A 23-page animal welfare bill filed by Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, for Florida’s upcoming legislation session does lots of different things. It would prohibit cat declawing for non-therapeutic reasons. It would bar businesses in most cases from manufacturing cosmetics that were tested on animals. It would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to create a registry of people convicted of animal abuse.
But one sentence in particular has gotten national attention. It’s a clause that would ban Floridians from allowing a “dog to extend its head or any other body part outside a motor vehicle window while the person is operating the motor vehicle.”
Book said in an interview that her office has been flooded with feedback about that part of the bill. Most of it has been negative, she said: Some have compared Book to the Disney villain Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians.
“It’s very clear that people don’t like that provision,” Book said in an interview.
She plans to scrap it.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean the entire bill is dead. From the beginning, Book said she hoped to bring animal welfare advocates together on a sweeping bill. She anticipated there would be amendments along the way.
She just didn’t anticipate national news coverage.
“You would think this is the only thing in the bill,” she said.
The flap involving Florida doggos got us thinking: What makes a bill doomed?
For one thing, math. Legislating is difficult, and selective. In 2022, Florida lawmakers filed 3,685 bills, memorials and resolutions. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed just 264 measures.
Bills must pass both the Florida House and Florida Senate, then be approved by the governor to become law.
Some have a much better chance than others. If it’s a priority of the House speaker, Senate president or — especially — DeSantis, the bill has a great chance to become law. If a committee chairperson in the House or Senate agrees to hear the bill, it’s at least got some momentum.
As we approach the start of the 2023 legislative session on March 7, let’s take a look at some other interesting long shot ideas. Some are likely dead on arrival in a Republican-controlled legislative body. Others have been filed many times over the years. And at least one has been the subject of controversy for nearly a quarter century.
1. Changing the state bird
The mockingbird is the state bird of five states, including Florida. For more than two decades, there has been an effort to change Florida’s state bird to something a bit more quintessentially Florida.
The most persistent idea: Change the state bird to the scrub-jay. Found in the thick shrubs — the scrub, if you will — of Central Florida, the scrub-jay is the only bird that lives only in Florida.
Not everyone is a fan of the idea. Marion Hammer, the former longtime lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, has been fighting the change since it was first seriously proposed years ago. In January, she wrote in an op-ed in the Tallahassee Democrat that she likes the state bird just the way it is.
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“Scrub-jays can’t even sing. They only have an irritating squawk,” Hammer wrote, later adding, “Scrub-jays are known to be evil little birds that steal other birds’ eggs and kill the babies of other birds.”
Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, is the Senate sponsor of this bipartisan measure. Rep. Sam Killebrew, R-Winter Haven, is the House sponsor.
When asked whether the effort to replace the state bird had any momentum this legislative session, Polsky wrote in a text message: “None :(”
2. Elect the president by a national popular vote
For the seventh year running, Democrats have filed a bill, SB 860, that would join Florida to a national agreement to honor the popular vote in presidential elections. Some 15 states have already agreed to do so. Not once has Florida’s bill gotten so much as a committee hearing.
Under the agreement, participating states would dedicate their electoral votes to the presidential candidate that wins the national popular vote — regardless of who won the state in question.
Currently, the U.S. president is chosen not by a direct popular vote, but by electoral votes of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Each state (and D.C.) is given two electoral votes plus an additional number of electoral votes based on the number of U.S. House representatives it has. In 2024, Florida will have 30 electoral votes. There are 538 electoral college votes in total, so a candidate needs 270 to win the presidency.
Of the 50 states, 48 — including Florida — currently pledge all of their electoral votes to the candidate that wins the popular vote in that state.
Democratic candidates for president have won the popular vote in seven out of the last eight presidential elections. In two of those elections, 2000 and 2016, the Republican candidate won the presidency despite losing the popular vote because he carried enough electoral college votes.
Republicans have controlled Tallahassee for more than two decades. They’re unlikely to cede Florida’s crucial 30 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote — particularly if a Republican carries the state, but the popular vote winner is a Democrat.
The Senate sponsor of the bill, Victor Torres, D-Kissimmee, did not return emailed requests for comment. It’s his sixth year sponsoring the bill.
3. Banning hairstyle discrimination
Since 2020, Democratic lawmakers have tried to ban hairstyle discrimination in Florida in some form or another.
Their efforts got off to a promising start: In 2020, Senate lawmakers passed a bill out of a committee — an important first step. Some 17 states have passed similar measures, including Republican-controlled Tennessee.
But there’s been no movement toward Florida lawmakers passing such a bill in subsequent years.
This year’s House measure, HB 51, attempts to ban hairstyle discrimination in schools. It says that Black people too often have to conform to European beauty standards in professional settings.
“Hair has been, and remains, a rampant source of racial discrimination that has caused serious economic and health ramifications,” the bill reads. It holds that ”a student may not be excluded from participation in, or denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any public K-20 education program or activity on the basis of a protected hairstyle.”
In an interview, bill sponsor Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, said the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act has a chance to move this year if the public voices support for it, and if people come forward to share their stories.
She complimented Speaker of the House Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, for allowing House committee chairpeople a measure of autonomy in picking which bills they will hear.
“In my conversations, I definitely have not received a ‘no’ yet,” Driskell said in an interview.
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