2011 FL Legislative Session: The biggest losers

For example, watching Legislators on the floor the last couple of days last week, one rarely heard Republicans boast about how their policies were designed to get Floridians back to work. No, it was all about how they had been elected instead to make sure not to raise taxes.


Yes, that was the message from Governor Scott — we'll balance this budget without raising taxes or fees.
But we don't recall that being the dominant message of Republicans running against Democrats last fall. It was about jobs. But just as that argument has been hijacked in Washington to focus on reducing the debt, GOP lawmakers shifted their emphasis to boasting how they took a $3.8 billion deficit and balanced it without raising any taxes or fees — pleasing Scott, Grover Norquist, and other anti-tax raising advocates, but hardly doing the rest of us any favors.

So, though hardly comprehensive, here's our look at the losers in aftermath of this year's session:

!) Those who care about the environment:

The state Legislature has cut funding for the five water management districts by 25 percent. For the South Florida Water Management District that oversees the Everglades, that's a $120 million hit.

There were also bills on Growth Management/Citizen Challenges. Two different bills now shift the review and regulation for development from the state to local governments, and also reverse the state's "burden of proof" that potential polluters show their projects won't contaminate air or water. Now citizens will have to provide such proof.

2) Pro Choice advocates: The Legislature opted to use their Republican majorities to take up issues that were hardly a priority with most voters who went to the polls in 2010, and the string of bills related to abortion is the classic example. Some of these measures will go before the voters in 2012, which isn't coincidental — whatever the Legislature could do to bring in as many hard right voters to the polls to combat the wave of young and minority voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, and presumably will do so again.

3) Speaking of voting, those who advocate more accessibility for citizens to actually vote took a spanking with the passage of SB 2086/HB 1355, which will reduce early voting from 14 days to eight, will require some voters who have moved to cast provisional ballots (the final bill will allow those who have moved but remained in the same county to cast a regular — and not provisional — ballot; the bill tightens the time for third-party groups to submit voter registration forms (to 48 hours) and reduces the time that signatures on citizen-led ballot initiatives are valid (from four years to two years).

Other "losers" include a couple of issues that CL wrote about in our publication earlier this year.

Those include a ban on texting while driving - Despite several bills that were proposed, this legislation went nowhere. However, a bill that decriminalizes "sexting" explicit photos, videos or text messages via your cellphone, did pass.

Also, CL contributor Lisa Marzilli wrote last month about a proposal by Senator Joe Negron and backed by the Florida Innocence Commission that would set new guidelines for police lineups to reduce wrongful convictions. That also failed.

The Biggest Loser?

Public education: In addition to the budget being cut by $1.35 billion, the Legislature also passed measures that will only drain more from the public education system — such as allowing additional charter schools, increasing school vouchers, and expanding virtual schools (Internet schools) and requiring high school students to take at least one online class

And even though it happened so long ago, there was SB 736 — the teacher tenure/merit bill, that will now place 50 percent of the evaluation of a teacher's performance on student test scores, among its many game-changing provisions.

Another loser that we shed no tears for is the death of a bill targeting illegal immigrants. Any semi-thoughtful observation of Senate leaders (such as Mike Haridopolos and J.D. Alexander) was that there heart wasn't really into passing anything that would A) hurt Florida businesses, who were strongly against any such legislation and B) punish undocumented immigrants.

Conversely, "winners" would be gun owners, pro-life advocates, businesses, the status quo, and the Republican Party of Florida (among others). The Legislature made sure to load up next year's ballot with lots of red meat items on abortion and health care that they believe will drive more of their voters to the polls, again as we mentioned above, all the better to knock out Barack Obama, Bill Nelson, and any other Democrats on the ballot.

For Florida Democrats? They may be aided by reapportionment and what happens with the Fair District Amendments, but they need to take it to the voters over the next year and a half about some of the damaging legislation this group of lawmakers has committed, to inspire and compel voters (including independents) who care about this state that if they want things to change, they're going to need to do something about the current state of affairs.


Well, it's over — mercifully.

The 2011 regular Florida legislative session went into overtime this weekend, but it's definitely now history, and not a moment too soon for anybody who describes themselves as a progressive/liberal/Democrat or possibly just an independent voter, all of whom must feel just a bit alienated to live in a state that as recently as 2 1/2 years ago voted for Barack Obama for president.

Florida voters presumably supported Republicans in larger number than Democrats last fall because they (naively?) believed Rick Scott's mantra that he and his fellow Republicans would have Floridians "Get back to work." But the means by which they tried to accomplish that seemed incongruous to those voter sentiments over the past two months.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.