony,” Florida’s law unambiguously authorizes people to pursue and confront others. Whatever the merits of standing your ground when personally threatened, Florida’s law goes much further and encourages vigilantism. It tells people, who today are increasingly likely to be carrying concealed weapons, that they can pretend to be police officers and use their guns to protect and serve the broader public.
Unsurprisingly, like most legislation we see from the extreme right, the name of this law is poll tested and marketed for maximum persuasive effect. A lot of people, including well-intentioned progressives, are falling for this branding trap hook, line, and sinker. I admit I did as well at first. But in truth, “Stand Your Ground” has nothing to do with standing your ground and everything to do with allowing citizens to appoint themselves arms of the law. It’s “Shoot First” vigilantism, not self defense, and until this law is changed it’s only a matter of time before the next tragedy.
Furthermore, the dispute over Florida’s “Shoot First” law extends beyond the tragic death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman. Since this law was enacted in 2005, the number of “justifiable homicides” has skyrocketed an estimated 300%.
We must look beyond this statistic however, and understand some of the ramifications this law has had on everyday Floridians. From Susan Clary’s column in today’s Florida Voices:
- Two men argue whether a teenager should be allowed to skateboard in a Tampa park. The fight ends with one man shooting the other dead in front of his 8-year-old daughter.
- A 15-year-old died after two gangs brawled in Tallahassee, leaving no one accountable for his death.
- A man shot and killed two people during an altercation aboard a 35-foot sailboat anchored near Riviera Beach.
- A driver attacked and killed another with an ice pick during a road rage incident.
- The owner of a towing company killed a man he claimed tried to run him over while retrieving his car from an impound lot.
- A car salesman shot another man in a barroom argument over cigarettes.
- A decorated Army veteran and father of two was killed outside his elderly mother’s Cape Coral home after a neighbor mistook him for a thief.
- A drunken Land ‘O Lakes man was shot, but not killed, after he mistakenly tried the door at the wrong house in his neighborhood.
- A man chased and killed a burglar in Miami and successfully claimed self-defense, though he shot the man in the back.
The stories go on. How many are needed to admit this law is a grave mistake?
We can only hope that the massive public outcry for justice in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s unnecessary and tragic death will lead to the end of Florida’s “Shoot First” law. It’s long past time to reign in the legal vigilantism this law allows, save lives, and allow our democratic system of justice to work.
A few questions arose in reflecting on the recent article on the Board of County Commissioners’ proposal to have a brief prayer meeting with a local pastor before every County Commission meeting … and arose and arose.
When the church is invited into the chambers of the state beyond any ceremonial purpose (we need another whole article for that subject) to perform religious services for the state – including its officials – or the state is invited into the church to perform its state services, the ability of one to redirect the purpose of the other gets enabled.
Clergy entering into the chambers of the state to perform a religious function have a unique ability either to endorse the state with a religious affirmation, or gain the endorsement of the state for its religious affirmation, or both.
The same applies inversely when the state enters into the religious space.
The wisdom of the nation’s founders, with regular affirmation by the Supreme Court, has maintained separation of church and state. Actually, the further apart they are from each other, the better.
With regard to the pre-Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting prayer meeting, one can ask loudly, “Huh?” Since the commissioners rotate offering the usual start-the-BCC-meeting -prayer already, why do they need to pray before the start-the-BCC-meeting-prayer, too?
Do they believe more prayer is better prayer? Do they believe prayer only “works” when it’s done outside (just outside, in this case) the venue of governing? If so, then why continue the start-the-meeting-prayer, and are there other places where prayer is nullified by time, location, occasion, etc., as if the Divine could be prevented from eavesdropping?
There is more. The commissioners have invited Rev. Phil Wade of Trinity Baptist (O for the days when Baptists were all separation-of-church-and-state-ish, the old days) to lead their prayer, among other clergy. Surely Wade is a man of God, but one must again ask in loud voice, “Huh?”
It seems it is not the amount of prayer that concerns the commissioners, but their own perceived inability to pray effectively on their own. Not knowing how to pray, they need a professional pray-er to do it for them. In the same way, this religious professional seems to agree with them; they are incompetent at praying and require his assistance.
One wonders, why is Rev. Wade accommodating this prayer incompetency? Wouldn’t building the spiritual life of believers be a priority for him? Shouldn’t he give them lessons in prayer rather than pray for them? You know, teach them how to fish instead of giving them a handout. It would not only be easier than commuting from Baseline Rd to E 25th Avenue for BCC meetings but it would also empower the commissioners to pray at other times than before BCC meetings.
