We don’t make the laws. Florida Democratic U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of South Florida and Kathy Castor of Tampa are the latest to run afoul of a federal law aimed at increasing public scrutiny of members of Congress, according to published reports. Records show Wasserman Schultz and her children bought stock in a technology company but waited months after the deadline to make the purchases public. The news site Insider also reported that Castor was late in disclosing two purchases of Berkshire Hathaway stock, the conglomerate run by Warren Buffett. The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or STOCK Act, requires members of Congress to disclose stock trades within 45 days. But watchdogs say that late filings are becoming increasingly common — a lapse that many members from both political parties chalk up as an innocent mistake, but which only sours public confidence in Congress and the rule of law.
Get to the truth. The convictions of two men in the rape and murder of 9-year-old Sharra Ferger in 1997 could be in trouble now that their lawyers are raising new DNA claims. Defense attorneys for Gary Steven Cannon, who is serving a life sentence, said at a court hearing Tuesday that a new DNA analysis casts enough doubt on Cannon’s role in one of Pasco County’s most heinous child murders and that he deserves a new trial. An attorney for co-defendant Gary Elishi Cochran also said this week he plans to ask a judge to vacate Cochran’s conviction. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Kathryn Varn reported, the efforts center around advances in DNA technology that have helped exonerate people put behind bars. We’ll leave the merits of the arguments to the judicial system, but the case underscores the value of prosecutors taking a second look at their work. In Hillsborough County, State Attorney Andrew Warren instituted a conviction review unit to help ensure that prosecutors didn’t make mistakes. The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office doesn’t have such a unit, and State Attorney Bruce Bartlett, who helped prosecute Cannon and Cochran, and who’s up for election next year, previously told the Tampa Bay Times he doesn’t see the point in having one. Bartlett should reconsider.
All masked up. Gov. Ron DeSantis has tied himself in knots in the debate over masking to stem COVID-19. This week, several local school districts pushed back against DeSantis’ executive order last week to ban school mask mandates. DeSantis questioned the science behind masking, and said his decision to preempt local action statewide was necessary to “equally and uniformly protect” the rights of Floridians. Yet DeSantis hasn’t said boo about counties that are cranking up their own testing sites in response to spiking infections, rising positivity rates and fast-filling hospitals. Hillsborough County will open two testing sites beginning today. So it’s okay with the governor for local governments to document the explosion of COVID in Florida, but not to do anything about it. At least he got it half right.
Humans are killing the manatees. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission heard a blunt assessment this week: At least 890 manatees had died as of late July, which means 2021 is already the most lethal year on record for one of the state’s most iconic species. And what sparked an unprecedented die-off of Florida manatees in 2021 could linger for years, officials said. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Zachary T. Sampson explained, the numbers are inflated by a crisis in east Florida, on the northern Indian River Lagoon, where manatees starved thanks to repeated algal blooms fed by human pollution that have killed off tens of thousands of acres of the seagrasses that manatees eat. That’s what comes with gung-ho development, with lawn-crazy homeowners fertilizing their yards, and with turning a blind eye to leaky septic tanks and farm and industrial runoff.
There is a middle. Two special elections outside Florida may hold some lessons for the Sunshine State. In Texas, GOP state Rep. Jake Ellzey defeated a Trump-backed Republican to fill a vacant House seat. In Ohio, Shontel Brown, a local Democratic party chair backed by President Joe Biden and other establishment Democrats, defeated a Bernie Sanders-aligned candidate in a race to fill a vacant House seat. Whether or not the outcomes are an early test of the midterm elections, they show that Trump is not the Republican kingmaker many think. And while progressives may deride the Democratic mainstream as sellouts, many party voters are more pragmatic.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.