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.
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.
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.
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, 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. 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 and Major League Soccer. 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.
Back to 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.
Election laws. The governor and legislative leaders were quick to promise to fix the problems created in part by shortening our early voting. 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.
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 balls and Family Fun Centers into this overreaching and reactionary response.
Paula Dockery was term-limited as a Republican state senator from Lakeland after 16 years in the Florida Legislature.