While you may have been fidgeting with your carb, man, the part-time suits in the Florida legislature have been scheming new ways to harsh your mellow, even if they don't quite dig your crazy lingo.
Last week, HB 187 soared unanimously through the grumpy cigars of the Florida House Finance and Tax Council without so much as a stoner cough. The bill is meant to stifle the head shop workarounds of selling "water pipes," a term typically employed by winking retailers in dancing bear T-shirts, by forcing them to prove that at least 75 percent of their total sales are comprised of the golden tobacco leaf.
In order for such a restriction to be enforceable, somebody had to come up with a list of items on the state's watch list. And somebody did! Among the bits of refer terminology to cross the mahogany desks of the moral majority were "carburetor pipes," "chillums" and "chillers," along with a list of pipes made out of just about anything: metal, wood, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic and ceramic. Of course, if you're going to break out a term like "chillum" in front of legislator, it's fun to ask them what it means.
"I have no idea what 80 percent of these things are," state Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, told a (probably giggling) Palm Beach Post reporter after he voted in favor of the bill anyway.
The bill's author, Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, apparently has a particular distaste for anything that might resemble drug paraphernalia, having floated the unpopular idea last year of imposing a 25 percent sales tax on bongs. This year's funny pot bill may be a little less severe on the surface (and therefore more popular with "tough on crime" campaign placard wavers), but it did at least raise a few brows from some among the council.
"As I look at this list, I don't really understand what some of these are," state Rep William Snyder, R-Stuart, grumbled to the Post. "I want to make sure I'm comfortable that we don't slam the mom-and-pop grocery store that sells whatever an electric carburetor pipe is, or a chillum. I mean, I know what a bong is."
So do we! Politicians: they're just like us.
Though the rest of the state — and even the nation — may have been distracted by the rusty hinges rattling on the closet door of state Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, and his one-man crusade to turn Florida in to Mayberry via his addendum to a film incentive bill that would effectively outlaw gay people, the quiet little municipality of Kissimmee took a bold, gay step forward last week.
On Mar. 10, by a 4-1 vote, the city in the shadow of Mickey's ears voted to extend domestic partner benefits to city employees. What does that mean? A lot, according to Equality Florida, the group that campaigned with openly gay city commissioner Cheryl Grieb to get the item passed.
"The Kissimmee city commission's decision is both powerful and profound," says Equality Florida field director and tall drink of water Joe Saunders in a press release. "Today, the city commission lived up to their obligation to treat all families, including Equality Florida's 280 Kissimmee members, with fairness, equality and respect."
The vote didn't come out of nowhere. More than 300 local businesses signed a petition in support of the measure, advocates have been piling on for months, and despite the Jesus cries of nearby rural dwellers that this would mean the end of the world, Grieb was able to get the good word through.
Perhaps hilariously, this may not have much effect at all. Even Grieb admitted to Watermark that there was no real way to know how many city staffers would pull out their gay cards to gain benefits; Kissimmee doesn't exactly scream "gay." For the bigger picture, though, it's a win for the gays in a state that keeps making them beg to be taken seriously.
Says Equality Florida: "For those who have every thought, ‘We can never do that here,' Kissimmee has the answer: ‘Yes you can.'"
And now it's time for another edition of What's Up With Alan?™, our attempt to keep you up to date on the comings and goings of Orlando's favorite congressman, Alan Grayson!
This week's admittedly gratuitous installment finds Master Grayson in fine form, attacking all of the issues that everybody is tired of talking about and then saying things to remind you that he is, and shall forever be, a big geek.
First, on Mar. 9, Grayson paraded out his entry into the public option sweepstakes with the "Medicare You Can Buy Into Act." House Resolution 4789 would invite regular old (and young!) Americans to abandon their Aetnas in favor of the very same medicine scheme that all of your cantankerous uncles are already on but don't like because it's socialist. So, basically it's a separate Medicare — one with Parts A and B, along with Part D for prescriptions — that will have no effect on the already existing invisible Medicare for angry seniors. Bully!
"Many Americans feel they have an adversarial relationship with their insurance companies, and that every penny that they receive in health care is a penny less for the health insurance company's profits," Grayson press released. "That's why we need another option. We need a public option."
Grayson's Hail Mary struck a nerve with his cohorts, and by Thursday the bill had gained 50 co-sponsors in just 48 hours. This prompted Grayson to issue an all-caps "WOW!" in e-mail form. Wow.
Not one to rest on his news-cycle plaudits, Grayson followed up on Mar. 10, with some fighting words on the House floor, words not at all distracted by the fact that he was wearing a tie covered in peace signs. "Madame Speaker, I have good news. The good news is we won the war in Afghanistan," he introduced himself, before going into standard Grayson contrarian mode. "We could have gone home a long time ago," he added.
Grayson was speaking out in favor of a frustrated resolution by tiny sense-maker Dennis Kucinich to bring the troops home from Afghanistan by the end of 2010, a measure that eventually lost by 356 to 65.
Perhaps feeling that burn (although it was all well and good that the peaceniks finally got to scream a little), Grayson popped up in inboxes again on Friday, this time as an awkward band geek. Noting that no Florida high schools are scheduled to play in the big July 4 parade in D.C. this year (only 20 are allowed), he's nominating five area high school for the honors in 2011. He's also been reading books again: "As Tolstoy said, ‘Music is the shorthand of emotion,'" Grayson puffed. A French horn farted off somewhere in the distance.
Last week, we told you all about the bonkers bingo bonanza playing its way through the court system ("A losing card," Mar. 11), the one in which grumpy attorney general (and gubernatorial hopeful) Bill McCollum was refusing to make good on a court-ordered debt to the estate of a maligned (now dead!) former bingo hall operator, even though his assumed rival, Florida's chief financial officer Alex Sink, was more than ready to cut the check and stop the millions in interest from accruing on the backs of taxpayers. It was fun. Just like bingo.
As we reported, local attorney Steve Mason served McCollum with a subpoena to answer for his sins at the Orange County Courthouse on Mar. 22. McCollum thought that to be just a little beneath his station and issued an emergency request to quash the subpoena. Well, on March 12, a judge granted McCollum his "quash" via a telephone hearing, meaning that, at least for now, he won't be put in the hot seat. That doesn't get him completely off the hook, though. The judge ordered McCollum to send a surrogate and added that, if the need arises during the hearing on Mar. 22, he could mandate McCollum's attendance.
Though the court may still proceed to enforce judgments already finalized against the state, McCollum basically just bought more time with your money. Money you could be using to play more bingo. Ballsfirstname.lastname@example.org