4:28 PM PST, January 8, 2013
If my daughter walked into school and turned in a paper that had been written by someone else, she would flunk — and deservedly so.
Why? Because it's wrong to try to pass off someone else's work as your own.
Our children know this.
Our legislators do not.
Time and again, this newspaper unearths proof that your elected representatives are filing bills that they haven't even authored.
Instead, special interests write the bills. Lawmakers simply attach their names to them and turn them into law.
Heck, lobbyists in Florida are writing so many bills these days, I'm beginning to wonder if we should just do away with legislators altogether.
We could just let the lobbyists run the state. They pretty much already do. This would just cut out the middleman — and save personnel costs.
The most recent example of lobbyists leading legislators around by the nose came in a story that Sentinel reporter Jason Garcia exposed about tax breaks for Electronic Arts Inc.
Basically, the California video-game-maker with offices in Maitland didn't want to pay all its taxes. (Who does?)
So EA lobbyists began drafting new tax and incentive laws— sending some of its proposals to the personal email account of state Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando.
Precourt then filed bills — including some with language virtually identical to what EA had requested. And the Legislature dutifully passed them. The changes have saved EA millions and could save it millions more.
That's a problem.
Not because I dislike EA. I actually dig the company's higher-wage jobs and philanthropic endeavors and want it to thrive.
It's a problem because EA shouldn't be able to draft its own laws for tax breaks most other businesses can't get.
It creates a system with inequitable treatment among businesses — one where the best lobbyist wins.
And heaven help the small businesses that can't afford lobbyists at all.
Perhaps most troubling, these niche bills don't address widespread policy issues. They're not designed to make the general economy thrive. They're designed to help the authors.
And it's not just EA.
Last year, the Sentinel revealed that a controversial bill designed to give breaks to Disney and International Speedway Corp. was written by — you guessed it — lobbyists for Disney and International Speedway.
The year before, Universal helped draft a tax-break bill specifically designed to help Universal.
Again, none of these involved a broad issue of public policy. They were targeted incentives, tailor-made for certain companies.
Heck, in one case the Sentinel caught a legislator who didn't even understand a tax-break bill that he had personally filed.
For his part, Precourt says there's nothing wrong with corporations helping write the laws from which they benefit. "We get proposed language from all sorts of special-interest groups," he said, adding that watchdog groups often make proposals, as well.
I know watchdogs try to influence legislation. It just seems the corporate lobbyists have more success.
Listen: I want my policymakers to seek outside expertise.
What I don't want is for special interests to write niche legislation from which they alone benefit.
Nor do I want lawmakers filing cookie-cutter bills that ideological groups pre-write for them and legislatures all over the country.
All I want is for lawmakers to think for themselves. And on behalf of citizens. And to solicit dissenting opinions.
And if it's not asking too much, it'd be great for them to actually understand the bills they file, as well.
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