A 2011 Florida Legislative Diary
LIFE DRAGS ON IN THE SAUSAGE FACTORY
Guns and Doctors, Court-Packing, Elections, Money for Churches, Aliens, Union-Busting, Power Supremacy -- Who Could Ask For More?
Written by Duane Bradford. Last updated Saturday April 23rd, 2011
By DUANE BRADFORD
On the way to Florida’s Capitol from where I park my car at Kleman Plaza, there is a bronze plaque, placed there in honor of former Tallahassee City Manager Dan Kleman. It bears what is said to be an ancient Athenian Pledge he frequently recited during his 20-year tenure. This version below
I thought of this pledge especially after watching a line of several very young children kneeling in prayerful repose on the floor of a House of Representatives committee room. They were staging the concern over what Florida was considering doing to any of the 800,000 or so descamisados who labor in Florida fields and cities because no one else will.
“I do not believe the scripture has any place in this,” said the sponsor of the bill, William D. Snyder (R-Stuart), noting the children on the floor just behind him. He is also running for sheriff in Martin County, and, lucky for him, he had the lectern and the eyes of House television cameras for his tea party devotees back home to observe. The draconian legislation, modeled after an Arizona law that seeks to jostle people who do not look right, passed the committee.
The Athenian Pledge
We will never bring disgrace to this our state by any act of dishonesty or cowardice, nor ever desert our suffering comrades in the ranks;
We will ever strive for the ideals and sacred things of the state, both alone and with many;
We will revere and obey the state’s laws and do our best to incite to a like respect and reverence those who are prone to annul or set them at naught;
We will unceasingly seek to quicken the sense of public duty;
That thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this state not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us. -Athenian Pledge
ON THE OTHER HAND, BACK IN THE SAUSAGE FACTORY
As the 2011 Florida Legislature moves into the last days of the regular session, look at some of the action that has consumed gobs of its time, much of it in noisy, rude acrimony. All of the bills below are still alive at this writing but may not survive the final cut. And some will require voter approval.
So. How are your Florida lawmakers thinking? What are they thinking? Are they thinking?
• WE ARE SOVEREIGN, BY GOLLY - This proposed amendment to Florida’s constitution (SJR 1438) would permit “people of the state to refuse to comply with federal mandates that violate the Constitution of the United States.” This is a push by a special interest group of “tenthers” called “tenthamendmentcenter.com” to constitutionalize in Florida the idea of states’ rights through powers it claims from the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. A senate committee analysis of the proposed Florida constitutional amendment mentions in passing that the U.S. Constitution does, however, contain a clause establishing federal law as “the supreme law of the land.” This collision may impede the effect of Florida’s “Sovereignty of the State” resolution. The senate analysis declares the 10th Amendment cry a “movement” and quotes in the senate document tenther advocacy -- adding a link to the states’ rights group in its source notes.
• PASS THE COLLECTION PLATE - Under the deceptive title “Religious Freedom,” another proposed change (CS/HJR 1471) of Florida’s constitution, if passed by both senate and house and then 60 percent of the voters, would let politicians spend money from our public treasury for use by any church, sect or religious denomination. The amendment would simply delete from our current Florida constitution a provision that has long prohibited such action.
• PISTOL-PACKING - Moving right along in the committee approval process is a bill (CS/CS/SB 234) permitting anyone licensed to carry a concealed weapon to strap in on in an outside holster and carry it on any public property not specifically prohibited. There are 1.9 million people in Florida who are licensed to carry concealed weapons. Open gun-toting would be “instilling fear in the American public,” testified Maj. Ronald Hartley of the Hillsborough County sheriff’s office, opposing the idea, he said, as a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. It passed.
• QUICK! VOTE! - A senate committee ignored a stern warning by nationally-recognized Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho that a bill (CS/CS/SB 2086) to cut early voting availability from 14 days to seven would shrink polling access by 50 percent and disenfranchise a significant number of voters. But local governments would “save a lot of money,” argued the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Miguel de la Portilla (R-Miami). It passed. This is a part of Republican strategy to further dilute Democratic power - not that it can be diluted below zero.
• SCOTTPOT CHECK BOOK - Entitled the “State Economic and Enhancement Development (SEED) trust fund,” a bill (HB 7207) now law takes tax funds previously collected in several other trust funds (initially $427 million) and puts it into this new “trust fund” established in the governor’s office - the “check book” Governor Scott said he liked to get hold of when he acquired companies.He got it. Tax funds from a variety of sources will now flow annually into the governor’s state check book. A Sarasota County supporter of the legislation expressed excitement about getting some of that money for a facility in - uh - Sarasota County. Legislators say they will carefully watch how the ScottPot is managed.
