Some do's and don'ts as the Florida Legislature careens into its final days

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel

By The Editorial Board

Published April 29, 2019


Time is running out on the Florida Legislature. One week remains. Before that happens, we’ve made a little list of do’s and mostly don’ts.


Arming teachers. Don’t do it. Teachers don’t want this. Administrators don’t either. Practically no one does except those who believe the answer to school shootings is flooding the zone with guns. This is a misguided response to the tragedy in Parkland. Senators narrowly approved Senate Bill 7030 Tuesday. Too bad. It’s up to the House to make sure this dangerous, divisive idea doesn’t pass. If not, Gov. Ron DeSantis needs to use his veto pen.

Gutting citizen initiatives. Don’t do it. Senate Bill 7096 and CS/HB 7111 are designed to do one thing: Create bureaucratic hurdles for constitutional amendments that get on the ballot through the process of citizens gathering petitions. That’s it. Arguments that these bills are designed to improve transparency and accountability are smokescreens. If that were the case then these bills would apply some of those same provisions to amendments that get on the ballot through a vote of the state Legislature. This isn’t complicated. Lawmakers want a monopoly on changing the state constitution. Hard stop.

Eliminating the Constitution Revision Commission. Don’t do it. Further evidence lawmakers want sole control over changing the state constitution. Senate Bill 362 gets rid of the once-every-20-years panel that can put constitutional amendments on the ballot. Last year’s commission bundled some totally unrelated issues (vaping and offshore drilling!) and deserved the derision it received. So why not just prohibit bundling? Because that wouldn’t consolidate the Legislature’s power, that’s why. If this bill to eliminate the commission passes at least voters will have to approve it in 2020.

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Ending amendment bundling. Do it. Senate Bill 74 eliminates bundling amendments by the Constitution Revision Commission. Voters would be happy to approve this perfectly reasonable change to the constitution in 2020. See how easy it is to solve problems without burning down the house?

Dishonoring Amendment 4. Don’t do it. Voters last year overwhelmingly approved giving ex-felons the right to vote. Some lawmakers either weren’t paying attention or don’t like the idea of letting more people vote. The House bill, 7089, seems intent on the strictest possible interpretation of the vote, while the Senate bill, 7086, shaves off some of the rougher edges. Amendment 4’s sponsors didn’t think any law was needed to implement this constitutional change, but if lawmakers insist on doing so, they’ll honor the will of the voters by breaking down voting barriers, not erecting new ones.

Robbing Sadowski. Don’t do it. The Sadowski Fund is supposed to take a portion of the state fee for real estate transactions and use it for affordable housing. But nearly every year it gets raided so lawmakers can prop up their budget. Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged that wouldn’t happen under his watch, but the state House budget pilfers $200 million of this year’s $332 million fund. The rest of the money would go to the Panhandle for Hurricane Michael housing, leaving the rest of the state with $0. Simple solution: Instead of pilfering $200 million, spend that on affordable housing for the rest of the state. This will be a test of the governor’s mettle if the House defies his wishes.

Increasing sprawl. Don’t do it. Senate President Bill Galvano’s signature initiative this year (SB 7068) is to build a trio of highways through some of the last swaths of undeveloped Florida. We know exactly what happens when new roads are built. Sprawling development follows, and another piece of old Florida is lost. Sure, the bill creates task forces to give the road ideas a once-over, but two of these three road projects have been studied before and labeled duds. More studies seem like an exercise in wearing down the opposition.

Backing sunshine. Do it. Cities are increasingly hauling citizens into court for making public records requests. It’s a bullying tactic supported by the Florida League of Cities. House Bill 407, which passed unanimously, would prohibit such intimidation by local governments. The Senate version, SB 602, just makes governments pay legal fees if they lose. That’s not even close to good enough. Citizens shouldn’t worry about getting taken to court for exercising their constitutional rights.

Attacking home rule. Don’t do it. House Bill 5 is another Tallahassee attack on the power of local government. It dictates when cities and counties can hold sales tax votes and — incredibly — requires a two-thirds vote for approval. That’s an astonishingly high bar for anything to pass. These sales tax questions have proved popular with voters who want to better schools, fix roads and provide medical care for the poor. Lawmakers want to deny them self-reliance. Fortunately, Senate bills on the subject leave off the super-majority requirement while mandating the timing of sales tax votes during general elections only.