In this series before the Nov. 6 elections, opposing candidates answer question on issues facing Pinellas. Today's candidates are seeking the District 57 seat in the state House of Representatives. The questions were prepared and the answers solicited by the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg area.Q What are your priorities for ethics reform? What ethics and election reforms would you work toward?
A Mary Brennan, Democrat: My priorities for ethics reform include prohibiting legislators from accepting gifts and trips from lobbyists, allowing the Ethics Commission to investigate ethics violations independently instead of having to wait for a complaint to be filed and revising campaign contributions laws to prohibit corporations from contributing to campaigns.
James C. "Jim" Frishe, Republican: My top priority is tighter reins on the use of leadership funds; next, allow only individual contributions to candidates and a reduction in the maximum allowable contribution _ to be made up by public matching funds (as I proposed in my 1990 Campaign Financing Reform Bill).
Q Low voter turnout continues to be a problem, and many believe that increased opportunities for voter registration would improve voter participation. Do you agree, and if so, what state legislation would you support to address this problem?
A Brennan: Low voter turnout is increasing, and I would support legislation to allow voter registration on Sundays.
Frishe: My top priority is campaign reform along the lines indicated above. I believe we need fair redistricting to enhance competition for each seat; if the Democrat leadership gerrymanders Florida again this time, it might be necessary to put reapportionment in the hands of an independent, unbiased committee.
Q Would you support state legislation or a change in the Constitution to allow county school boards to be elected on a non-partisan basis? If not, why not?
A Brennan: Yes, I believe school board elections should be on a non-partisan basis.
Frishe: No. Our two-party tradition has stood us in good stead for two centuries. There is a difference in the philosophy of government and how to run one of the most important local elements of that government. Candidates like to know they have friends and supporters behind them, and the parties themselves nourish the hopes of everyday men and women who are willing to sacrifice for the public good by running for office. There is more than one way to run a school; let's keep the debate going.
Q The Department of Health & Rehabilitative Services (HRS) has received a lot of negative publicity recently. What are the most serious problems facing HRS and what solutions would you propose?
A Brennan: The size of HRS needs to be reduced. Its structure is too large to be effective. The agency should be streamlined by assigning some functions to other state agencies. In addition, increased funding for additional personnel is needed to reduce caseloads and to increase salaries of line personnel. This would reduce errors in judgment due to work overloads and help to retain personnel in the lower-level jobs.
Frishe: The worst HRS problem is poorly paid, under-motivated staff. The next worst is its hydra-headed mission _ HRS has too much to do. I propose paying staffers more, giving them more power, telling them more clearly what Florida expects of them, and then getting out of their way. I propose putting the right people in the right jobs; four years ago the head of a local HRS operation had a forestry degree. The man in charge today has an appropriate degree.
Q What recommendations do you have for solving the health-care crisis, particularly the dilemma facing the thousands of Florida residents who have no health insurance?
A Brennan: We need to construct a health-care delivery system that would provide access for all Floridians. Currently, more than 1.3-million Floridians are without health-care insurance. A system melding public and private resources to support such an effort needs to be adopted by the Legislature. Prevention of illness and early treatment is not only humane, but much more cost-effective than treating illness in an advanced stage.
Frishe: Our health-care system fails in but one place: access. Keeping good doctors and high technology, let's act immediately to make sure nobody in Florida goes without care because of a lack of health insurance. The Legislature must make up its mind how it will make universal care work; a Canadian system or one based much more on private insurance or a compromise. In any event, the Legislature must come up with an answer soon.
Q What should be the role of the Legislature in moving Florida toward mandatory recycling of most solid waste products?
A Brennan: The Legislature needs to move ahead more quickly with establishing increased recycling standards. Mandating a 30 percent reduction in the waste stream in each county was a good beginning, but the deadline should have been earlier than 1994. The Legislature can also establish purchasing policies that give a preference to using recycled products. Also, certain packaging like Styrofoam fast-food containers should be banned and a bottle return bill passed.
Frishe: It's smarter to give people good, solid reasons to recycle than it is to force them. I will sponsor a bill for state study of incentives to boost markets for recyclables. I propose grants for community recycling projects. I will co-sponsor and work hard for a bill halting the building of new incinerators, making local government get with the program and make recycling not only good sense but good business, too. We should use the tax structure to reward those who produce with recyclable materials.
Q A proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot requires a three-day waiting period when purchasing a hand gun. Do you favor such action, and would you support any further restrictions on firearms purchases? Why?
A Brennan: Yes, I favor a three-day waiting period for the purchase of guns. I would favor a seven-day waiting period to allow a background investigation of a person purchasing a gun. I would also like to see mandatory training courses in the safe use of a firearm. Experienced gun users could pass a written test in lieu of having to take the course. I also favor the banning of assault weapons.
Frishe: Even though there is no credible evidence that a three-day waiting period will make our streets any safer (or our homes, for that matter), I voted to put the amendment on the ballot. I note that Florida State University experts have argued against its passage. I support no further infringement on constitutionally guaranteed rights to own a firearm. As with other rights, we should penalize those who abuse them, not those who obey the laws.
Q What are your views on the current status (successes and failures) of the Growth Management Act of 1985. What revisions, if any, would you make in this law?
A Brennan: I believe there are few revisions that need to be made to the Growth Management Act of 1985. I would support the addition of some incentives to encourage development to infill in areas with existing infrastructure. These could be tax subsidies, impact fee credits or ad valorem incentives. Also, the Department of Community Affairs needs to be given stricter enforcement powers to ensure local governments abide by their plans.
Frishe: The Growth Management Act is doing its job. Even though there was a lot of talk back in 1988-89 about the problems the act was causing, it was implemented with reasonable ease. I see little need now to change the act. As we learn more about good urban planning, however, we might need to incorporate language about it into the act. Most importantly, we need to fund it.
Q What major tax reforms, if any, would you support that might help Florida's current fiscal crisis?
A Brennan: Florida's tax structure is insufficient and falls about $1-billion short of meeting the needs of its children. Similar shortfalls exist in transportation, environmental regulation and education. I would support a service sales tax, eliminating sales tax exemptions (not on food or medicine) and an increase in the corporate income tax. I also support increasing economic development. The more profitable Florida businesses are, the more tax dollars are generated.
Frishe: Our leaders have left us holding the bag, and the bag is full of holes. Everyone knows we've got a cockeyed tax system, but all they want to do is tinker with it. Wearing special interest blinders, they can't see the other side of the coin: spending. Before we start rifling people's pockets again, let's get state spending under control. Each person in Florida paid $10 this year for turkeys; that kind of stuff has to stop if people are going to trust government.
Q Do you support legislation at the state level to limit freedom of choice as it pertains to a woman's right to an abortion? If given the opportunity, list any restrictions which you would support or oppose.
A Brennan: No, I do not support increased regulations on abortion. I believe that this is a separation of church and state issue. I believe that the decision of whether or not to have an abortion should be the choice of a woman. This is a private, personal decision that government should not have a role in.
Frishe: Abortion has become the emotional lightning rod of this election. What has been obscured by all the media hype about "rights," "responsibility" and labels is the legal question that the Legislature has to deal with. The question that will be wrestled with by the Legislature is "at what point does the state have the right to intervene to protect the life of the unborn child." Rape, incest and the life of the mother would certainly seem to be reasonable exceptions to any restriction. I continue to support the parental consent requirements as passed by the Legislature, and I certainly oppose abortion for sex selection or basic birth control.