1. Opinion

Ruth: Public again feels wrath of Legislature

Published May 3, 2013

First some good news. By the end of the today, the Florida Legislature will declare "sine die," which is Latin for "thank goodness we're done with all this time-wasting lawmaking piffle and can now get down to the real work of stuffing our pantaloons with fat, juicy campaign contributions."

Or words to that effect.

The bad news is that the Legislature will have been in session for 60 days, which effectively means a Gitmo detainee has gotten a fairer shake from government than your great unwashed member of the body politic.

Don't you suspect there is a secret legislative cabal that meets every morning with a cat-stroking House Speaker Will Weatherford to report on their efforts to short-sheet Floridians at almost every turn? Think of it as a CCE — Committee of Continuous Egregiousness.

While no one would confuse the Senate with the Algonquin Roundtable, it is some small comfort that its members aren't as addled as the ideological Gary Buseys populating the House.

We've had all manner of rogues, charlatans, dimwits, megalomaniacs and wanted-posters-in-waiting preside over the House throughout Florida history, but none of them turned down $51 billion from the federal government to provide health care to 1 million low-income Floridians. That's what Weatherford, R-The King Tut of the Tea Party, did.

Even Gov. Rick Scott, who had rejected $2.4 billion from Washington to build a high-speed rail line, finally recognized that when someone offers you $51 billion in federal Medicaid money to help over a million people, you take it.

While both Scott and the Senate supported accepting the feds' money, the effort died when Weatherford and his fellow let-them-eat-aspirin travelers in the House refused to accept common sense and common decency.

Hanging more than a million Floridians out to cough may have been the biggest boondoggle of this year's session, but it was far from the last.

Legislation to blow up the state's divorce laws by permitting existing alimony agreements to be reopened and renegotiated, which would have imploded family law courts, was vetoed by Scott, who concluded it was too crazy even for him.

The veto also made good political sense since Scott is about as popular with women voters as Andrew Dice Clay working a NOW convention.

A modest texting-while- driving ban that appeared headed toward overwhelming approval turned into Tallahassee's version of the Paris peace talks after its Senate sponsor, Nancy Detert of Naples, voted against a parent trigger bill that would have opened the doors of public schools to corporate vultures.

As payback for Detert's apostasy, Rep. Jose Olivia, R-Miami, added a last-minute amendment to the texting bill that delayed, but did not eventually prevent, final passage.

Scott did sign into law an incumbent protection measure that increased campaign contribution limits from $500 to $3,000 for statewide candidates and to $1,000 for all other office seekers.

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The same bill will eliminate the benign-sounding Committees of Continuous Existence, which were nothing more than slush funds set up by Senate and House members to collect unlimited legalized bribes.

Alas, the new law still permits lawmakers to create reconstituted CCEs as political action committees, which can also collect unlimited de facto legalized bribes.

That was a close call, narrowly avoiding committing some actual ethics.

To no one's surprise, the Legislature continued to make it easy for utility companies such as Duke Energy to pick ratepayers' pockets by collecting nuclear recovery fees.

And what would a legislative session be in Florida — the land of sunshine, open meetings, public records and transparency — without a slew of late-night, closed-door, backroom dealmaking to cook the legislative books?

Like baseball spring training, every legislative session begins with Yankee Doodle Dandy optimism that elected officials in Tallahassee will do right by the people they serve.

And then first gavel is hammered and it is every lobbyist for himself. Would you expect anything less?


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