Thursday, February 22, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: The dark shadow over Tallahassee lawmaking

Pay no mind. There is nothing to see here. No, really, there is nothing to see here. Move along. And shut up.

There was a time when Florida prided itself on open government, genuine transparency and ready citizen accessibility to public records and public meetings.

It was all quaintly covered under Florida's Sunshine Law. And it was grounded in a simple premise: If the public can't keep a watchful eye on its dubious public officials, the body politic is going to be stripped down to its skivvies before you can say "Tammany Hall."

So it's hardly surprising that over the years the Florida Legislature has steadily chipped away at the Sunshine Law, carving out myriad exceptions to make it easier for those charged with a public trust to avoid it.

There are more than a 1,000 exceptions to the Sunshine Law, which only makes sense. After all, if Florida's politicians make it easier for you to know what they are up to, then, well, you'll know. Who needs that aggravation?

This year in Tallahassee, which is an old Seminole word for "A Kabuki Dance of Chicanery," House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-We Don't Need No Stinking Sunshine Law, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-What He Said, secretly cooked up the most important pieces of the $82.4 billion budget with little input from most other legislators and certainly not the ooey-gooey public.

Two. Just two guys making the final decisions on taxes, education funding, environmental policy, criminal justice, pension and health care plans and all the other institutions of state government.

And let us not forget it was Corcoran who entered the speaker's office proclaiming a new era of openness and transparency, just before going into greater seclusion than J.D. Salinger — unless he had to take a call from a lobbyist.

Schools? You can always tell the Florida Legislature has less use for public education than President Donald Trump has for a polygraph machine when Tallahassee dreams up stuff called "Schools of Hope" and "Best & Brightest" reforms. About the only aspiration going on here was the Legislature's hope nobody would notice its efforts to transform the state's public education system into a privately run operation.

Much to the dismay of school officials across Florida's 67 counties, the House crafted a $419 million K-12 education bill in secret in the waning days of the legislative session without bothering to consult the very people who are supposed to implement it. As for public hearings? Please, who cares what the public thinks when there are more important constituencies to be catered to.

Besides, this wasn't really a public education bill. It was "The Charter School Expansion Act" to open the door to more privately run, publicly financed charter schools. And it was all devised out of the sunshine.

You could say this most recent legislative Skull and Bones session was the warmup act for the big enchilada of secrecy, the Constitution Revision Commission, which occurs every 20 years to propose new amendments to the state's overarching governing document. And since most of the members are appointed by either Gov. Rick Scott, Corcoran or Negron, you can be assured the proposed amendments will not be confused with Brigadoon meets Shangri-La.

The commission was set to meet Wednesday night in Tampa for a public hearing on what the great unwashed would like to see in a revised Constitution. But you have to suspect these public events are window dressing to create the appearance of transparency. The cynicism isn't entirely misplaced.

The last time the Constitution Revision Commission did its work in 1997, it was chaired by the late Dexter Douglass, a respected Tallahassee lawyer with broad experience in government.

This time the commission is chaired by failed Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff, a tea party devotee and political crony of Scott with no experience in the law.

Already Beruff has raised concerns about how open the commission's work will be to public scrutiny. And the commission has been crafted to give a wealthy political ideological dilettante broad discretion to approve or kill proposals.

So what do you suppose will be Beruff's attitude toward proposals expanding the scope of the Sunshine Law? Cue the rolling of eyes.

In other words, and this is a highly technical legal term, we're toast.

Comments
Editorial: They value guns, not kids

Editorial: They value guns, not kids

They value guns over kidsSix days after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High by a teen-ager firing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning the sale of assault weapons. The vote, 71 to 36, wasn...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Editorial: Listen to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students demanding change

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are traveling to the state capital today and declaring "never again.íí A prominent Florida Republican fundraiser vows he wonít raise another nickel until his party approves new gun controls. Across F...
Published: 02/19/18

Editorial: No more doubt about Russian meddling in election

The latest indictment by the Justice Department special counsel, Robert Mueller, refutes President Donald Trumpís claims that Russian interference in the 2016 election was a Democratic hoax. The indictment details the lengths Russian conspirators too...
Published: 02/19/18

Another voice: Tips should belong to workers, not their bosses

The Trump administration is under fire for proposing a Labor Department regulation that could result in hotel and restaurant employers dipping into the tips customers leave for their employees, depriving the nationís 14 million hard-working restauran...
Published: 02/18/18
Updated: 02/20/18
Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Editorial: Trumpís rising deficits and misplaced priorities

Itís not popular in Washington or virtually anywhere else these days to express concern about the rising federal deficit. Congressional Republicans who used to be deficit hawks first voted to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion over the next decade, then rais...
Published: 02/17/18
Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18