One would have to conclude that, given their prayer incompetency, the commissioners have no experience of prayer and praying outside of start-the-meeting prayers which, as noted above, may not work, may not be sufficient, and may have other undisclosed disabling features. If they attend church on the Sabbath, whatever church they attend has obviously failed in empowering their individual prayer and spiritual lives. If so empowered, they would be able to attend to their personal prayers before, during and after BCC meetings without assistance, and indeed without public fussification (making of fuss). Sadly, they are unable to do so, becoming poor advertisements for the churches they attend, although in the church we would call them “poor witnesses.” Hopefully they don’t attend Rev. Wade’s church; how embarrassing that would be!
The above may have seemed cynical or even snarky (heaven forbid!). Is it possible that this is not about prayer at all? Now it truly does seem cynical, trying to read into this new religious emphasis on the BCC something that is not explicitly being disclosed. The cynical would be led to speculate that there was some agenda within the BCC or Rev. Wade or both that produced this development in order to benefit one or all of the parties.
There is no need to suggest that there is something being gained financially. Fortunately, Rev. Wade’s congregation’s major building expansion is a few years past now. How dicey it would be if that building expansion was unfolding simultaneous with an invitation to pray before the BCC meetings! That would fuel the rumor mill! Amen!
So, is the BCC trying to make a statement about religion in Marion County, that it is a Christian county, or even a Baptist county? Would they be suggesting the second class status or even non-status of those who do not profess Christian faith? Is there a particular Christian tradition that is being promoted, like Southern Baptist? Are Rev. Wade’s theological views the ones that will guide the county into the future? Does the county now have theological views? Is Rev. Wade now the county chaplain? Does the county need a chaplain? It certainly seems unwarranted given the fact that there are over 600 congregations in Marion County. Messy, isn’t it?
It remains unclear for whom this pre-BCC prayer meeting is being provided. Is this a private religious service for the county commissioners, or is it open to others, like the County Manager, the Clerk of the Court and county counsel, other BCC staff, those bringing business before the BCC, or to the general public and thereby acting just like many religious organizations already serving Marion County? Or is it for the commissioners alone, or the commissioners and their families, close friends, campaign donors, golfing pals, or what? Is it for non-Christians, or atheists, realizing they may not be too thrilled with it (but they may recognize the need to play along for their own cynical reasons)?
What if one decides not to attend the pre-BCC prayer meeting? Will the BCC evaluate you differently as staff, as citizens bringing business before the BCC, as a representative of someone else like a lawyer or vendor?
How would someone know what the BCC’s motivations are? Wouldn’t it invite a lawsuit to challenge a BCC decision that disappointed a non-prayer, a non-Christian, a non-Southern Baptist, a non-member of Trinity Baptist?
There are an infinite number of speculations that could entertained, and none make this new feature preceding BCC meetings okay in the slightest.
The point should be clear by now. The commissioners were not elected to arrange their private religious services within the BCC, nor were they elected to arrange for public religious services within the BCC. They weren’t elected to do anything religious.
Their actions would establish religion by the state, something specifically prohibited in the US Constitution. Yes, my revisionist history friends, the Constitution really does prohibit the mash-up of church and state. It isn’t some half-baked liberal plot to persecute Christians and eliminate the faith from the USA, but a stance affirmed by the US Supreme Court repeatedly for over 2 centuries and wisely conceived by the Founding Fathers.
Final question for the commissioners: do you intend to continue this absurd and embarrassing episode, likely coming to use taxpayer funds to defend a losing lawsuit, getting billed bucket loads by some crackpot law firm like Liberty Counsel which has an appalling track record of abject failure, or will you end this promptly?
That stench you smell right now is the latest release of disgusting deal-making coming from Tallahassee. Paraphrasing Bismarck, no one likes to see the sausage made:
Rep. Perry Thurston of Plantation, the incoming Democratic leader, told the Herald/Times Monday that [House Speaker Dean] Cannon called him into his office April 12, two days before the court reform bill was to be debated on the House floor.
He wanted to know if Thurston, as incoming Democratic leader, and the Democratic caucus “could get him 10 to 15 votes for his court packing bill, and five people to speak on behalf of it,” Thurston said. “He said your ability to deliver will affect redistricting and the budget.’’
Thurston told him he would consult with his members and respond. Thurston consulted with Reps. Jim Waldman, Franklin Sands, Mark Pafford, Richard Steinberg, Mia Jones and Democratic Leader Ron Saunders.
“Several members said we should go to the press but we decided not to – this was a negotiation, what was he willing to offer?’’ Thurston recalled.
He met back with Cannon at his Capitol office later that night — after Thurston and Rep. Jim Waldman had dinner and Cannon had been home “to tuck in his kids.”
Thurston said the offer from Cannon came back: “You get back in my good will,’’ a reference to Thurston’s critical press release calling Cannon’s court reform plan “a veiled attack on the third branch of government.”
