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Diane Roberts: Legislature of the absurd

TALLAHASSEE

Barack Obama probably wasn't thinking specifically of Florida when he made the comments that got him into a mess of trouble. Speaking to a gaggle of donors, the senator from Illinois opined that many Americans feel powerless, ignored. So they "cling" to religion, prejudice, and guns.

Half the country teed off on Obama, but come on: Is he wrong? Look at the Florida Legislature. Okay, our lawmakers are hardly powerless, and alas, it's becoming impossible to ignore them. But they are definitely clinging to religion, prejudice and guns — clinging like limpets with abandonment issues.

It's enough to make you bitter.

Look at the legislature's priorities: pushing "I Believe" license plates sporting a cross and a stained glass window. Voting to sneak the teaching of "intelligent design" into high school science classes. Forcing pregnant women who want or need an abortion to undergo an ultrasound — and making them pay for it, too. Filing bills against the scourge of boys in baggy britches. Making sure you can you can tote your Smith and Wesson to the day care center, the mall, or that downsizing construction company — the one you're kind of mad at. And debating whether the faux bovine cojones known as "Truck Nutz" should be banned from the backsides of Florida vehicles.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously said, "There is no such thing as Society." Now, the Republicans who run Florida don't cotton much to foreigners: You can tell by those bills they're touting to crack down on the dangerous illegal aliens cleaning your pool and mowing your lawn. Nonetheless, they are clearly disciples of the Iron Lady's "I got mine" ethos. "Society" only matters if you think other people are connected to you in some sort of common enterprise, or if you believe in the "collective good" (you communist!). In Florida, we're all about the individual, not the group.

Unless the group is the multi-billion-dollar rail company CSX. It's due to score $641-million of taxpayer money in fulfillment of a secret deal by Jeb Bush. The newspapers call it a "sweetheart deal," though that's like calling Eliot Spitzer's liaison with the hooker a "romance."

But hey, in a tight budget year you have to choose between corporate welfare and throwing chump change at hospice patients, pregnant women, foster children, the developmentally disabled, the blind, minimum-wage workers, and the poor.

Florida's Republican masters say that the state must live within its means, just like "Florida's families." The Legislature must make "tough choices." But here's what I don't understand: If my family didn't have the money to adequately feed and house us, we might look for a way to make more. Get clever about increasing our resources; look for a better-paying job; hell, hold a big bake sale.

If Florida legislators could locate their brains among their "Truck Nutz," they could get creative and generate some revenue to address this state's needs. Why not raise "sin taxes" on tobacco or booze — Christian Taliban types would surely approve. Or get rid of some of those sales tax exemptions for services. House Democrats had the good idea to close a tax loophole and make the megacorps who make megabucks in Florida cough up their fair share. Companies like Wal-Mart benefit from huge tax breaks, passed when Florida was flush. Of course, that bill was voted down.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has moved on, not to education, not to insurance, not to poverty, but to bestiality. There's a bill up to make it illegal for you to have sex with your goat. Or dog. Or cow. Evidently, hot interspecies congress is yet another of our urgent social problems.

Let it not be said that your Florida Legislature does not serve you. Especially in an election year.

Diane Roberts is the author of Dream State, a book about Florida.

Diane Roberts: Legislature of the absurd 04/21/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 27, 2008 2:14pm]

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