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Florida lawmaker's 'zeal to repeal' easier said than done

TALLAHASSEE — State Rep. Ritch Workman has earned national notoriety for his idea to scrap a 22-year-old law that bans dwarf tossing in bars.

"Is this what Republicans mean when they say they want smaller government?" quipped late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel before unveiling a parody slogan for Workman's re-election campaign video: "He believes dwarves can fly. He believes they can touch the sky."

It isn't Workman's first time in the spotlight for unorthodox legislation. A Republican mortgage broker from Melbourne, Workman introduced seven "repealers" during the 2011 session, targeting statutes against unmarried cohabitation and hands-free bicycle riding.

But most of his ideas died, no matter how harmless or arcane.

The dim success rate aside, Workman is reviving his cohabitation bill and introducing new ideas for the 2012 session starting in January. One is aimed at dwarf tossing, yes, but another would decriminalize collecting beer bottles.

Now that he's known for his "zeal to repeal," Workman said people all over write to him of silly Florida laws. They want to get rid of unnecessary regulations, just like Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Dean Cannon do.

But history shows it's much easier said than done.

And, as Workman knows, just saying it can be hard enough.

"These particular issues bring some ribbing, some light-heartedness, and that's actually unfortunate for me," Workman said, "because it's hurting the chances of the bills being heard."

By its nature, the 60-day session limits hundreds of bills from surviving the tedious process of hearings and floor votes. About 2,000 bills are filed each year, with 10 percent reaching the governor.

The fear of bad PR, though, is a key reason repealers rarely get air time. Do lawmakers really want to spend time on adultery, beer and dwarf tossing amid a $1.5 billion budget shortfall and crushing unemployment?

For the most part, leaders want to preserve the dignity of their chamber.

Take the new law prohibiting bestiality. Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, had pushed to ban sex with animals since 2008. She was happy when Scott signed it into law this year, but still disappointed by a few House members' squeamish reactions.

Before national media homed in on Workman, Scott was leading his own charge to repeal 1,000 state rules and change more than 1,200 others.

He quietly targeted two agency rules related to dwarf tossing, including one that defines dwarfism and another about penalties already covered in law.

If Workman's dwarf-tossing repeal passes, the accompanying rules disappear, too, saving Scott's team some trouble. Workman insists there was no cooperation with Scott's office.

"My mission is to find laws that are not enforced or have no place in modern society," he said, "and as much as I despise the idea of dwarf tossing, it shouldn't be illegal. It should be up to the little person whether they want to be hired to do that, and up to the bar whether they want to employ such people, and up to the patrons to whether they want to go there or not."

The Legislature's 2012 agenda — far less ambitious than in the spring when members passed sweeping changes to voting, Medicaid, education, state employee pensions and growth management —means repealers might have a chance.

Plus, new House guidelines implemented by Cannon reward members for moving repealers through the process. Representatives are allotted just six bill slots every session. But repealers don't count toward that total, and for each one that passes a committee, members are allowed to submit another regular bill (with a limit of three).

What else could improve his chances? Workman said he has been working on senators to introduce his ideas in their chamber. He's also making nice with House committee leaders, who decide what appears on each meeting's agenda.

"They need to know that I'm not doing it for wit and humor," he said, "that I'm doing it sincerely to give people a little piece of their liberty and freedom."

There's hope yet for his bills on cohabitation, riding a bicycle with one hand and chauffeur's licenses. As of Friday, they were referred to committees.

As for dwarf tossing? Not yet — and probably not ever.

Reach Katie Sanders at ksanders@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow her on Twitter @KatieLSanders.

>> Fast facts

Rep. Ritch Workman's 2012 repeals

House Bill 369: Deletes language requiring motorists to use headlights during "the 18 twilight hours." It would still be illegal to drive without headlights from sunset to sunrise.

HB 4017: Removes a requirement to keep at least one hand on handlebars while on a bicycle.

HB 4021: Removes language that prohibits open adultery and unwed couples from "lewdly and lasciviously" associating or living together.

HB 4035: Repeals provisions on chauffeur's licenses, which were phased out with the arrival of commercial driver's licenses.

HB 4063: Repeals provisions prohibiting establishments licensed to serve alcohol from exploiting dwarfs.

Florida lawmaker's 'zeal to repeal' easier said than done 10/16/11 [Last modified: Sunday, October 16, 2011 11:45pm]
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