While those of us living in Happytown™ were hunkered down in our bathtubs last week, trying to hide from the funnel clouds and monsoon rains raging outside, it was business as usual in Tallahassee. And by business as usual we mean Republicans finding innovative new ways to clamp down on women's reproductive organs.
Last week, Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, was chastised by Republican leadership when he uttered the name of a body part during a debate on the floor of the House. To be more specific, he suggested that his wife "incorporate her uterus" as a means to stop Republicans - always up for a little uterine regulation in the form of pro-life legislation, and healthy doses of deregulation when it comes to handling corporations - from pushing their anti-abortion agenda.
A stunned gasp was heard throughout the gallery - ladies fainted and men rushed in to cover the virgin ears of the children listening to the debate. The color drained from the cheeks of GOP leaders who deemed Randolph a potty mouth and chastised him for using the real word for a woman's baby-docking station in public.
As was reported in multiple media outlets (mortifyingly, many of them national), GOP spokeswoman Katie Betta said the Speaker of the House expected members to be "mindful of and respectful to" visitors and guests, "particularly the young pages and messengers" seated in the chamber. "In the past, if the debate is going to contain language that would be considered inappropriate for children and other guests, the Speaker will make an announcement in advance, asking children and others who may be uncomfortable with the subject matter to leave the floor and gallery," she said.
These teenage pages and messengers are, it seems, old enough to get a hands-on education in backroom dealing and corruption in politics, but too young to hear grownups use the real names for body parts in public. Right.
So, ladies, take note: Your uteri make boys blush and Republicans uncomfortable. We shall never speak of them again.
Speaking of things that make Republicans uncomfortable: Planned Parenthood!
While legislators in Washington campaign to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood because it performs abortions, Planned Parenthood continues to prove that it does stuff other than provide abortions. The Greater Orlando branch of the group announced on Mar. 31 that it was joining forces with MTV, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to encourage young people to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases in honor of National STD Awareness Month.
As an incentive, Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando is offering discounted rates throughout the remainder of the year for its catch-all test for chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV and syphilis: teens pay $35, while adults pay $60. (The usual going rates are $105 and $130, respectively.) There's no discount for herpes testing, unfortunately, which will still run you an extra 20 bucks.
Who else is advertising sales for low-cost STD testing in the area? That's right - no one. So if we defund Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions, where will all the bashful pages, whose minds were corrupted when they heard Rep. Randolph speak the word uterus on the House floor, go when they need to get their private parts checked for rashes and bumps? Maybe GOP leadership will provide the service for them.
Or perhaps the Florida Chamber of Commerce will come up with a solution.
On March 29, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer was having his big re-election campaign kickoff at the Abbey Theatre, a venue so new it hadn't even officially opened yet. It was an important day for Dyer, so at first, the protestors were kind enough not to shout. At a respectable distance from the gala, around 15 members of activist group Organize Now handed out flyers that read: "Ask Mayor Dyer if he's a ‘Buddy' of the Florida Chamber of Commerce!"
They were there because three members of Dyer's re-election host committee are members of the chamber, a pro-business lobbying group that in recent months has attacked unions and other impediments to unfettered capitalism.
Last month the organization produced a radio advertisement alleging that protests by Seminole County public school employees, held at the offices of state legislators who support education funding cuts, were part of a nefarious scheme organized by big national unions who were "bussing in" activists from out of state to "harass ... courageous representatives." (After a thorough examination of the charges, Politifact rated the chamber's allegations as "pants on fire" lies; the Orlando Sentinel's Mike Thomas called them "complete crap.")
The Chamber saw 80 of its 84 endorsed candidates elected to the state legislature this past November, and it has evidently become so drunk with power that it has gone a bit batshit, boasting to Happytown about its political "war room" and creating a color-coded system to rate the security threats posed by protestors to its fortress in Tallahassee.
Some with-us-or-against-us politicking prompted the Organize Now protest. "We support Buddy - he's a good Democrat," said Doug Head, who campaigned against Dyer's removal from office in 2005 following allegations of electoral fraud. "We just want to make sure his agenda is not that of the Florida Chamber."
The protestors were unaware of the Mayor's response emailed to Happytown earlier that day, however. "Just like this group, I do not support Governor Scott's agenda to cut benefits for public employees," Dyer wrote. "I would encourage them to focus their energy on delivering their message directly to the Governor rather than to a Mayor who shares their point of view on these issues."
With the torrent of news about budget cuts and uteri coming out of Tallahassee lately, proposed changes to Florida's immigration laws have gotten relatively scant attention. At least 10 different immigration bills have been introduced in the Florida legislature this session; if passed, they would broaden police authority to question people about their immigration status and obligate employers to use the E-Verify work authorization system, among other things.
Opponents of the proposed "Florida-style" immigration legislation argue that these bills are nothing but draconian Arizona-style immigration laws "in disguise." That was the theme of a protest against the bills held April 1 outside Republican State Sen. David Simmons' Altamonte Springs office, where protestors donned Groucho Marx glasses and chanted "We are America!"
"Even though representatives are saying these are not Arizona bills, they're going to have the same consequences here in Florida," says Lariza Garzon of the National Farm Worker Ministry Youth and Young Adult Network. Garzon says that the bills would create unnecessary extra work for law enforcement.
The volume of immigration bills introduced this year is disheartening to Sister Ann Kendrick, who works for the Hope Community Center, an organization based in Apopka that helps immigrant families. "In the 40 years I've been working in the Central Florida community, I've never seen such a mean-spirited, vitriolic atmosphere," she says. "Part of me wants to stand on the border and say, ‘You're going to find more trouble here than is worth it.'"
As for us: We're headed back to the bathtub. Wake us up when the shitstorm in Tallahassee is over.