Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, The Unemployed Life

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Unemployed? Florida lawmakers want you to work for free

Picture this scenario:

Your longtime job of 10 years laid you off. You were making an honest $40,000. Suddenly, you’re thrown into the same lot as thousands of other Floridians — unemployed with no job prospects. Hesitant, you apply for unemployment benefits. A few weeks later, you receive a check for $275. You look for work, online and off, unsuccessfully. After two months, belts tighten more. Your meager savings is almost depleted. The bills are piling up. You stop driving around filling out random applications, trying to save the gas for actual interviews or referrals.

Then, one morning while drinking day-old coffee, you read in the local newspaper that the Florida Legislature has mandated that you find an organization and work for them. For free. No money for gas or child care.

Call it volunteering.

That’s the latest unemployment-related bill — that does nothing to fix unemployment, by the way — from state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican.  She’s the sponsor of HB 509, which is currently in the Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee.

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation is back for 2011!

It’s been two years since the last Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, but I’m happy to announce the Guide is back to track the most absurd bills in the 2011 legislative cycle.

It’s the perfect year, too.

Both locally and nationally, U.S. citizens are seeing some of the most reactionary law-making in years. The political atmosphere is decidedly partisan … and sometimes just plain mean. There are hundreds of new politicians looking to make a name for themselves with opportunistic legislation. And with record numbers of laid-off reporters and bankrupt media companies, it’s an impossible task to track the hundreds (thousands?) of bills coming up for a vote.

That’s where the Guide comes in.

But this year, I’m doing something different: I will focus mostly on federal legislation as oppose to only focusing on Florida’s fair share of foolish ideas.

If you remember from the past two installments of the Guide, I’ve used some kind of graphic to rate the idiocy of featured bills from 1 to 5. In 2008, I used “Bumper Nutz,” those wildly-colored genitals that rednecks like to put on the back of their trucks. In 2009, in honor of Florida Rep. Darryl Rouson’s “bong tax,” I rated ridiculous legislation with 1-5 bong hits, with “5 bong hits” being the most stoned bills coming out of the Florida Legislature.

This year, with the Tea Party movement changing the face of politics in Florida and nationally, I thought the rating system should reflect this new (bizarre) phenomenon of U.S. politics.

So I’m using teabags. I will rate bills by 1 to 5 teabags, with five teabags representing the worst concoction of a law – reactionary, wasteful, and of course, ridiculous.

For a complete list of all previous posts, click here.

(Photos of teabags courtesy of Andrew Coulter Enright / Flickr under Creative Commons licensing)

Behind the News, Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Florida House passes offshore oil drilling bill

In my few years as a reporter, I’ve followed four different state legislatures — not necessarily reporting on them for the publications I worked for, but keeping an eye for my local readers. And in those years, I’ve never seen a politically-motivated “fuck you” like HB 1219.

Originally proposed by Republican Charles Van Zant and re-written by his colleague Rep. Dean Cannon, this bill would allow oil and gas drilling three miles or more from Florida’s coast. Taking advantage of President Bush’s relaxation of a federal law that prohibited such drilling, if this bill passes the Florida Senate, we could begin to see rigs right off our favorite beaches. Particulary insidious, the revamped version of this bill was released just 10 days before the session is to end.

I’m not going to get into the huge issue of drilling for oil domestically. But there are significant questions about how drilling so close to Florida’s shores would affect our tourist economy and it does neither side justice to bring up such an important bill so close to the end of session. (I think the term is “railroading” a bill through, right?) Obviously, these lawmakers are not responding to a crisis, but trying to send a (right wing talk show-inspired) political message to the nation. That’s irresponsible to Florida’s citizens.

In fact, a handful of Republicans — all from the Tampa Bay area — opposed the bill. Big shout-outs to Bill Galvano of Bradenton, Jim Frishe of St. Petersburg and Ed Hooper of Clearwater.

Unfortunately, their opposition wasn’t enough. Luckily, the Senate does not seemed poised to take up this cause:

“I’m not receptive to it,” said Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach. “That is a really significantly important issue and one that I think would, frankly at our end, would take some serious review.”

Rating: 5 bong hits bongbongbongbongbong

Behind the News, Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Law would give campus police more power to arrest off-campus

First off, I want to make this clear: I am in no way demeaning campus police officers. God knows we could’ve used more of them at Virginia Tech. And I’m also not insinuating that campus cops are somehow less worthy than regular police officers. They just have different jobs and jurisdictions.

