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Opinion
Sarasota Thursday, May 4, 2017 2 years ago

Veto Sen. Steube’s bill

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Sarasota Sen. Greg Steube isn’t afraid to go against what is popular for what he thinks is right. But on two measures — public records and home rule — he should recalibrate his positions.
by: Matt Walsh Editor & CEO

At least you have to say this about our state senator, Sen. Greg Steube: He’s not afraid to go outside the conventional margins. He’s not afraid to stand his ground on his personal principles. He’s not afraid to take on contentious legislation. Nor, apparently, does he worry, like most of his colleagues, about re-election.

It’s refreshing to see a lawmaker buck the Tallahassee establishment status quo. 

Up to a point. 

Doing so must make sense and reflect what’s right. Sometimes, of course, what is right is not what is popular. Steube knows this well.

He knows, for instance, there is strong resistance to his positions on three legislative initiatives he has sponsored on guns, home rule and public records. 

Start with guns. If Steube were king, carrying concealed weapons would be allowed on our college campuses. He has filed bills for this — although they have run into strong opposition from members of his own Republican-controlled Senate and stalled.

Steube is unbending in his belief that allowing people, including students, to be permitted to carry guns on college campuses would serve as a deterrent to the mass shootings and other tragedies that have occurred on no-gun-zone college campuses. 

We can side with that — particularly  if you take the time to read Florida’s concealed-weapons permit laws. Florida’s gun laws set a high, high bar for obstructing nefarious characters from obtaining concealed-carry permits. (We all know, of course, bad people will be able to obtain guns no matter what.)

But public sentiment — including voters in Steube’s Senate district — strongly rejects his gun positions. You can be sure this difference will have eroded voters’ support come 2020.

Steube also has distressed many of his district’s residents and elected officials — especially on Anna Maria Island — on vacation rentals. Essentially, Steube has supported an effort to take away home rule from city and county jurisdictions and to relax laws on vacation rentals.

Steube has argued his position as a property-rights issue. But many of his constituents believe their local governments should have home-rule authority to regulate vacation rentals — and not have the state dictate one-size-fits-all legislation. 

House lawmakers have passed the anti-home rule bill. The Senate was expected to take up the bill on the Senate floor Thursday. If it passes, you can be sure his district’s constituents will remember this in 2020, too.

On public records, Steube has sponsored legislation that will make public records less public — CS/SB 118.

The crux of this bill is an effort to prohibit individuals and internet companies from extracting payment from individuals to have their arrest booking photographs removed from these websites. Talk about a seedy business.

But the portion of the bill that is and should be most concerning to the public deals with the sealing and expunction of criminal history records. Here’s what it proposes:

“The Criminal Justice Information Program shall administratively seal the criminal history records pertaining to an arrest or incident of alleged criminal activity of an adult or a minor charged with a felony, misdemeanor or violation of a comparable rule or ordinance by a state, county, municipal or other law enforcement agency upon notification by the clerk of the court, pursuant to s. 943.052(2), that all the charges related to the arrest or incident of alleged criminal activity were declined to be filed by the state attorney or statewide prosecutor, were dismissed or nolle prosequi before trial, or resulted in a judgment of acquittal or a verdict of not guilty at trial and that all appeals by the prosecution have been  exhausted or the time to file an appeal has expired.” 

In simple practice, that means an individual who was arrested for an alleged crime and later acquitted would be able to have the arrest records sealed or expunged from public view. Currently, these records are ineligible for expunction, regardless of the verdict.

You may ask: What’s the harm?

For one, this public records exemption runs contrary to long-established and accepted practice in Florida for having among the brightest Sunshine and open records laws in the nation. Although lawmakers often fight it, the public overwhelming prefers transparency in government versus obscurity.

What’s more, the practical side of this bill is that the public  — that would be you, employers, parents, future spouses, investigators and news reporters — would no longer be able to do background checks using the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s public records.

It doesn’t sound catastrophic. But think how you would feel if a daughter announces a hasty engagement to a man you barely know. You want access to public records that shed light on his past.

This bill has been sent to Gov. Rick Scott for signing. He is expected to address it in the next two weeks. We urge the governor to veto this bill. In fact, it would help if he heard from you as well.

Steube is a strong proponent of individual liberty, property rights and the Constitution. For that we applaud him. After this session has ended, we would urge him to recalibrate on what’s right.

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