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A race to the bottom at Florida’s Capitol | Editorial

A race to the bottom at Florida’s Capitol | Editorial

The competition is fierce. But Florida stands an excellent chance of having the nation’s worst legislature this year.

As it enacted a near-total abortion ban, similar measures failed to break filibusters in two other very conservative states, South Carolina and Nebraska. As Florida further weakened its already-lax gun laws, three other states strengthened theirs. Florida stands alone in making it easier to impose the death penalty as 39 states have not executed anyone in the past five years.

North Carolina Republicans, despite having veto-proof majorities in both houses, approved a 12-week abortion threshold instead of the so-called “heartbeat” standard of essentially six weeks that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed.

The present 20-week plus six days limit in North Carolina would remain in effect in cases of rape and incest, abortion would be permitted up to 24 weeks for fetal abnormalities, and there would be no limit when a woman’s life is in danger. That law also comes with money to distribute contraceptives, an idea that did not seem to occur to Florida lawmakers, but the law also establishes conditions for abortion that Planned Parenthood said none of its North Carolina facilities can presently meet.

Slightly less hostile

North Carolina would be slightly less hostile to women than Florida with its six-week ban, which was written to take effect automatically if the Florida Supreme Court upholds a 15-week ban that is in force. Attorney General Ashley Moody has urged the court to discard its 1989 decision that Florida’s constitutional right of privacy, approved by voters in 1980, applies to reproductive choice.

North Carolina’s bill is still a huge step backward. It was proposed with no hearings or input from Democrats. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, called it an “egregious, unacceptable attack on the women of our state” and promised a veto. But its provisions show that North Carolina Republicans are a bit more sensitive to public opinion than are their colleagues in Tallahassee.

A North Carolina poll this year found 57% of the state’s registered voters wanted to either keep the 20-week limit or liberalize it. That closely matches the latest Pew poll in Florida, which found 56% of Florida adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

On guns, the states of Washington, Colorado and Maryland have significantly tightened their laws, not weakened them. The Florida Legislature, a functional subsidiary of the gun lobby, voted instead to allow concealed weapons to be carried in public without permits and training that had been required.

An assault weapons ban

The state of Washington has banned sales of new assault weapons like the AR-15 that a 19-year-old former student used to shoot 34 people, killing 17 of them, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Republicans in Tallahassee have repeatedly refused to give an assault weapons ban a hearing.

The Parkland massacre prompted Florida lawmakers to disobey the NRA — a rare event — by enacting a “red flag” law and raising from 18 to 21 the minimum age to purchase firearms from licensed dealers. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the sales law.

On April 28, the Florida House voted 69 to 36 to repeal the age limit (House Bill 1543) and allow immature youths to buy weapons of mass destruction again. Only three Republicans voted no, as did all the Democrats. But it did not become law because Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, who voted for the post-Parkland gun law changes, refused to consider it.

Passidomo made the right decision. Still, it’s a pitiful Legislature if the best that can be said of its reaction to America’s epidemic of gun violence is that it passed one bill to make the dangers of gun violence worse and was unable to pass another.

Misery for trans kids

Florida’s is not the only Republican-controlled legislature to heap contempt and misery on transgender children, suppressing sex education, harassing undocumented immigrants and those who employ them, and forbidding teaching the truth about racism in the United States.

But it is the only state to go so far off the deep end on guns, abortion and the death penalty.

The new law providing for juries to recommend death if the majority is as low as 8 to 4 is the nation’s harshest. Alabama, where the rule is 10 to 2, is the only other state that does not require a unanimous vote.

Meanwhile, House Bill 1297, which DeSantis signed the day it reached him, is the nation’s only attempt to reinstate the death penalty for people who rape children. It applies when the victim is under 12. Unlike the main death penalty bill, it requires the jury to find two aggravating factors rather than one.

The text of the law acknowledges that it is unconstitutional under existing case law from both state and federal supreme courts. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1977 against the death penalty for rape of an adult woman, saying execution should be limited to homicide. In Kennedy v. Louisiana in 2008, the court applied that distinction to child rape.

The new Florida law is meant to make the court abandon that precedent, which it says was “wrongly decided and an egregious infringement of the states’ power to punish the most heinous of crimes.”

It is not the business of any legislature to conclude that a Supreme Court case was “wrongly decided,” but Tallahassee thinks it always knows best.

The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact us, email at


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