March 2, 2017
As the Florida Legislature convenes this week, forget the sideshow. The battle between Gov. Rick Scott and House Republicans over job incentives and tourism promotion will burn itself out. There are other fires to fight, and left unchecked they could torch the institutions, constitutional protections and community life we take for granted.
Here are five smoldering areas that could burn out of control:
• Handcuffing the judiciary. Republicans hate the courts acting as a check on executive and legislative branches, from blocking abortion restrictions to overturning death penalty rules. Gov. Rick Scott routinely rejects entire lists of finalists for judgeships submitted by judicial nominating commissions. Now House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would apply 12-year term limits to Florida Supreme Court justices and appellate judges. That would make the courts even more vulnerable to political manipulation, and the best and the brightest legal minds would be less likely to seek judicial appointments.
• Eroding open government. Some perennial bad ideas, such as making searches for university presidents more secretive, are back and have momentum. Others, such as keeping secret the identity of murder witnesses, are constitutionally suspect. One of the most sweeping would make it harder for plaintiffs to collect legal fees from agencies that illegally withhold public records. Another would allow two members of the same city council, school board or other governing board to meet in secret. That would eviscerate government-in-the-sunshine.