1. Opinion

Editorial: Florida legislators smart to kill bad ideas

Times (2012)
Times (2012)
Published May 9, 2014

The Florida Legislature adjourned its annual session a week ago, and the focus now shifts to the legislation it passed, projects included in the state budget, and speculation about what Gov. Rick Scott will sign into law and what he will veto.

But it's worth a look back at what lawmakers did not approve. Killing bad ideas can be just as important as approving good ones. Some were never good public policy; others started out as positive reforms but morphed into something worse. Here are seven that deserved to die:

Hospital trauma centers

Hospital Corporation of America hoped to protect itself from legal challenges from its competitors by changing state law to ensure its newest trauma centers could stay open. A Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed that HCA's trauma center response fees are the highest in the state at up to $33,000. But even after lawmakers added language to the bill capping trauma response fees at $15,000 — which would still have been too high — the entire effort failed when it was amended to a massive health care bill that had too many detractors to pass. The fate of its new trauma centers should be decided by health care regulators and the courts, not legislators swayed by lobbyists and campaign contributions.

Charter schools

For many students, charter schools have proven to be a valuable alternative to traditional public schools. But for too many other children, they have been little more than a sham. Students can lose a year of learning or more before school districts can build the case to shut bad charter schools down. Lawmakers should have been talking about how to make poor-performing charter schools more accountable for the tax dollars they receive. Instead, charter school advocates pushed to reduce the little authority school districts have to oversee local charter schools and sought uniform contracts that would have handcuffed the districts. Fortunately, that effort failed.

Take your gun to a riot

Florida law allows lawful gun owners to transport their weapons in the trunk of their car or even in an unlocked box. But the National Rifle Association and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, tried to change state law so that after a mandatory evacuation, or in times of civil unrest, any lawful gun owner could also carry their gun hidden on their person without a concealed weapons permit. The poorly worded bill put no limits on that supposedly temporary exemption and was opposed by the Florida Sheriffs' Association. It died in the Senate.

Taxi services

Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, and Brandes wanted to open the door to new, on-demand luxury car service. The measure was a back-door way to upend the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles. It was too narrow, and it put into limbo rules intended to protect paying passengers from unsafe drivers and vehicles. Lawmakers should come back next year with a bill that abolishes the PTC and delegates its safety regulations to county government, clearing the way for responsible market competition.

Property insurance

An effort to add unregulated "surplus lines" as one of the options for homeowners insured by the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. was promoted as offering another viable option for consumers. In truth, it would have put consumers at risk by adding these surplus lines carriers to options in a clearinghouse. Supporters of the bill promoted it as a free-market alternative, but surplus lines can raise their premiums at will and are not backed by a state insurance fund if they fail to pay claims.

The Senate approved the change allowing surplus lines, but the House saw the light and removed that provision from the Citizens bill.

Craft beer

It started out as a simple change in law to help a booming home-grown business sector, the microbreweries selling craft beers. The idea was to let craft breweries sell their beers in half-gallon containers that customers could take home, just as it is done in 47 other states. But then the big beer distributors with their lobbyists and campaign cash jumped in to protect themselves from competition. They had help from Senate President Don Gaetz, and by the time they were done they had hijacked the legislation.

Instead of helping microbreweries, the changes would have forced them to pay extortion money to the beer distributors just to sell their own craft beers. That would have been bad for the emerging industry and bad for consumers.

Public pensions

House Speaker Will Weatherford retreated from his initial goal to shut down the state's public employee pension plan to new employees and force them into a 401(k)-style retirement plan. A more reasonable Senate plan, that would have made the 401(k) plan more enticing for new hires but not a requirement, emerged last month. But that was too late for serious vetting of a program vital to hundreds of thousands of future state and local government employees, including schoolteachers.