The Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation

The 10 most inane bills introduced this session.

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State legislators blinded by partisan politics. Lawmakers focused on trivial issues almost in spite of our larger problems. It's the same-old, same-old Florida news.

But the following 10 bills, all currently winding their way through the Florida Legislature ratings, deserve special recognition: a Bumper Nutz rating of 1-5, depending on the degree of inanity.

One important point: While the politicians bear the brunt of criticism, it's voters (and you lazy nonvoters) who really are to blame. If you disagree with your politicians' priorities, there's an easy way to let them know: Visit leg.state.fl.us to obtain their contact information and then fire off some calls or e-mails voicing your concerns. While driving, of course.

1. SB 744 Sexual Activities Involving Animals. Florida is one of only 14 states that do not have laws against bestiality, explains Rep. Bill Heller. And that's got his goat.

Heller and Sen. Nan Rich, both Democrats, introduced this bill after a widely publicized story about a North Florida man who raped and killed a family goat. Apparently, police arrested the man for killing the goat, but did not add an extra charge for raping it.

"Anything that harms animals is not frivolous to me," says Heller, who is also the president of the Tampa Bay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

More disturbing than the thought of our North Florida neighbors boning sheep is that taxpayers paid some Tallahassee lawyer to write the language of this rather long bill that details all the different ways you can have sex with an animal. (Read the full description here [pdf].)

Hey, I'm all for protecting animals, but when Florida lawmakers can't even figure out how to deal effectively with human sexual predators, I think animals need to take a back seat.

So to speak.

Rating: 2 Nutz

2. SB 302 "The Saggy Pants Bill." Looming budget cuts threaten to slash educational funding. Several school districts across the state are planning hiring freezes or simply cutting staff. Class-size requirements may be amended. The U.S. Department of Education has called Florida high schools "dropout factories." So how are legislators dealing with the state's education crisis?

By proposing a law to require students to pull up their pants.

Democratic Senator Gary Siplin of Orlando wants school districts to impose strict penalties for students who let their pants ride low. Besides the dubiousness of the state regulating local dress codes, Siplin fails to recognize that school districts already have dress code requirements that prohibit saggy pants. Siplin has introduced a version of the bill four times — his first proposal would've made saggy pants a felony — but this time the bill has passed the Senate. It sits in the House now.

Rating: 5 Nutz

3. SB 1354 Florida Commercial Anti-Pornography Act. Sen. Siplin hits another foul ball with this bill that would prohibit any person from buying, selling, exhibiting or distributing pornographic materials. Even if you believe that government should be deciding what's "decent" and what's not, ordinances already exist to that effect on the local level. And to top it all off, the bill would allow any person "including a church or religious organization" to enforce the statute by bringing the offender to court.

Rating: 5 Nutz

4. SB 1118 Illegal Aliens. For the last two sessions, Senator Frederica Wilson of Miami has tried to convince lawmakers to pass a statute prohibiting the term "illegal alien" from appearing in state documents, Webster's Dictionary be damned. I understand the Democratic senator's aversion to the word, but the public is not served by useless, politically correct legislation. Let's look at the benefits and drawbacks of illegal immigration and not try to sugarcoat how we talk about it.

Rating: 3 Nutz

5. SB 340 Salvia Divinorum. Florida legislators have found another drug to get hysterical about — salvia, a hallucinogenic plant native to Mexico. This session, lawmakers sponsored two bills making the possession or sale of salvia a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Yet there are no studies that prove the mild drug is harmful, and some scientists suggest salvia could treat certain mental illnesses and addiction. What's more: Most users, including myself (See "Where's There's Smoke," April 9), don't particularly like the drug. In short, lawmakers are just blowing smoke.

Rating: 4 Nutz

6. HB 977 Public Transit Safety. This bill, introduced by Rep. Geraldine Thompson, provides mass transit drivers with regularly scheduled bathroom breaks. The law isn't the problem; the rub is that Rep. Thompson had to introduce the bill in the first place.

"It's something management and transit drivers should have been able to work out," admits Thompson, a Democrat and Orlando's first African-American state representative.

Apparently, in some locales, bus drivers and other transit workers are only allowed to take a restroom break every six hours, which is leading to health problems. Thompson's bill would mandate a 10-minute break every four hours. Unfortunately, the bill is clogged up in committee.

Rating: 1 Nutz

7. SB 386 Food Service Restroom Inspections. Have you ever eaten a greasy meal at a restaurant, heard the call of nature and, upon entering the restroom, realized there was no toilet paper? Sucks, huh? Well, Senator Victor Crist thinks so too and he's crafted a law to do something about it. The Tampa Republican's bill would require Department of Business and Professional Regulations health inspectors to check restaurants for proper amounts of toilet paper, among other requirements. And if restaurateurs fail? The state can close them down.

Rating: 2 Nutz

8. SB 2464 Implanted Microchips. You know it's the 21st century when a state lawmaker, in this case Central Florida Senator Bill Posey, proposes a bill making it a felony to implant microchips in someone without their consent. Posey, a Republican, is also the proud sponsor of a bill requiring space flight passengers to sign a consent form, and another eliminating daylight savings time.

Rating: 3 Nuz

9. HB 175, HB 357, SB 1266, SB 1314 Use of Cellular Phones. Six states ban cellphone use while driving and several lawmakers want to make Florida the seventh such state. This session, legislators are considering five bills that would ban motorists from texting, surfing the Internet and talking on a cell without a hands-free device.

"It's one of those issues that's important because we have a lot of young people," says Rep. Ronald Brise of Miami, one of the sponsors. "Sometimes they don't take the responsibility that comes with driving and using electronic devices."

Interestingly enough, the bills only target drivers talking on hand-held cellphones and not those using hands-free devices. Even more interesting, Brise is a telecom executive. He admits his telecom business friends were a little adverse to his bill, but added, "From a business perspective, that's a lot of new product it would force people to buy." Mmm-hmm.

But a 2006 study from the University of Utah found that motorists talking on handheld or hands-free cellphones are just as impaired as a drunk driver.

So the real solution would be to ban all cellphones, even those Bluetooth-enabled. And that's just not going to happen.

Rating: 4 Nutz

And, of course ...

10. SB 1992 Banning gonads on vehicles. The legislation that sets the standard for all useless bills comes from Sen. Carey Baker, who is offended by the yahoos who are uncouth enough to strap on a pair of rubber or metallic bull balls to the rear bumper of their pick-'em-up trucks. His description of the prohibited goodies — "an image or device of reproductive glands" — leaves the door open for our next great product for the front grille of your vehicle: Truck Titz!

Rating: 5 Nutz

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