Florida Legislature's evaluation: needs (lots of) improvement

Published May 5, 2013

They applauded one another.

They embraced, they laughed, they took group pictures.

All in all, during the final hours and days of the 2013 legislative session, your state lawmakers seemed very happy with themselves.

And that's a good thing because I'm not sure who else is feeling charitable toward our senators and representatives these days.

This legislative session feels more notable for what didn't happen than what did. For instance, some really bad ideas got squashed. And one really important issue got tabled.

These folks accomplished a handful of good things, but I'm not sure how much there is to brag about. Let's put it this way: They weren't as bad as previous Legislatures. Anyone want to put that on a bumper sticker?

Since I know how much our lawmakers appreciate accountability, here's a quick review of their 2013 performance using the same type of standards applied in their glorious teacher evaluations.

Education — Pay raises for teachers! Per-pupil funding bump! Oversight for charter schools! At first glance, you might think education was a priority for this Legislature. But then you remember the political sham known as parent trigger was one vote away from being passed, and you realize our post office is still in Hooterville.

Final evaluation: Effective.

Consumers — Your electric bill remains higher than necessary because lap dogs in the House had their tummies scratched with campaign coins from utility companies. On the other hand, the House kept the Senate from including rate hikes in an overhaul of Citizens Property Insurance.

Final evaluation: Barely effective.

Campaign finance reform — Lawmakers cracked down on one type of political committee, but basically empowered another. They also generously raised contribution limits for candidates. And this was supposed to be a victory for House Speaker Will Weatherford? It feels like a batter celebrating a pop-up because he didn't strike out.

Final evaluation: Unsatisfactory.

Ethics reform — The Commission on Ethics was finally given some teeth, and legislators must now wait two years after leaving office before cashing in as lobbyists. Now was that really so hard?

Final evaluation: Highly effective.

Election reform — Alas, The Daily Show may have to find new material. The election reform package passed on Friday goes a long way toward reversing some of the foolish laws that have turned Florida into a national punch line every other November. A handful of Democrats are still complaining, but they're starting to sound like whiners.

Final evaluation: Effective.

State employees — Let's see, the governor has been trying to fire as many workers as he can. The Legislature wants to privatize their jobs. Workers have gone seven years without raises, and Weatherford wanted to blow up the pension program. Hard for things to get much worse for state employees. So across-the-board wage increases — even though they only range from $1,000 to $1,400 — are a major coup this session.

(By the way, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, gets kudos for helping to kill both the pension bill and the parent trigger bill on the same day.)

Final evaluation: Needs improvement.

Entitlements — If you run into a neighbor who is down on their luck, pull them aside and offer this advice: Incorporate. The Legislature may not have much sympathy for poverty-level residents, but it loves some corporations. Tax breaks and other forms of corporate welfare are all the rage in Tallahassee. The rationale is that corporation-friendly laws create jobs, but no one seems to hold corporate honchos accountable on that.

Final evaluation: Needs improvement.

Health care — More than 1 million uninsured residents. More than $50 billion in federal funds. How do those two numbers not add up? Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, came up with a plan that would use federal funds while not expanding Medicaid, per se. Yet House Republicans seemed cowed by Weatherford's authority. It didn't matter that lives might be saved. It didn't matter that studies predict money will be saved in the long run. It died a political and ideological death.

Final evaluation: Unsatisfactory.

Also uncaring. And unconscionable.

Frankly, unbelievable.