Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ten terrible moves by an arrogant Florida Legislature | Editorial. (South Florida Sun Sentinel)

Florida's legislature is in the thrall of Republicans and big corporations, resulting in a Parade of Horribles documented in this well-researched, eloquent editorial from the South Florida Sun Sentinel:

House Speaker Jose Oliva (center) and Senate President Bill Galvano (left) were all smiles at the end of last year's legislative session. But for everyday citizens, there's little worth celebrating about what's happening in Tallahassee again this year.

House Speaker Jose Oliva (center) and Senate President Bill Galvano (left) were all smiles at the end of last year's legislative session. But for everyday citizens, there's little worth celebrating about what's happening in Tallahassee again this year. (Steve Cannon / AP)

Say this for the people who run the Florida Legislature: They’re consistent. Arrogantly so.
Consider the series of bad laws that ruling Republicans rammed through a year ago: three new politically driven toll roads; allowing teachers to carry guns; imposing financial barriers on felons who want to vote; making it harder to gather petitions for ballot initiatives; a legally dubious ban on so-called sanctuary cities; and forcing citizens to pay developers’ legal fees if unsuccessful in challenging proposed land-use changes.
This year, the soul-crushing parade of bad policy continues in a Capitol where a small cabal of senators and House members make most major decisions, and rank-and-file lawmakers are bit players who follow marching orders. It’s debatable which is worse, their action or inaction — the laws they pass or the problems they ignore.
These are among the worst of both in the 2020 session:
* Climate inaction: The great challenge of our time, climate change, gets scant attention from a Legislature that’s still in denial. But lawmakers want to give $3 million to Florida International University for an institute to study land subsidence, or the sinking of the land, not the rising of the sea.
Republicans have no interest in sensible, modest Democratic proposals such as requiring annual reports on the financial impact of climate change or a mandatory assessment of water infrastructure in cities and counties. If we have five- and 10-year work plans for state highways, why not for a plan to address water infrastructure needs? Because it would cost money, that’s why. Better for Tallahassee to bury its head in a sinking land institute.
* Home rule: The Legislature’s assault on cities and counties is back with a vengeance. It includes a renewed effort to preempt local laws on short-term vacation rentals of private homes — an idea even Gov. Ron DeSantis dislikes. Also targeted are LGBTQ employment protections, “ban the box” ordinances to help ex-offenders, and an anti-consumer repeal of local oversight of businesses (HB 3). Is this what lawmakers promised in their election campaigns? What happened to the core Republican value that government closest to the people works best?
Bill Galvano's leadership on gun safety is not only politically risky, but courageous | Editorial »
* Power grabs: With no debate, senators slipped a provision inside a 112-page rewrite of an environmental bill (SB 712) that ends bipartisan Cabinet oversight of the Department of Environmental Protection. Instead, DEP would report to DeSantis. In a separate bill (HB 5401), DeSantis also would grab control of the Office of Energy from Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat. Have you heard DeSantis’ energy plan for our low-lying state, which remains dangerously reliant on burning fossil fuels? Neither have we. If you want your own energy office, Governor, show us a vision.
* Merger madness: From out of nowhere comes a slapdash plan to merge the smallest state universities — New College in Sarasota and Florida Polytech in Lakeland — with the University of Florida. This rash idea blindsided higher education policymakers, who had no input. Such backroom maneuvering makes a mockery of higher-ed policy.
Florida senators approve tax break that could save rental-car giants Avis, Hertz and Enterprise $2 million each »
* Tax giveaways: Lavish tax giveaways to well-connected corporations (SB 1240) are being pushed by Democrats and Republicans alike. As documented by the Orlando Sentinel’s Jason Garcia, the beneficiaries of these $2 million benefits include rental car giants Avis, Hertz and Enterprise.
* LGBTQ discrimination: You’d think that the Sentinel’s reports of widespread discrimination against LGBTQ students at private schools that get tax money for vouchers would prompt legislative action, but you’d be wrong. Preferring to keep their intolerance in the closet, House Republicans even voted down a proposal by Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, to study the problem.
* Gun-show loophole: Republicans abandoned a modest bill (SB 7028) to close the gun-show loophole by requiring background checks on private gun sales, an idea supported by more than 90% of Americans. Senators last year promised a response to mass shootings, then capitulated to a pro-gun governor and House speaker. The end result is another undeserved victory for the gun lobby.
* Secret government: A slew of new exemptions to public records laws would expand secrecy and keep Floridians in the dark. Lawmakers want to throw a blanket of secrecy over the searches for the presidents of all 12 state universities and 28 state colleges (SB 774) until a finalist or finalists are chosen. They also want to keep secret the addresses and phone numbers of legislators and Cabinet members (SB 832), as well as judicial assistants and county attorneys. Closing the curtains on who controls — or wants to control — government institutions will only further undermine public trust.
* Consumers beware: In a state notorious for ripoffs, consumer protection is rarely popular in the Capitol. Now, senators want to impose term limits on the job of public counsel at the Public Service Commission. In rate hearings, counsel J.R. Kelly has repeatedly stood up for consumers against powerful utility companies, which have a monopoly on the state’s power grid and donate millions of dollars to lawmakers’ political committees to keep it that way.
* Ballot blockades: A scheme sprung on the public mid-session would make it harder for citizens to get initiatives on the ballot. Republicans imposed new restrictions on petition drives last year, and want to erect more hurdles (SB 1794 and 7062) this year. When state lawmakers refuse to listen, petition drives are the only way for citizens to be heard. Already the process is too costly and cumbersome. The new proposals reflect Tallahassee’s arrogance at its worst.
Some signs of sanity still exist. Legislators are considering changes to overly harsh criminal sentencing laws of the 1990s and easing non-driving-related license suspensions that created a new class of criminals. And they are expected to approve panic alarms in public schools. “Alyssa’s Law” would be named in memory of Alyssa Alhadeff, a 14-year-old who died in the Parkland school shooting.
The only law the Legislature is constitutionally required to pass each year is a balanced budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Lawmakers have done enough damage this session. They might as well pass the budget and go home now.
In a capital with too few checks and balances, DeSantis is likely to rubber-stamp most of the irresponsible actions taken this session, which mercifully is scheduled to end on Friday the 13th of March.

Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Sergio Bustos, Steve Bousquet and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.

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