That said, SB 554 is completely out-of-bounds.

This bill, proposed by Republican Charlie Dean (who has some other questionable ideas this session), would give special powers to state university police officers to make arrests off-campus. And I’m not just talking about arresting some guy with a gun across the street from the school — which we could all agree makes sense — but also more simple offenses like traffic violations.

Already, some city and county law enforcement agencies have “mutual aid agreements” with campus police that give them some authority outside of campus. For example, I’ve seen USF police at DUI checkpoints along Fowler Avenue working alongside the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Tampa Police Department.

But this law would allow campus police to conduct speed trap operations by themselves off campus. The law would also give them the authority to, say, raid a party at an apartment complex near the campus. Critics of this law should ask: what happens when campus police are spread thin around a neighborhood and not patrolling the university?

Rating: 3 bong hits bongbongbong

(Read about my rating system here.)

Behind the News, Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Lawmakers want the sun out of the sunshine laws

I’m a journalist and I love public records.

That’s my bias.

But even non-journalists should love public records, too. Without public records, you couldn’t find out how much your house sold for in the past. You wouldn’t know if there is a robber or rapist in your neighborhood. And you wouldn’t know if your child’s teacher had some unsavory past. Without public records, you would have no way of knowing if that nice mayoral candidate took money from developers or not. You wouldn’t know about the huge skyscraper or strip mall being planned for that vacant lot across the street. Without public records … you get the idea. Public records are not just the tools journalists use to get you important information — in many ways, public records are the tools for keeping this democracy, well, democratic.

So why is it that every year the lawmakers up in Tallahassee try to chip away at the Sunshine Laws little by little, hoping we won’t notice?

This session, several legislators from both sides of the aisle are attempting to gain several exemptions to public record laws. A few have decent, if wrong, arguments surrounding them; other bills are completely ridiculous.

Behind the News, Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Denying financial aid to visa-carrying students

Most states, with the exception of maybe Vermont, revel in their diversity. It’s a quality that state leaders sell to the citizenry, prospective businesses and the federal government. Although many institutions strive for more diversity, none seek it out more than universities and colleges. Diversity in the student population is a major selling point for institutions of higher learning.

That’s why SB 1294 is such a surprising bill to propose.

This law would prohibit any university from using state funds (directly or indirectly) to provide financial assistance to students with a F-1 or M-1 visa. The legislation, introduced by Ronda Storms (of course!), is couched in saving money and providing more assistance to Florida residents seeking a higher education. The irony is the bill would also require universities and colleges to provide a detailed account of where their funds go every year, which would create another layer of bureaucracy and erode any money saved.

Rating: 2 bong hits bongbong

(Read about my rating system here.)

Behind the News, Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Expansion of warrantless arrest laws

Next up on my running series about the absurd bills debated in the Florida Legislature is SB 1428. This bipartisan bill, sponsored by Republican Thad Altman in the Senate and Democrat Adam Fetterman in the House, would expand warrantless arrests in Florida.

What are warrantless arrests? The definition is self-explanatory: any arrest without a warrant. Obviously, officers arrest people every day without a warrant. The reason? Most state laws allow police to make a warrantless arrests if 1) the criminal act is a felony, 2) the officer sees the crime committed or, in some cases, if probable cause is obvious (like if an officer sees a huge stash of cocaine in the seat of your car).

Warrantless arrests aren’t necessarily bad. In cases of murder or armed robbery, for example, you need to get the suspect off the street immediately. A case can be argued for some misdemeanors, too, like domestic violence. But some states have gone a little overboard and given officers the right to conduct warrantless arrests on all misdemeanors without any requirements. For example, the testimony of a citizen could be enough to garner an arrest.

SB 1428 would expand warrantless arrest laws to include the unlawful public exhibition of sexual organs and DUI. The first part seems OK; just think of some perv in front of a school. Just because the perv might be clothed when officers arrive, you would like the police to have enough probable cause to haul him away just by the words of a few students who saw him do his dirty deed. But warrantless arrest laws and DUI could have larger implications.

