Friday, May 06, 2011
Vindictive Florida Speaker of the House
Dean Cannon needs to go!
Special to news-press.com
9:35 PM, May. 5, 2011
How much is life-and-death information worth? We have an answer: $370,000.
That, apparently, is too much.
The Florida Commission on Capital Cases was eliminated Thursday in an unexpected, undiscussed, unfathomable conference of legislators.
The House put into a budget conforming bill - late in the session, without any previous hearings, at an Appropriations Committee meeting - repeal of the state law that created the commission.
Among its duties, the commission maintains detailed case-status information on people condemned to die. Web pages providing that information have had 800,000 visitors. Now it won't exist.
It provides unique Continuing Legal Education courses for capital-defense attorneys.
The commission provides the governor's office with information on death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals and are eligible for death warrants.
The elimination of a single $370,000 appropriation is miniscule in a $70 billion budget that will get rid of more than 4,500 state positions and cut plenty of important spending.
So, the death of the commission and its five staffers is a common enough story.
But it gets nuttier.
Speaker Dean Cannon isn't going to get the full measure of his top priority for this legislative session, the dismantling of the Florida Supreme Court and building it back up in his own imagination.
He wanted to increase the number of justices to 10 and split the court in two, one division for criminal cases, another for civil litigation.
The speaker's idea would have swept clean the judge and justice selection process while centralizing the power for choosing jurists with the governor.
The House passed its speaker's grand plan. The Senate balked.
The expand-and-split scheme is gone. Judicial Nominating Commissions will be swept clean, replaced by members of Gov. Rick Scott's choosing. The Senate will confirm nominations.
Cannon's proposal seemed built on either redressing a past political grudge (the Supremes throwing off the 2010 ballot three legislatively sponsored amendments) or putting in the fix on a prospective political agenda (court review of next year's redistricting plans). Cannon denied both, but his alternative justifications are either demonstrably false or suspect to the point of silliness.
Cannon said he wanted more executions carried out more quickly and that his plan would help. Sen. Ronda Storms, a Valrico Republican who also is a board member for the Commission on Capital Cases, gave the lie to that claim during debate.
She said, as recounted here and elsewhere with information provided by the commission, that the governor had a list of 47 condemned prisoners ready for his signature to execute them.
The holdup to Florida's death machine isn't the state's Supreme Court.
Cannon has another year as speaker. He pulled a familiar gambit. His budget includes $400,000 for a study of the Supreme Court's workload among seven specific areas of inquiry about court efficiency.
State Courts Administrator Lisa Goodner - her office puts together all kinds of studies on the efficiency of the state's court system, exhaustively detailed - said she'll happily cooperate with the study, as she has in many Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability audits and studies.
"We think the facts that are out there are good facts for the courts," Goodner said. "Those numbers speak for themselves."
With declining funding and rising caseloads, Florida courts, the Supreme Court included maintain admirable clearance statistics.
Cannon and the Florida Legislature seem to doubt it.
"The party conducting the study shall evaluate the data, make selected audits of such data as necessary, and report to the Legislature regarding the accuracy of such data," the budget says.
These studies are not new. Neither are their intentions novel. It's backward engineering the case for a desired policy outcome.
Last year, just at this time, after two sessions where the Legislature failed to act on a Cannon-championed idea to open Florida waters to oil and natural-gas drilling, a study was delivered.
The House, at Cannon's urging, paid $200,000 for this report.
It concluded - while BP's Deepwater Horizon well was gushing in the Gulf - that spills would be small, infrequent and easy to fix.