Cannon explained that the attempt to bring the matter before voters would happen during the August state primary, not the February presidential primary, thereby ensuring that the new judges named to the bench wouldn’t be in place before the redistricting maps go before them, Thurston recalled.
Thurston left and called the next day telling Cannon: no deal. “It would not be in the best interest of the people of the state of Florida for us to support this bill,’’ he said.
You’ll recall Speaker Cannon has unleashed an unprecedented assault on Florida’s judiciary, separation of powers, and basic democracy. Cannon’s plan would split the state Supreme Court in two courts – one for civil and the other for criminal cases and allow Gov. Scott to appoint three new justices. This would neutralize the current majority, who has a bad habit of applying the law and overruling heavily misleading constitutional amendments passed by the Legislature.
In any case, I’m glad Thurston told Cannon to take a hike and then went to the press about it. It was the right thing to do and he and the Democratic caucus, small as they are, should be applauded.
The thing that has made me angry about Cannon’s plan isn’t it’s deviousness, or that Gov. Scott would get enormously more undeserved power in the judicial nominating process. It’s the fact that we are treated constantly to arrogant lectures from the extreme right wing of American politics about the Constitution, “strict constructionism” and all. Give me a break. If Cannon’s move isn’t a slap in the face to James Madison and the Founding Fathers I don’t know what is. The idea of three coequal branches sharing and checking each others power is one of the most brilliant innovations in human governance. By the way, we haven’t heard a damn peep from the Tea Party, either. Sunshine patriots, indeed.
How do you have patience for people who say they love the Constitution but clearly despise its very principles with actions like this? I don’t, and neither should any voter who cares about basic, 8th grade civics textbook democracy.
Oh, yes: they tally huge numbers representing over 1/3 (!) of the current DJJ budget as imminent savings. Although they may been numerically delirious on Excel ‘shrooms, whatever the savings might be (yes, there will be savings regardless), what will be done with the money?
As stated in my first and second posts, not all of their ideas are bad ones and not all of their conclusions are myopic, ideology-driven, bean counting boogers. Some are very good, but not very new. In fact, the Blueprint Commission Report of 2007 had most of those good ideas. Some were implemented, but most continue to languish. It’s the money. To borrow from the movie, Jerry Maguire: Show me the money!
You see, right after the Blueprint Commission’s fine report declared that prevention and intervention are priorities, the Republican dominated legislature cut about 14% of the budget for prevention and intervention (here, p. 18). Take that!
Okay, maybe they will be priorities … um … someday. Coming on 4 years later, we’re still waiting.
The Blueprint Commission was right, of course. To get ahead of juvenile crime, use community-based services to identify kids heading into problems and target appropriate remedial assistance. If a kid screws up, you want targeted remedial prevention or diversion to a successful community-based program working through a research-proven strategy, not an arrest record and/or detention within the juvenile justice system, often tracking that youth onto an adult crime career.
But you have to fund such things as prevention and intervention. In Florida, we’ve been working in full reverse, cutting the very funding that would have the earliest and most positive impact on juvenile delinquency, and on the budget! Hence my use of the word myopia to describe the Scotties and their de-funding ilk.
For example, Marion, like every county in Florida, is given a certain formulaic sum to fund delinquency prevention. When I started as Executive Director at CWW/Youthreach in mid-2005, the grant was $120,000. When I left in mid-2008, that grant had fallen below $70,000. This wasn’t just Marion; it hit every county.
How did we get here? The Legislature over-reacted years ago to unique, well-publicized incidents of juvenile crime and decided to “get tough.” Yeah, like with adult crime, and yes, with the same results. What got funded in both instances was a penal system crammed with individuals who didn’t need to be there, and cost a bundle to keep there.
The Blueprint Commission insisted that now Florida needed to “get smart,” a back door way of saying we needed to reverse the Legislature’s policy, “be stupid.” That’s the juvenile justice policy that billions of tax dollars have supported for over a decade, the tough law-and-order, lock’em up, “be stupid” policy. It was doomed to fail. But stupid is hard to change.
Back to the Transition Team report; they didn’t do their job, having failed to insist on a formula dedicating half of the savings gained to prevention and intervention/diversion programs. Otherwise, all the savings will be soaked up to cover any budget gap, and once again, the youth and families who need help won’t have it.
With this Transition Team report, the juvenile justice system, the adult correctional system, the Legislature, this Governor, and the citizens of Florida will have to accept the consequences of failing, repeatedly and unconscionably, to support our youth and families, and for generating exponentially greater costs in the future in a classic (moronic) case of “penny wise, pound foolish.”
The cost savings estimates seem quite inflated and actually getting the details to substantiate them has been exhausting and often fruitless, revealing some doubtful conclusions as my previous post pointed out.
