Version of an old joke:
Q. Did you know that in Florida, a person is hit by a car every 15 minutes?
A. Wow! I bet he gets tired of that.
Well, that's what it was like watching the 2011 Florida Legislature for the past two months.
You'd see a headline that said, more or less, Dumbest law in history passes, and about the time you finished yelling about that one, the next one came along. Wham!
After 30 years, I am reluctant to say that it was the Worst Session Ever. But, you know, this one is in the running. Let's go through a few issue areas:
(1) The biggest theme of 2011 was the repeal of a lot of Florida's laws about growth and the environment, in the name of "creating jobs."
We've been in a recession, and we haven't recovered yet. But when we do, these new laws are going to surprise, even stun, a lot of Floridians.
This Legislature threw out much of the Growth Management Act of 1985. It's back to the days in which anybody can build anything, as long as they get Festus and Jim-Bob on the local board to go along.
It is now the official policy of this state that we no longer have to worry about the impact of growth on roads, schools or certain other things.
Citizens who try to fight it are in for a surprise, too — the laws have been rewritten to favor approval of development and are stacked against challenges.
(2) The 2011 Florida Legislature also will be known for shutting down direct citizen political activity while cementing its own power.
That includes cutting back early voting, which has been increasingly popular.
That includes blocking many Floridians (those who have moved or changed their name) from casting a regular ballot on Election Day. They can cast only a "provisional" ballot that has to be approved or disapproved separately.
That includes a crackdown on citizen groups that register voters, with new rules and penalties. Voter registration, once considered patriotic, is now borderline criminal.
As for citizen petitions to change the Florida Constitution, the Legislature declared signatures on them will be valid for only two years, making it much harder to get a citizen idea on the ballot.
But for itself, the Legislature brought back a corrupt practice known as "leadership funds." It is legal again for the leaders of the Legislature itself to collect campaign money directly from those seeking favorable treatment.
(3) If it weren't for all the other bad ideas, the screaming headlines of 2011 would be about budget cuts as we have never seen. It will take months for the full, bitter effects to be felt around the state, from weaker enforcement of nursing home standards to less protection for nature to teacher layoffs.
(4) Floridians will find a slew of laws favorable to business and not so favorable to them. Homeowners insurance companies can raise rates more easily and don't have to pay the full value of a claim as fast. The last generation of Floridians who rely entirely on a wired telephone in their home will find that their phone company has been entirely deregulated and can do whatever it wants.
(5) For better or worse, the 2011 Legislature made large-scale changes more or less on the fly. It rewrote the rules for how teachers are hired and fired in Florida. In a stroke, it privatized Medicaid, turning over $20 billion-plus to private corporations to decide who gets what care, without even requiring them to spend X percent on patients!
Oh, and repeat after me: It is Liberal Big Government for the feds to pass a health care law because that would Intrude on the Doctor-Patient Relationship. On the other hand, it's okay for the Legislature to stomp all over that relationship with new rules ordering every woman who wants an abortion to have an ultrasound first.
Could've been worse, of course — a lot of bad ideas either didn't pass or got watered down. And on the bright side, they outlawed bestiality and droopy pants in public schools. Best of all, they adjourned.