On March 6, Gov. Charlie Crist gave his first State of the State speech, and he sounded almost politically ecumenical. He's down with tax cuts, and he wants to get tough on parole violators. But he also gave an Al Gore—friendly nod to global warming concerns and promised to fully fund the class-size amendment Jeb did his best to ignore. He pledged voting machines with paper trails and a push for stem-cell research. You know you're in Bizarro World when the Senate Democratic Leader says this about a Republican governor: "How do you complain about someone who's advocating all your policy positions?"
The degree to which Crist's professed moderation guides this year's legislative session remains to be seen. The budget isn't hitting as hard as in years past, but that won't get in the way of tax relief. Budgets will be trimmed. Some programs will wither on the vine. The governmental beast will be starved. And you'll get a tax holiday. This is still Florida.
There are a few issues that will dominate the news. House Republicans want to do away with property taxes and jack up the state's sales tax, a move local governments say will cripple them. That's a biggie. They already "solved" the property insurance crisis, though how effective a solution the enacted law will become is anyone's guess. Within days of the session's gavel, lawmakers sent Crist his so-called "anti-murder bill" — who is pro-murder? — which he signed.
But what of the rest of the goings-on? This being Florida, there are a lot of bills floating around. And this being Florida, many of them are stupid, dangerous and silly.
Here's a primer of 11 of the really bad proposals. Most of these won't pass, but you should be embarrassed — even terrified — that they were introduced at all. These are your elected officials. You voted for them.
Siplin in your pants: Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, the only convicted felon in the state Senate, has declared war on boxer shorts, because there are no other problems in Florida left to tackle. The last two sessions, Siplin proposed making it a misdemeanor — punishable by jail, a fate he ducked despite misusing taxpayer-funded staffers on his political campaign — to be out in public with your britches low enough to expose your undergarments. Those bills went nowhere. Now, with Senate Bill 2780, Siplin is focusing his ire on boxer-exposing public-school students. Under this new legislation, students whose clothing displayed "one's covered or uncovered sexual organs in a vulgar or indecent manner" could get suspended for up to 10 days.
Vote for no one: We've all done it. You love America, so you have to vote. Then you go into the ballot box, look at your choices and think, "Really? This is it?" Senate Bill 494 offers you a solution. "For each office on the ballot … the ballot must include a selection that states ‘I choose not to vote.'" You can still vote, without actually having to vote for someone.
The Library sex police: Everyone hates sex offenders, so politicians can't go wrong cracking down on them. Enter Senate Bill 1804, which would require sex offenders whose victims were under 18 to notify library staff whenever he or she enters the public building. Besides the bill's obvious problem — it's entirely unenforceable — the bill would require librarians who are notified about the offender to follow said sex offender around. What, exactly, is the librarian supposed to do if the offender heads for the children's section? Perhaps the offender just wants to peruse the Internet. Is that allowed? Good questions, but let's ignore them and pretend we're protecting the kids.
The right to own pets: Say you choose to move into a condominium that doesn't allow pets, but you want to keep Fido anyway. A problem, right? Not if House Bill 1373 passes. Under this legislation, all you have to do is get a doctor to declare your pet an "emotional support animal" and write you a prescription, and you get to keep it, no matter what the homeowners association says. Can you smell a cottage industry in the works?
Let prosecutors lie: You would think that letting prosecutors hide or falsify court records would be a bad thing. You'd be wrong, according to a proposed law that would allow prosecutors to do just that with a judge's permission. In theory, they'd only be able to falsify records for up to 180 days in active investigations to protect the identity of undercover agents and informants, but if this isn't a slippery slope, what is?
racist tune: As best we can tell no bill has been introduced yet, but there is a movement to replace the state song, "Old Folks at Home," with something a little less racist and outdated. Songwriter Stephen Foster was actually a progressive for his time, but the song is 156 years old. The state adopted it in 1935, which means it has taken us 72 years to realize that a song that calls blacks "darkies" and portrays them as longing for plantation life might not be the most inclusive way to go.
Regulating bingo: Did you know that Florida actually has a law that tells you how to play bingo? It does. Section 849.0931 of the Florida Statutes is your very own bingo primer. And apparently, it needs to be amended to define the terms "deal," "flare" and "instant bingo," and to put state restrictions on the manufacture of instant bingo tickets.
Baxley in your womb:This we get: State Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, really hates abortion. But is introducing legislation that would scare the hell out of pregnant teenagers useful? Baxley thinks so. He co-sponsored a bill that would require health-care professionals and abortion doctors to report pregnant girls under age 15 in their care, which would automatically trigger a criminal investigation. Purportedly, since state law makes any sexual contact with anyone younger than 16 illegal, this is to ferret out child molesters. The practical effect, of course, would be to prevent pregnant girls from getting any medical treatment, lest their boyfriends go to jail. There is a reason that medical care is private.
guns everywhere: In a sane state, the idea that your employers and the people who own the building you work in would be able to decide whether or not they wanted you to be able to bring guns onto their property would be common sense. The Florida Legislature, however, isn't sane. Hence, the Individual Personal Private Property Protection Act of 2007, which would permit you to bring your gun wherever you please, or at least leave it in your car in case someone pisses you off.
tags for rednecks: Enough with the specialty plates already. Every year a bunch get pushed through, and 2007 is no different. There's a bill supporting tags for out-of-state colleges and another that would create a "Trees Are Cool" plate. And then there's the NASCAR plate. The state agreed to this one two years ago if NASCAR put its Hall of Fame in Daytona. NASCAR chose Charlotte, but we'll still give them a plate. And why not? Every other group already has one, except for the pro-choicers, and they're trying.
Protect the flag: Did you know the flag is in danger? Well, it is, and the Legislature is coming to the rescue, with the Florida Flies the Flag Act. Basically, this law says neither local government nor a homeowners association can stop you from flying a flag. Glad that's firstname.lastname@example.org