St. Pete Council: yes to puppies and fracking ban, no to trolling GOP lawmakers

It was a nice try, but St. Pete City Councilman Steve Kornell's attempt to get his colleagues at the dais to pass a resolution demanding that state lawmakers' pay be tied to SAT/ACT scores didn't make the cut Thursday morning.

Kornell's proposal came in the wake of Florida lawmakers' passage of a provision linking teacher bonuses to their SAT or ACT test scores, even though everyone who is currently a teacher took those tests years — in many cases, decades — ago.

“It's such a great idea,” Kornell said, his voice sarcastically saccharine. “Why just apply it to teachers?” 

His colleagues got the joke, but they didn't necessarily want to make trolling teacher-snubbing state lawmakers official city business.

“I agree that the legislative action of [tying] teachers' SAT and ACT scores to affect, somehow, their bonuses is rather absurd,” said Councilman Jim Kennedy. “But just because the State Legislature does something absurd I'm not sure that's something that justifies doing a similar absurd thing."

“I applaud you for shining the light on this and it is ridiculous,” said Councilman Charlie Gerdes. “But two wrongs don't make a right.”

Kornell's proposed resolution seems to come from a place of frustration over state lawmakers' treatment of public school teachers. In recent years they have sought to tie teacher assessments to student test scores while diverting money from public schools to charter schools even as schools in places like south St. Pete languish from a lack of resources.

City councils commonly pass resolutions in an attempt to persuade state or federal lawmakers to act on something, like banning offshore drilling, for example, but they're non-binding and lawmakers can thus easily ignore them. And while Kornell's resolution was good for a giggle and helped draw attention to the issue (you're reading this now, aren't you?) some of his colleagues wondered if snark would have an adverse affect. 

“I'm concerned about us weakening the power of our resolutions, not that they have any power in Tallahassee as it is," said Council Chair Amy Foster. “I won't support the motion but I do support the general intent of what you're trying to accomplish.”

But even though Kornell's motion to take the measure up didn't even get a second, another lawmaker-shaming proposal he brought to the table, one that would ban fracking, passed with flying colors.

“This one's a little more serious an issue,” he said.

Lawmakers had tried to make it illegal for cities and counties to ban the potentially hazardous practice of hydraulic fracturing as part of a bigger attempt to open the state up to it.

The measure failed, though, to the delight of environmentalists and people who enjoy having a stable, clean water supply.

While it's doubtful that fracking would ever even take place within city limits, such a measure would, more than anything, be symbolic of the city's commitment to environmental conservation.

While council members and city staff still have to hammer out the details of such a ban, it's likely to pass well before the next legislative session, when it would not be at all surprising if lawmakers in Tallahassee again tried to muzzle local local governments on the issue.

The council also agreed to pursue a law that would bar pet stores from selling dogs and cats that have been bred en masse in "puppy mills" and other notoriously cruel facilities, instead only selling pets that come from rescues (of which there are plenty, trust us).

Councilman Karl Nurse, who proposed the measure, said cities like Los Angeles and Boston "have found dramatic drops in the number of animals that are killed” in shelters in the wake of passing similar laws.

As it turns out, Mayor Rick Kriseman, a noted animal lover, is already trying to put together a similar ordinance, City Administrator Gary Cornwell said.