MIAMI - Florida lawmakers are in the final throes of their annual session. And Floridians are in the beginning throes of having to live with what they've done.
Which is to roll back decades of hard work and solid achievement by previous legislators and governors of both parties who occasionally managed to put aside partisan politics, personal ideology, narrow self-interest and old-fashioned greed for the good of Florida. They passed laws and imposed rules to improve our schools, protect our environment, incarcerate criminals, spur our economy and protect individual liberties, including a woman's right to choose.
Well, you can kiss a lot of that goodbye after this current group of lawmakers go home this week.
Here's a brief survey of just a few of the Legislature's "accomplishments" in the last 60 days.
They required drug testing for anyone getting cash assistance, even though there's ample evidence that about 96 percent of these recipients are drug free. Our worthy lawmakers did not require that they pass drug tests.
One senator, upset about all the beer, cigarettes, candy, snacks and soda being bought with food stamps, proposed that recipients be outlawed from using food stamps to buy junk food. That was known as the "No Twinkie Left Behind Act."
A year after requiring women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound, they're trying to require a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and that abortion clinics to be doctor-owned (take that, Planned Parenthood).
They want to add about a billion dollars back into the education budget, but that still falls far short of the amount they budgeted for schools two years ago.
They're trying to swipe money from local school districts to pay capital costs and maintenance at charter schools, many of whose facilities are owned by for-profit companies.
They've set aside money for Everglades restoration, but at a much lower level than in previous years.
They tried to privatize, with the governor's approval, 18 of the state's prisons, although lawmakers with prisons in their districts (and constituents who work in them) prevented it for now.
They passed redistricting maps that, in most cases, amount to little more than incumbent protection plans, ignoring Amendments 5 and 6 which voters approved to prevent gerrymandering.
They briefly considered but failed to pass a law to ban texting while driving, which common sense says we desperately need.
They passed a school prayer bill that surely violates the Constitution and will result in costly lawsuits for any school district foolish enough to implement it. The principal sponsor, Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando, used to live in Miami until he left town without paying off a government grant to open a hat store at Bayside.
Siplin and his supporters say his bill would simply allow kids at school assemblies or athletic contests to deliver an "inspirational message." But what if the kid in question talks about how Jesus is his inspiration? Or Buddha? Or the prophet Mohammed? Or L. Ron Hubbard? What do kids of other religions or no religion do? Separation of church and state seems to be a concept Sen. Siplin missed in school.
In fairness, not all lawmakers supported these measures. And I'm sure the Legislature has done some good things, too, during this session. But for the most part they danced with the ones that brung 'em -- the deep-pocketed special interests that raise money for their re-election campaigns, contribute to the slimy House and Senate "leadership funds" and grease the wheels of government.
As always, there are some last-minute surprises -- like an effort by Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Republican from Fort Lauderdale, to let developers build beyond the Urban Development Boundary in Miami-Dade by a simple majority vote of the County Commission -- rather than the extraordinary majority Mayor Carlos Gimenez wants.
In all of these things have you noticed the strong leadership from Gov.Scott? Nope, I haven't either.
When he retired last June from the St. Pete Times, the peerless Howard Troxler devoted his final column to the dismal state of affairs in Tallahassee. In light of this legislative session, it bears repeating.
"I do not think most Floridians fully realize, and will not for some time, the full damage of what has already happened in Tallahassee. Our state's governor and the majority of our state's Legislature believe in exactly one thing: making money off Florida. They have repealed many of the laws that Florida passed trying to make itself a better state. We have, quite literally, propelled this state back into the 1950s, and when the economy explodes gain, look out."
Oh Howard, how right you were. And it's only gotten worse.
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