I’ll let Frankie the Law Dog explain:

The current version of the warrentless arrest statute allows officers to arrest a person on misdemeanor DUI without a warrant in only three circumstances:  (1) when the officer witnesses each element of a prima facie case of DUI, (2) when the officer is investigating an accident and develops probable cause to charge DUI, or (3) under the so-called “fellow officer” rule – when one officer calls on another officer for assistance and the combined observations of the two officers together establish probable cause for the arrest.

Importantly, under the current version of the statute, the fellow officer rule does not impute the knowledge of citizen informants to law enforcement officers.  However, if HB 793 becomes law, any citizen could walk up to an officer and relate the commission of misdemeanor DUI by someone, and the officer would have probable cause to arrest.

I can think of a dozen instances where “citizens” could unfairly blame DUI on someone. DUI is a serious crime, no doubt. But just like sex offenses, a DUI arrest — even if the suspect is not ultimately convicted — can have major implications on someone’s professional and family life. Shouldn’t we keep the tough warrantless arrest safeguards we have now?

(P.S. I fully admit I don’t have a law degree and I’m open for debate on this one from someone who does.)

Rating: 1 bong hit bong

Behind the News, Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Florida lawmakers want to ban novelty lighters

lighters

There are few bills that reach the absolute absurdity of SB 806, a proposed law banning lighters that resemble “a cartoon character, animal, toy, gun, watch, musical instrument, vehicle, food or beverage, that plays sound or musical notes, or that displays flashing lights or other visual effects.”

No, really — that’s a quote from the bill, which is sponsored by Republicans Senator Lee Constantine and House Rep. Scott Plakon.

But what’s really ludicrous is Florida isn’t the only state trying to enact novelty lighter bans. All across the country, state legislatures are lining up to snuff them out. Even at the national level, politicians are waging a war against lighters; this year, senators Ron Wyden, Susan Collins and Chris Dodd introduced the “Protect Children from Dangerous Lighters Act.”

The impetus for the bill is, of course, children — children who (somehow) grab a hold of these lighters and start setting people aflame. Of course, alternatives to this bill could be banning kids under 18 from buying any lighter, or — and I admit this one is a little crazy — calling on parents to take responsibility for their kids.

And I always heard Republicans were against larger government intrusions into our lives …

Rating: 5 bong hits bongbongbongbongbong

(Read about my rating system here.)

(Photo courtesy of New York state’s Department of State)

Behind the News, Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Ronda Storms hates public art

stormsThat State Senator Ronda Storms is a very talented woman. I mean, what other Florida politician can create such disdain among large swaths of the state’s population? She’s pissed off gays, First Amendment champions, librarians, science teachers and now, art lovers.

SB 1104 seeks to repeal the 30-year-old Art in State Public Buildings Program, a state provision that requires a small percentage of money for public buildings go into artwork for said structures. In an interview with a Tampa Tribune reporter, Storms says the bill is only fair while the state deals with a tough budget crisis:

“While I certainly believe art and culture provide wonderful benefits to Florida, I do not believe that at this time most Floridians want to continue this luxury when people are losing their jobs and seniors and children are losing health services.”

But is the outlay of money for public art really harming the state’s coffers? The Tribune had some interesting findings:

Under the program, the cost of the art can’t be more than half of 1 percent of the total cost of the building or $100,000, whichever is less. The average the state paid for a work of art was $7,955. The state spent a total of $406,725 for public art in 2005; $294,069 in 2006; and $701,389 in 2007.

The statute applies only to buildings with public access. It excludes prisons, secure areas, maintenance sheds and other structures the public normally would not visit.

Under the statute, more than 1,000 works of art have been purchased and installed in state buildings, including universities, state parks, Department of Transportation district offices and state agency buildings.

Just like parks, recreational facilities and libraries, art adds a quality of life to a city. Considering public art money is a fraction of Florida’s budget, and may even generate money by impressing tourists and possible new businesses, this bill is positively ridiculous.

That must be why Storms recently added a sunset clause to the bill that would allow the public art program to return in 2011. A huge outcry among art lovers probably prompted that change of heart. Maybe repeated calls and e-mails to her office (and to your own state lawmaker) would nudge her away from the bill altogether.

(By the way, the House sponsor is Republican Rich Glorioso from Plant City. I don’t want him to get off the hook either. Contact his office here.)

Rating: 4 bong hits bongbongbongbong