Weekly Florida Roundup: Food Fight on the Debate Stage

TALLAHASSEE — Hyped as “The Great Red State vs. Blue State” debate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom squabbled Thursday night in what could presage a future presidential showdown between leaders from opposite ends of the country and the ideological spectrum.

DeSantis, a Republican whose 2024 White House bid has failed to gain traction against former President Donald Trump, and Newsom, a Democrat who is purported to have his own presidential ambitions, spent more than 90 minutes clashing over records and policies.

Fox News host Sean Hannity, who moderated the event, set the table with topics such as crime, economics and education, giving DeSantis an opportunity to compare and contrast Florida’s successes with what he called California’s failures.

Hurling accusations of bullying and lying, Newsom and DeSantis often spoke over each other and became unintelligible as they jabbed about “culture wars,” their states’ reputations and how they responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governors landed some punches, but neither emerged a clear victor.

Sparring over immigration policy, Newsom accused DeSantis of “trolling folks” and “trying to find migrants to play political games, trying to get some news and attention so you can out-Trump Trump.”

“And by the way, how’s that going for you, Ron?” Newsom said. “You’re down 41 points in your own home state.”

DeSantis, meanwhile, attacked California’s crime rate and homelessness problem and called his Golden State counterpart “slick” and “slippery.”

DeSantis also used the national spotlight to swipe at President Joe Biden, saying the 81-year-old Democrat is “in decline.”

“Yes, it’s a danger to the country. He has no business running for president. And, you know, Gavin Newsom agrees with that. He won’t say that, that’s why he’s running his shadow campaign,” DeSantis said.

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NO SHIELD FOR COPS

Marsy’s Law, a 2018 constitutional amendment designed to protect crime victims’ rights, “does not explicitly” protect the identities of police officers or other people, according to a unanimous ruling this week by the Florida Supreme Court.

The case involved a dispute about releasing the names of Tallahassee police officers who were involved in separate use-of-force incidents in which they were threatened.

An appeals court this year sided with the officers, who argued that they were victims and that their identities should be shielded under the amendment. The officers were represented by the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

But news organizations and the city of Tallahassee contended, in part, that the police officers’ names should not be shielded from the public because they were not acting as individual “persons” when the incidents occurred.

Thursday’s 27-page decision, authored by Justice John Couriel, found that the law “does not secure a victim’s right to unanimity.”

“We conclude that Marsy’s Law does not guarantee to a victim the categorical right to withhold his or her name from disclosure,” Couriel wrote.

Among the rights for crime victims that Marsy’s Law put into the Constitution was the right to “prevent the disclosure of information of records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family, or which could disclose confidential or privileged information of the victim.”

Couriel wrote that those rights do not include concealment of a victim’s name upon his or her request — rejecting the officers’ arguments. Couriel interpreted Marsy’s law to shield only information that could be used to locate or harass a victim.

“Fairly read, the text does no such thing. For it is one thing to identify a person and another altogether to locate or harass him or her,” he wrote.

Reactions to the decision ranged from disappointment to celebration.

Jennifer Fennell, a spokeswoman for the group Marsy’s Law for Florida, said the justices’ “ruling that this be applied very generally to all crime victims is disappointing, especially as they recognize in this same ruling that certain categories of victims have the right to prevent the public disclosure of their names.”

But attorney Mark Caramanica, whose firm Thomas & LoCicero represents the news organizations, said in a statement that the ruling is “a win for government transparency.”

“The court applied a common sense approach to interpreting Marsy’s Law that reins in overzealous applications that hide newsworthy information from the public,” Caramanica said.

CALLING FOR ACTION

Writing that many Floridians are “almost dangerously naive” about the magnitude of illegal immigration, a statewide grand jury issued a series of recommendations.

The grand-jury report, posted Monday on the Florida Supreme Court website, includes calling for further attempts to crack down on businesses that hire undocumented immigrants, probing non-government organizations and collecting fees on transfers of money from Florida to other countries.

The grand jury was impaneled at DeSantis’ request last year.

“We learned that, if anything, many Floridians are (just as we were before undertaking this inquiry) almost dangerously naive and unaware of the true magnitude and malevolence of the illegal immigration industry,” the grand jury said in the report. “What we discovered has been at varying times sobering, upsetting, depressing, and the cause of significant outrage.”

The report also called for addressing issues related to licensing general contractors, essentially pointing to loopholes that allow contractors to pass the buck on verifying employees’ legal status.

Recommendations also included a crackdown on what are known as “remittances,” or money sent by immigrants in the U.S. to other countries. It said remittances can be linked to criminal activities, such as money laundering and human smuggling.

The panel recommended that Florida collect a fee on transactions involving money leaving the state and going to other countries.

STORY OF THE WEEK: A 2018 constitutional amendment designed to bolster victims’ rights “does not explicitly” shield the identities of police officers — or any other people — from disclosure, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in a major decision on Thursday.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I’m disappointed, absolutely, but not just for police officers. I’m disappointed for all victims. But, listen, the Supreme Court, they know what they’re doing. They found that it didn’t specify for victims, not just for police officers.” — John Kazanjian, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association


Other stories you may want to read:

Appeals Court Backs DeSantis Redistricting Plan

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