Behind the News, Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: The return of the saggy pants bill

1317976035_be76e6b4fa_mOh, Gary Siplin of Orlando: Did you not learn anything from last legislative session? Did you not realize that legislating underpants makes you, and the rest of us, look like reactionary fools with misplaced priorities?

Apparently not. Because Gary Siplin (D-Orlando) reintroduced the Saggy Pants Bill.

siplin*Slaps forehead*

Yes, our esteemed Democratic senator from Central Florida is at it again. SB 390 would prohibit students from exposing below the waist underwear while on the grounds of a public school.

I will give Siplin credit on one thing though — this year his penalties are a little more sane. Last year, he proposed arresting said youth rocking out with their drawers out. This year, small kids in big pants will receive a verbal warning for the first offense, suspension for three days on the second and a five-day suspension for a third offense.

But, as I noted last year, this law is not needed:

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.

Oh, Gary Siplin, what’s next for you? Short skirts? Stinky socks? Mandating clean underwear (in case of an accident)?!

Rating: 5 bong hits bongbongbongbongbong

(Read about my rating system here. Photo courtesy of Malingering/Flickr)

Behind the News, Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation

The Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation is back!

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The Florida Legislature is halfway through its annual session and, as the maxim goes, “no man’s life, liberty or property is safe while the (Florida) Legislature is in session.” (Thanks, Mark Twain!)

I would add “no man’s sanity is safe either.”

The main word this session is “deregulation.” From suspending impact fees to giving telephone and power companies carte blanche over our pocketbooks, Florida’s politicians are bending backwards to try and appease business interests in the hopes of turning around our desperate economic situation. At least that’s the party line; the real reason could be opportunism.

Luckily, several journalists are reporting on these important bills, including Howard Troxler for the St. Petersburg Times. WMNF’s Rob Lorei interviewed Troxler yesterday for his “Radioactivity” program and I highly recommend downloading the podcast (it’s not available yet, but keep looking). Even as reporters’ ranks dwindle, some good work is coming out of the state’s major papers on these topics.

But what I don’t hear a lot about are these little bills that may not affect all Floridians, but could make lives miserable for a certain few. These are bills filed by legislators who missed the boat on real reforms and instead throw out politically-charged manifestos intended to get them re-elected. Or in some cases, perhaps these politicians are just insane.

Last year, while working at Creative Loafing, I profiled a number of a bills that just defied logic. At the top of my list was the law banning Truck Nutz. In fact, I rated all the other pieces of ridiculous legislation with one to five “Truck Nutz.” The law requiring the right amount of TP in public restrooms earned two “Nutz,” while the saggy pants bill earned five.

This year’s list of bills does not look much better. So, I’m bringing back the “Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation.” There’s no Truck Nutz bill this session, so I’m going with another absurd proposed law: Rep. Darryl Rouson’s “bong tax.” I won’t go into the specifics here — I reported on this bill right before my lay-off — but basically Rep. Rouson wants to put a heavy tax on all the headshops in the state. So, every bill I outline here will be rated from one “bong hit” to five, with five representing the most stoned bills coming out this session.

For the next week, I’ll post a few outrageous bills each day. This is an important time for citizens; next week, many legislators will go home for Easter and put many of these bills on hold until they return. This is your chance to send letters and e-mails letting your representative and tell them you don’t appreciate their precious (and paid-for) time wasted on stupid legislation. Yes, laws like the bong tax might get us on the Daily Show, but they don’t solve our state’s problems.

(Photo courtesy of whizchickenonabun/Flickr)

Behind the News, The Unemployed Life

Proposed Florida law seeks drug testing for the unemployed …

statesenatorbennett. . . Because, obviously, everyone on unemployment in this bountiful economy are unmotivated, crack-smoking losers.

SB 2062 would require Floridians collecting unemployment benefits to undergo random drug testing. To top it off, they would have to pay for their own test.

This slap in the face comes courtesy of Florida State Senator Michael S. Bennett, a Republican from Bradenton. He’s 64, Baptist and hails from the Midwest. Besides finding ways to demean laid-off workers, Bennett enjoys long walks on Siesta Key, gutting smart growth initiatives, running retirees out of trailer parks for fun and profit, and — well, looky here — taking campaign donations from a company that sells drug testing kits (h/t to the Raw Story for pointing that out).

In addition to the obvious constitutional issues, Bennett’s law faces some problems of practicality. Even though workers would pay for their own drug tests, our cash-strapped state would need to invest in clinicians and a whole new bureaucracy inside the Agency for Workforce Innovation. But most of all, SB 2062 (HB 969 in the Florida House) furthers the humiliation many workers feel after losing their jobs.

