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Among thousands of ideas before the Florida Legislature, here are three to watch

TALLAHASSEE

The start of the 2011 session of the Florida Legislature is little more than a month away, and the bill hopper is filling up fast.

Thousands of ideas, big and small, become fodder for legislative proposals every spring. Most will never become law — that's just the way the system works.

See, it's a lot easier to kill a bill than to pass one.

With that in mind, here are three legislative ideas among the thousands that merit serious discussion.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, thinks it should be against the law for a Florida candidate to lie about having served in the military, so he filed Senate Bill 330, which would make such fibbing subject to a $5,000 civil fine.

In a state with such a huge military population, it only makes sense, said Gaetz. He got the idea after visiting an American Legion post in Panama City, where veterans were upset about Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut politician who said he had served in Vietnam when he hadn't.

"They told me how offended they were by circumstances in another state," Gaetz said. "It's not earth-shattering, but it addresses a felt concern."

Some ideas seem so basic, you wonder why they're not already in the statute books. Take SB 242, filed by Sen. Arthenia Joyner.

The Tampa Democrat's bill would require that newly issued voter cards be distributed in advance of the 2012 election with the address of the voter's polling place.

Most county election supervisors already do this, their spokesman told a Senate committee this week, but it is not required. Six counties provide the addresses on sample ballots mailed to voters before the election.

With 2012 a reapportionment year, all voters will be routed to new precincts, different voting sites and newly numbered voting districts.

It's a recipe for mass confusion that Joyner's bill seeks to prevent, and the new chairman of the Senate committee that handles elections issues agrees.

"I think that it should be mandatory information, particularly when we're dealing with elderly voters," said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.

Idea No. 3 comes from one of the Legislature's youngest members, Rep. Matt Gaetz. The 28-year-old Destin Republican, a lawyer, says it bothers him that the public records requirements for the Legislature are more lax than for cities and counties.

His bill, HB 4005, would strengthen records retention requirements for the Legislature — including e-mail messages — and require disclosure of drafts of all bills and redistricting plans that under current law are confidential.

"I'm bothered by records retention policies that are more lax for the Legislature than for the St. Johns County Mosquito Control Board," Gaetz said.

Gaetz, the son of Sen. Don Gaetz, is not afraid to challenge the status quo in Tallahassee. He's sure to receive a lot of praise from open-government advocates, but whether he will succeed is another question.

Remember: It's a lot easier to kill a bill than to pass one.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Among thousands of ideas before the Florida Legislature, here are three to watch 01/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 28, 2011 8:20pm]
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