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May Can't Get Here Fast Enough


Each year, fans of good government cringe as bought-and-paid-for lawmakers descend on Tallahassee, hoping that the brevity of our state's single 60-day session will limit the amount of damage they can do. There's usually no shortage of real issues for them to address – many of which are the by-products of boneheaded policies enacted during previous sessions. However, prioritizing the agenda has nothing to do with what's important to Floridians and everything to do with appeasing the special interests who fund our legislature.

Every year, it seems there's two lists that accompany the start of session. One contains things that are important to voters and/or are presenting immediate challenges to the welfare of our state; the other is a rundown of what's important to the people who write the big campaign checks. I don't need to tell you which one gets priority. From privatizing our prisons to boondoggle rail deals, advancing casino interests and pushing for-profit education windfalls, legislative priorities have been crystal clear for many years.

This session, lawmakers were clearly set to pick up where they left off. Multiple issues that enjoy minimal public support, but plenty of sugar-daddy backing went back to the front of the line, despite an absence of urgency, and often having no sound basis to begin with. Unsuccessful in completely dismantling the state employee pension system last time around, the House is once again trying to drown the shrunken benefit in a bathroom sink, while the Senate merely seeks to take out its knees.

Already having succeeded in eliminating the cost-of-living adjustments, and weakening the vesting and disbursement components, Speaker Weatherford made completely eliminating defined-benefit pension plans his top priority for this session. Never mind that lawmakers have failed to offer any modeling that shows the plan to be in trouble, or that experts still contend that not only is it actuarially sound, but the biggest threat to the plan's viability would be a sudden end to new member contributions. It doesn't matter. The ALEC playbook says pensions are a bad thing, so put some lipstick on that pig and trot her back out there.

The public hearings for the so-called parent trigger bill demonstrated the same profound opposition from their constituents that resulted from last year's efforts to ram it through – and nearly no support, leaving us to wonder if anyone beyond the for-profit education world really thinks we need more “turnaround options” for failing public schools than already exist. It doesn't matter. Run it up the flag pole and see who salutes. There's big money in privatization.

About the only thing that hasn't gone according to script for Florida lawmakers is their previous assertion that they didn't expect to get around to answering law enforcement pleas for relief on sweepstake casinos until 2014. It seems all it took was one good scandal, a Lieutenant Governor's resignation and word that the shady industry pumped more than a million bucks into campaign coffers, and suddenly it became a high-value target, rather than a mildly-embarrassing friend. Best to take action before people start asking too many questions you see.

May 3: that's when it all ends and barring a special session, it will be 10 more months before they can start picking our bones anew. An end to the bleeding – it seems that's the most Floridians can hope for these days, but five and a half weeks in, and it already seems like a lot. April might well be the most beautiful month of all in the Sunshine State, but I for one will not be sorry to tear its page off my calendar.

Dennis Maley's column appears every Thursday and Sunday in The Bradenton Times. He can be reached at dennis.maley@thebradentontimes.com. Click here to visit his column archive. Click here to go to his bio page. You can also follow Dennis on Facebook.


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