The opening day of the 2010-2012 Florida Legislature felt more like an extension of the Nov. 2 election contest than the start of a new Florida future. Enjoying a vetoproof majority, the Republican leadership spent more time settling old scores and railing against Washington and the courts Tuesday than explaining exactly how it will dig Florida out of a $3 billion budget shortfall, improve schools or truly affect Florida's unemployment rate. Hopefully, that will change by the time the annual session begins in March.
Both House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos promised humility and transparency in lawmaking. Then they immediately demanded that new members of the House and Senate — who make up more than one-third of the 160 members — cast votes to overturn vetoes by Gov. Charlie Crist and consider four other topics.
Lawmakers approved property tax breaks for big landholders, rolled back petroleum tank cleanup requirements and retreated on septic tank regulation approved just this spring by the Republican-led Legislature. And they embraced a memorandum to Congress on Cannon's and Haridopolos' plan to privatize Florida's Medicaid operations.
Sadly, only some of the most seasoned Republicans — Sens. Dennis Jones of Seminole and Mike Fasano of New Port Richey — joined the outnumbered Democrats in standing in opposition to the forced march, rightly suggesting such serious measures should be considered after all members have a chance to vet them in committees.
But leadership and the Republican majority were unfazed, claiming the overrides were merely unfinished business from the last annual session. Cannon and Haridopolos steered clear of the two most controversial bills Crist vetoed — teacher tenure and abortion — further cementing the impression that Tuesday was nothing more than a power play aimed at appeasing powerful special interests that helped bankroll Republican campaigns.
Gov.-elect Rick Scott was not in attendance but at a Republican governors meeting in San Diego. And it's yet to be seen how he will feel about the veto override of House Bill 1565, which greatly undercuts his agencies' authority to implement laws. But Scott's legislative partners pledged Tuesday they will work with him to build a brighter Florida future. That task is now firmly their responsibility. From here on out, voters expect them to look forward, not backward.