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It's your 'friends' you'll have to watch

To the newly elected members of the Florida Legislature, who gather today in Tallahassee:

First of all, congratulations. It took some gumption to get there in the first place.

You're probably thinking of yourselves as newcomers and freshmen. On the contrary — I hope that you bring maturity to the process.

Our Legislature, in recent years, has been prone to the "Hey, what if we try this?" approach, particularly on complex issues like insurance and taxes. I hope you'll dig in your heels and do better, instead of meekly deferring to your seniors.

Nothing better than watching a principled freshman dig in his or her heels, I always say. Pick your battles, though; they don't like all-the-time pains in the neck up there.

Now, a couple of other things, please. Let's start with an example.

A few years ago, there was a bill in the Legislature that said insurance companies in Florida shouldn't have to cover mammograms.

No mammograms! No coverage for little kids with cleft palates, either.

I will never forget the explanation — this bill was meant to "help" Floridians by selling them policies that did not cover mammograms or cleft palates. It would save money.

Around the same time, the Legislature also tried to "help" the people of Florida by changing the definition of "catastrophic" injury in workers' comp cases.

Instead of losing just a plain old leg, or an arm, or an eye, or that sort of business, you'd have to lose two vital parts, one from Column A and one from Column B, like the menu in a Chinese restaurant.

I hope these examples seem ridiculous to you.

But they were seriously debated by the Legislature in which you now serve, even approved in committees. They didn't pass, but the fact they got as far as they did is a testament to the lobbyists.

In the next few months, you'll hear hundreds of ideas, and some will be based on folks trying to rearrange the law to their own benefit.

Here is the tricky part:

You are going to like most of the people trying to tell you how to vote.

That includes your party. It includes the leaders of your chamber in the Legislature. It includes, especially, the lobbying corps in Tallahassee.

The lobbyists will be friendly and charming. They will buy all the holes at your charity golf tournament. They will take an interest in your kids. They will laugh at your jokes. They will tell you that you are one of the few legislators who Really Gets It.

Make no mistake — I am not calling lobbyists crooks. Almost all the ones I've known are good folks paid to get their side of the story across. I'm just saying that the balance can be tilted too far in their direction.

Besides, Tallahassee is a long way from everywhere else. This physical isolation is a factor by itself. You can soon find yourself more in tune with the process in Tallahassee than with the Folks Back Home.

In fact, you will be tempted to decide that the Folks Back Home just don't get it. They don't understand the complexity of the situation. They don't understand the balances you have to strike.

You might even feel a little sorry for yourself when the FBH are yelling at you, and the only people who seem to understand your predicament are in Tallahassee.

This is precisely when you will be in the most danger.

It's your 'friends' you'll have to watch 11/17/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 2:14pm]

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