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Nancy Smith

Cool-Head Dean Cannon, Hero; Not-So-Cool, Bill-Happy Legislators, Zeroes

January 23, 2011 - 6:00pm

Speaker Dean Cannon, Hero

Dean Cannon had the right stage and the right message, but whether the media heard him remains to be seen.

At last Wednesday's AP Florida Legislative Planning Session, the speaker of the House chose to use most of his time at the podium talking to reporters and editors about the growing rift between the Capitol press corps and the leadership in the Florida Legislature.

"Given the dynamics of accountability and scrutiny," Cannon said, "a healthy tension should always exist between a legislature and the editors and reporters of Floridas news outlets. But I will admit that over the last few years, I have watched that tension become strained and then that strain grow into outright hostility."

Which brings me to why Cannon is my hero:

In his speech he had the guts to "straighten out" the profession I've served my whole working life -- a profession in which journalists sometimes slip into a kind of fantasyland where they suddenly believe they've been annointed rather than entrusted.

He gave an example, citing a few lines in a speech last year when he criticized the Supreme Court's handling of the Legislature's proposed constitutional amendments. In so doing, he said, he ignited the wrath of newspaper editorial boards across the state.

"When you manage to get an enterprise (the press) that is founded on the basic idea that criticism of government is healthy and necessary to say 'how dare you criticize a branch of government,' then you know something has gone very wrong," Cannon said.

Perhaps the Winter Park Republican had the moxie to point out the little hiccup in the press's practice of First Amendment vigilance because he knows a thing or two. He majored in journalism as an undergrad at the University of Florida. It's given him a healthy respect for the First Amendment, for accountability, scrutiny, transparency -- and fair play.

Read his speech for yourself. You'll see Speaker Dean Cannon had something he needed to say. And he came to the AP meeting prepared.

Bill-Happy Legislators, Zeroes

Just because legislators can't spend any money this year doesn't mean they've come to Tallahassee to sit on their hands. They're going to write bills, goldurnit. That's what they promised the folks back home, that's what they're going to deliver.

All 160 of them.

So here we are in the critical moments of the presession, at best with six to10 major issues to be resolved -- and we're trying to see over a mountain of bad, nuisance or utterly puff-useless bills.

Let's look at a few:

  • Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, came up with a bill that would require elementary school teachers to evaluate parents based on "the quality" of their involvement in their children's schools. Apparently she figures everybody else gets graded in Florida -- students, schools, districts -- so why not parents? I think I can tell her why. Because there are parents out there who would take great offense -- I mean the kind of offense that could make them a danger to the teacher -- at being told they're bad parents, especially if they're working more than one job or if they're raising their families alone. And wait till they find out their grade is going to be recorded on their child's report card.
  • Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, gives us HB177, a bill that would require drivers to move to the right on highways when they're blocking traffic from behind. "Lane courtesy is important and (the bill) can help ease road rage and traffic congestion," Clemens says. Six other states have this law, so why not? How about because law enforcement agencies in those other six states claim it causes mayhem on busy highways and they plain don't want to enforce it.
  • Rep. Steve Crisifulli, R-Merritt Island, filed something called the "Tourist Safety Act of 2011." That one heaps additional penalties on a law already in force for unlawfully distributing handbills in a hotel or motel. Not only that, it authorizes a law enforcement officer to arrest the distributor without warrant and in some instances, confiscate his property. Who knew? Serious business, this handbill distribution.
  • One of my personal favorites is S344 filed by Nan Rich, D-Sunrise. Florida, apparently, is a hotbed of sexual activities involving sickos and animals. Bestiality, in other words. Here's a bill it might be tough to knock -- except for one tiny fact. Attorneys tell me an abundance of animal cruelty laws that cover bestiality are already on the books. Apart from giving Rich and a buddy in the House something to brag about back home, why now? Where is the outbreak?
  • Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando has a cute one, S228. It's titled "Code of Student Conduct" and it requires the district school board to include in the code of student conduct an explanation of the responsibilities of each student "with regard to appropriate dress and respect for self and others and the role that appropriate dress and respect for self and others has on an orderly learning environment, etc." And they call England a "nanny" state.

This is the tip of a very large iceberg. A few of these things, no problem. A few dozen, OK. But hundreds of bills, most of which are dead in their tracks anyway, all of which are meant to show up like an awards list on a job resume to help incumbents get reelected -- they're puff bills, they're not good. Not cool.

And there are more this year than last at this time.

In fact, these unneeded bills come at a cost, albeit a hidden one. Every bill written requires the House clerk or the secretary of the Senate to help with the drafting and to shuffle it through committee. And this year Senate President Mike Haridopolos has said he wants to cut back staff in the secretary's office. Isn't this pile of puff going to impede progress on the critically important bills the Legislature has before it -- like Medicaid, education and pension reform?

Puff bills are like elephants in the inaugural parade -- impressive to look at, but somebody has to clean up after them.

In this case, the guys wielding the pooper scoopers are the ones who have to implement the laws. They're the police usually, or teachers or some government official in an overloaded and now understaffed county office.

Every seat in the Florida Legislature should have four words carved into it: First do no harm.

MSNBC, Postscript Zero

MSNBC will insist on bringing in Alan Grayson, giving him a microphone and letting him analyze -- on the air, coast to coast -- what the Dems did wrong in the 2010 election. Grayson was on last week for at least the third time since the election.

The guy is a one-and-doner who lost his re-election bid by something like 20 percent. He has no credentials. Choosing him to give advice on how to win an election isn't doing any more for the network's credibility than fired "Countdown" host Keith Olbermann did.


Reach Nancy Smith at or at (850) 727-0859

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