In Game of Politics: My Halftime Report

Apr 4, 2013 by

After 16 years in the Florida Legislature, I was looking forward to spending my first spring in as many years blissfully ignorant of the manic activity in our state’s capital. That was not to be.

In addition to media and speaking requests, I have been overwhelmed with pleas from former constituents and social media followers for information, advice and a sympathetic ear.

Truth be told, some people are just addicted to politics and I am one. Since I’ve been glued to the happenings in Tallahassee, I thought I might give a halftime report at this midpoint in the 60-day session.

Good Ideas Whose Time Has Come

Texting. More than a dozen legislators have attempted to enact laws to ban texting while driving over the past few years with little success. Floridians are clamoring for the ban in response to so many senseless and preventable deaths. Let’s hope this is the year we join the growing list of states that have this common-sense law.

Water. Florida has a unique ecosystem and can move between drought and flood conditions within a short period of time. We were well on our way to responsible water policy and funding to ensure a safe and adequate water supply. Unfortunately, over the past six years, legislators have reversed that progress and removed the funding. Adequate funding for water resources needs to be a top priority before irreparable harm is done to our environment, our agricultural interests and our quality of life.

Prisons. There are more than 100,000 adults in our state prisons (not including county jails, federal prisons or juvenile facilities) with an average annual cost of $20,000 per inmate. Some inmates are serving time for driving on suspended licenses when the underlying offense for the suspension was failure to pay a fee or fine, essentially creating debtors prisons at a huge cost to individuals, their families and Florida taxpayers.

Additionally, there are nonviolent offenders who are serving time for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Is it really worth $20,000 per year to incarcerate them? Or to house them with violent offenders so they can learn the tricks of the trade and graduate to more serious offenses?

Let’s apply common-sense policies to our criminal justice system and adopt the Smart Justice reforms that the Senate has passed but the House has refused.

Teachers, Other State Employees. Our teachers and other state employees have gone six years without raises and were required last year to start contributing 3 percent to their retirement fund. It is way past time to grant those raises.

Stop the Madness

Parent Trigger Bill. The Parent Trigger bill has been rebranded as the parent empowerment act. It failed last year and it still stinks. Isn’t it ironic that every major parent group is adamantly opposing a bill that legislators are trying to sell as parent empowerment? They didn’t ask for it and they don’t want it. If you want to empower parents, start listening to them. Stop the relentless attempt to turn over more and more of our public schools assets to charter school organizations. If parents want to convert to a charter, they can do so without forcing it on them. We should join Georgia, Colorado and Oklahoma in rejecting this wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Sports Franchise Subsidies. This is a banner year for sports franchise subsidy requests. A House committee approved more than $150 million in new subsidies for the Daytona International Speedway, the Jacksonville Jaguars football team and Major League Soccer. Additionally, the Miami Dolphins are asking for taxpayer dollars for renovation of their stadium. This is more corporate welfare that should be rejected.

Economic Development. Likewise, the governor is asking for $278 million for economic development incentives, a huge increase over the $111 million currently budgeted. With a questionable record of success and some glaring failures, the amount should be reduced and limited to rewarding job creation, preferably by our mom and pop businesses that are the backbone of our economy.

Back to the Drawing Board

Ethics Reform. At the start of the session, legislative leaders claimed that ethics reform was a top priority. To date, watchdog groups and ethics commissioners have panned the reform bill as a mixed bag that “takes one step forward and two steps back.” Add some teeth to the legislation and serve up some real reform. Floridians deserve and should demand ethical behavior by those entrusted to represent their best interests and to responsibly spend their money.

Election Laws. Florida was the laughing stock of the nation after changes to our election laws caused us to report out our elections results days after the presidential election ended. The governor and legislative leaders were quick to promise to fix the problems created in part by shortening our early voting. However, to date the legislation falls short. We should encourage voter turnout and assist in making the election process convenient and efficient.

Internet Cafes. As a knee-jerk reaction after the arrests of some 50 individuals and the resignation of Florida’s lieutenant governor in the wake of the Allied Veterans investigation, legislators have quickly decided to ban all Internet cafes with little discussion of the option of regulating them, which could have prevented the abuses in the first place. Will this unfairly affect legitimate businesses?

In addition to banning all Internet cafes, the senior arcades are being banned as well, prompting Port St. Lucie seniors to pack a Senate committee meeting to plead for the exclusion of their social gathering places. A more balanced approach would punish those who operated illegally, regulate those who were good actors and wouldn’t lump Chuck E Cheeses, Senior Arcades, American Legion Bingo Halls and Family Fun Centers into this overreaching and reactionary response.

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