• UNAUTHORIZED PEOPLE - Both houses of the legislature are pushing hard to adopt a concept of a bill (CS/SB 2040) that is modeled after Arizona’s controversial illegal alien law that is currently being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court. Committee hearings have been filled with scores of passionate Hispanic men, women and children, like the children who knelt in the House committee room, who object to provisions they say fill them with profiling fears of arrest. In one Senate committee, the meeting was shut down before allowing many people to speak. It resulted in scores of people standing up and shouting, “Let us speak! Let us speak!” followed by senate police forcing some of the chanters from the room. A large crowd then pressed around the chair of the committee, Sen. Antiere Flores (R-Miami), hurling a flood of emotional questions about concerns for their lives. Senator Flores’s main response was that this bill was just a start and would likely be changed. It passed.
• OYEZ! COURT PACKING AHEAD! When the Florida Supreme Court ruled last year that the legislature had submitted a flawed proposed amendment to the Florida constitution dealing with how state legislative and Congressional voting district lines would be drawn, the new House Speaker, Dean Cannon, got his back up. The legislature had sought to combat another redistricting amendment already on the ballot that had been put there by signatures of three million Florida voters. Today, Speaker Cannon (R- Winter Park) is encouraging senate passage of legislation enacted by the House to add three more judges and split the court into two five-judge segments (criminal and civil). The genius the Cannon political shot is that the new court will appear to more effectively cut its case backlog, while, incidentally, enhance the power of the legislature to put constitutional amendments on the ballot less impeded by judicial interference. For good measure, there’s another bill that would require judges to be re-approved for their jobs by 60 per cent of the voters. Moreover, the governor gets to pick three more judges of his liking - and also name the chief judge. Take that, Florida Bar.
• HEARTY UNION-BUSTING - More than 200 city, county and state members of unions packed the senate committee room to object to a bill (CS/CS/SB 830) to prohibit the state from making payroll deductions for labor government employees who are union members. One speaker likened senate leaders to dictators. He was scolded by Sen. J.D. Alexander (R-Lake Wales) who informed the cheering group that proper decorum was required by the senate. The speaker apologized. Another firefighter raised his hand high at the end of his presentation. It clutched a card. He told the committee that it was a voter registration card that would be used in the next election. Later, Alexander, to the astonishment of both the audience and some senators, told the long list of speakers that no one had an inherent right to speak. Senate analysis says labor unions of teachers, firefighters and police will have more difficulty collecting dues. Opponents argued that if it is OK for the state to permit payroll deductions for the United Way and some insurance companies who contribute to political candidates, payroll deductions for public employee unions should be allowed. The bill passed and now awaits a full senate vote.
• GUNS AND CITIES - The city of South Miami enacted in 2002 an ordinance requiring trigger locks on stored firearms. This bill (CS/CS/CS SB 402) clarifies previous law and constitutional language by making the state top dog in all firearm regulation. No local government can regulate firearms, and if they have such ordinances or rules on the books, they will be nullified if this bill becomes law. This revision inserts trigger locks as one of the areas of firearm regulation prohibited. The South Miami trigger lock ban was challenged in court by the National Rifle Association and thrown out. The NRA lobbyist explained that her organization was tired of having to fight these intrusions by local governments. The bill passed 9-2.
• GUNS AND DOCTORS - Originally prohibiting doctors from talking to patients about guns, someone acknowledged the existence of the 1st Amendment, so the bill now says doctors “should refrain” from it. But doctors still fear damage to patient-physician relationships will result from the legislation. “This bill,” (CS/CS HB 155) National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer told the House committee, “is about helping families who are complaining about being questioned about gun ownership and the growing anti-gun political agenda being carried out in the examination rooms by pediatricians and medical staff.” Pediatricians say they are just trying to help families understand a need for special precautions to protect children. Pediatrician Louis St. Petery testified that opponents of the bill were “not trying to wipe guns off the face of Florida. We’re simply trying to keep children safe.” He said one of the first funerals he attended as a pediatrician was when a five-year-old found a loaded handgun and playfully shot to death a two-year-old. The bill passed.
Catch the drift?