Many recommendations originated in research from Florida TaxWatch. They can tend to be like Florida TaxWatch; obsessed with numbers without always considering realities, past, present and likely future.
The Transition team’s proposal is to move DJJ entirely into an oversight-only agency (p.52), i.e. privatizing the remaining portion of DJJ-operated residential facilities with 600 beds (and then working on the local detention facilities). Gee, privatization seems like a bottom line winner with a suggested savings of $50,000,000 and the possibility of even more. Given the clear need to reduce beds due to over-capacity, and to have a plan going forward to continue the reductions as ongoing demographic changes plus designs to keep kids out of the system are implemented, this direction forms a key strategy.
The team claims that reducing 600 beds in privately contracted facilities would yield only a $30,000,000 savings. The team also refers to TaxWatch’s report criticizing the DJJ method of cost allocations, a dense study about indirect cost assessments that only a CPA could cherish, but I’m not sure TaxWatch’s conclusions are what the transition team interpreted.
The transition team then produces a chart (p. 53) that far, far exceeds what the cited TaxWatch document portrays, claiming the chart is a “Summary of Research.” Whose research isn’t clear. It isn’t TaxWatch’s research. And the team makes some harsh and unproven/unfounded claims. They cite little of substance to make their case. It seems most is simply pulled out of their … um … back pockets.
What is clear is that no one substantiates whether results are better in DJJ or in privately operated facilities. The DJJ PAM Report (Performance Accountability Measures) shows how difficult it is to express meaningful results in spreadsheet fashion. How do you compare facilities when there are 4 risk levels, different male and female facilities, and specialties for sex offenders, drug treatment, mental health, correctional and dual diagnosis? Still, levels of recidivism – re-offending within a certain period – are one key measure. There is no bright line separating private from state-run in quality.
Yet there is this repeated, and unsubstantiated, insistence in the report (p. 51) that
…the Department of Juvenile Justice acknowledged, ‘We should be using the private system because they do it better’
and (p. 53, chart “Outcomes”)
…outcomes from private providers are equal to, if not better than, the results of the more expensive state programming.
The first quoted remark is excised from the Blueprint Commission’s report (p. 39 (41 pdf)), citing Rex Uberman, Assistant Secretary for Detention Services, not DJJ itself. (BTW: Why couldn’t the transition team directly cite the Blueprint Commission report or the quote source?) Here is the rest of Uberman’s quote in the Blueprint Commission’s report:
One of the reasons they don’t do it better is because we [the Department] require them to do it the same way that the State does it. Private contracting is supposed to be innovative. We contract for compliance. We need to look at some new and innovative ways of contracting….
Whoa! What did he say? “One of the reasons they don’t do it better…” That’s right, “don’t.” Well, that would certainly screw up an ideologically supportive quote, so let’s chop out what we want and take it out of its context which had to do with contracting policies. Nice work, you hacks on the transition team.
The second remark is the opinion of the transition team, fully reflecting their bias divorced from substance.
Look, there is more to this than CPA-driven number crunching, and more to it than ideologically-driven smear tactics. If the transition team had dusted off the Blueprint Commission Report and done more than snip a quote to take out of context to justify their own agenda, maybe something positive could get accomplished.
There needs to be a strategy for a balance of DJJ and privately operated residential facilities. Strategically, it seems short-sighted and unnecessary for DJJ to be lacking any facilities under its own control and operation. Private contractors are not a panacea, nor are they always cost effective.
The Marion County juvenile residential facility in Lowell went through a period of revolving door contractors due to performance failure and/or unsustainable costs of operation for the contractor. Private contractors’ cost-cutting may end up providing less than suitable service levels. Balancing reduced costs and keeping effective performance isn’t simple. By retaining a certain capacity of its own, DJJ can ensure that it isn’t reliant on privates only, and can shift cases to its own operations if needed.
There also needs to be a strategy for right-sizing the over-capacity in detention facilities as well as residential facilities. Detention facilities – for temporary stays up to 21 days – are locally based either in a county or circuit court area.
The Marion facility near the sheriff’s headquarters had served all five counties in the 5th Circuit; Marion, Lake, Sumter, Citrus and Hernando. Marion Sheriff Dean’s ability to take over juvenile detention services for Marion youth may not be replicable in other counties, but it shows there are intelligent alternatives. Innovative solutions that are systemically beneficial should be sought, not a slash-and-burn sell-off and privatization to delight the CPAs and Tea Party bean counters.
Sadly, the DJJ Transition Team report falls far short of what they could have done. Again, the aging (2007) Blueprint Commission Report still offers plenty of guidance because so much has been ignored. That Report actually thinks about what’s good for the kids, whereas the Team report is absorbed in its own schemes and self-importance.
An insider’s look at a slice of the DJJ system will be in my next post.