In the words of Bill Piper, a director for the Drug Policy Alliance: “. . . to require someone to pass a drug test to get their unemployment insurance after they’ve been laid off is pretty cruel — and to require them to pay for the test themselves is even more cruel.”

The complete outrageousness of this bill leads me to wonder what Bennett and Co. are smoking up there in Tallahassee. In the interest of finding out what that substance may be, I propose a compromise:

Under only one circumstance should SB 2062 become law — if an amendment is added that requires the random drug testing of state lawmakers.

I nominate Bennett to take the first one.

Behind the News

Developers lobby to dispute county impact fees

There’s an oft-used addage in community activism thrown out by pessimistic folks of both political persuasions: “You can’t fight City Hall.” This nugget of civil wisdom comes from the belief that taking on your city government is cumbersome, complicated, tiring and, ultimately, expensive.

After all, city governments seem to have a limitless supply of money to throw at any lawsuit. It’s money from taxpayers, and by extension, money from the person seeking justice. In short, they get you coming and going.

But I think there is an even better truism for 21st century community activism: “You can’t fight Big Business, not even City Hall.” My reasoning? For as much money as a city can throw at a lawsuit, Big Business seems to throw even more and it sticks better. In Florida, I’m specifically refering to developers. Any local community activist knows that developers and their lawyers not only spend big bucks on any challenge to their plans, but they buy politicians as well.

This is why House Bill 227 is a real problem for community activists. Sponsored by four House representatives (including local Rep. Ed Hooper from Clearwater), HB 227 (SB 580 in the Senate) seeks to allow developers to challenge impact fees imposed by local governments.

What are impact fees? They are imposed by local governments to hold developers partially responsible for the infrustructure needs brought on by the developer’s project. Impact fees typically go to building or widening roads, installing more traffic lights and sometimes building a school. Community activists and governments see the fees as promoting smart growth. Some developers see it as unnecessary taxation.

Most county governments have some sort of impact fee, though many times the amount has lagged behind present-day costs. So, during the nationwide housing boom, many counties raised their impact fees. Some developers have sued.

In these legal challenges, HB 227 would put more of a burden on city governments to prove their impact fee assessments are correct. It gets a little complicated, but the Florida League of Cities has a good overview:

SB 580 (Haridopolos), HB 227 (Aubuchon) change the burden of proof in a legal challenge to impact fees and remove any judicial deference to the local government’s decision. The bills were amended in committee to provide that the government has the burden of proof in an impact fee challenge.

An impact fee ordinance is a legislative decision that should be accorded the same level of deference given other legislative decisions – including decisions of the state legislature to impose fees and taxes. The change proposed by these bills means that even if reasonable minds could differ about the wisdom of the legislative decision, the city could lose the challenge. Neither bill proposes to change the burden of proof with respect to any fees or tax levied by the State of Florida, or any permit conditions imposed by the State of Florida or its agencies – all of which are legislative decisions.

But HB 227 isn’t the only bill involving impact fees moving through the Florida Legislature. SB 630 wants to put an outright moratorium on impact fees, something Hillsborough County is already looking at. For more on the complete idiocy of that move, read Mariella Smith’s recent blog post: “Your county’s solution to the housing glut: more houses.”

Behind the News

The South loses again (but this time Confederates sue)

FloridaConfederateFlagThis was a small story early in the year, but garnered few headlines. After all, with the huge Confederate flag at I-4 and I-75, Tampans are probably tired of hearing about the Civil War.

But, alas, the Sons of Confederate Veterans are angry again. This time over license plates.

Last year, the SCV petitioned the Florida Legislature to approve a license plate bearing the Confederate flag. They found a sponsor — Panhandle Rep. Donald Brown, who, by the way, looks like a 19th century throwback himself — and the race was on to join other Deep South states with similar license plates. The money would have funded “educational and historical programs” from the SCV.

The bill never made it out of committee. So, in January, the SCV sued the state of Florida.

Talk about sore losers!

But, what can you expect from a group still angry over the Civil War, right?

In a press release, the SCV says it “did everything that was required by Florida Statute to have the Confederate Heritage plate approved by the Legislature and we were not given the time of day by the Florida
Legislature.”

They are being represented by the Rutherford Institute, whose biggest claim to fame was representing Paula Jones in her suit against former President Bill Clinton. Big players, these guys.

But lest you think this was some crazy conspiracy on the part of intolerant legislators who HATE Confederate veterans, puppies, the Gandy beach, and all things sacred … the SCV wasn’t the only organization snubbed by lawmakers. Last year, a number of organizations petitioned for their own license plates: Tennis players, Christians, horse lovers. Choctaw Indians wanted free license plates, but they didn’t get their wish either. Considering the U.S. government committed genocide against them, I’d think they’d deserve a few free license plates. But no, and surprise, they aren’t suing over it.

Get the full text of the federal lawsuit here.