The rail ruckus is making all the headlines right now in Tallahassee. But below the radar, your state reps have been busy filing a slew of bills for the spring session — about everything from gay adoption and term limits to both the designs and the costs of getting new license plates.
Right now, Florida is the only state in the U.S. with an outright ban on gay adoption.
The state's official position is that it is better for children to live in foster homes than with parents who are stable and eager to love them — but who happen to be gay.
And because not enough state-sanctioned straight folks are willing to take in all of Florida's foster children, especially the special-needs kids, many have little hope of ever having permanent parents.
A growing number of legislators, however, want to change that.
Local Democrats Scott Randolph and Darren Soto are among more than 20 House members who are sponsoring House Bill 3 to overturn that ban.
Randolph said he thinks the bill may get a hearing in the Senate, where moderate Republicans have been more open to the idea than their zealous peers in the House. But Randolph wasn't overly optimistic, saying: "Tallahassee has never let good policy get in the way of good politics."
Rolling back higher fees
Many voters are ticked off at legislators who decided to balance the budget on the backs of regular Floridians. Instead of closing tax loopholes for special interests, legislators this year decided to jack up your cost to do everything from drive a car to enter a state park. Some of the increases were more than 100 percent.
Democrats want to undo this with House Bill 99 — which could put Republicans who supported the increases in a tough spot.
Co-sponsor Geraldine Thompson of Orlando said the hikes were unfair to everyday Floridians who are hurting now more than ever. "The increased fees are taxes on people who drive and must rely on their vehicles to get to work, the doctor, etc.," she said. "And they disproportionately impact working people who can least afford increases in today's economy."
She's right. And any of you who voted to boost these costs — and still try to claim you've "never raised taxes" — need to let that sham of a ship sail. Most Floridians don't care whether you call it a "fee," a "tax" or a "super-stupendous Sunshine State stipend." If you helped jack up mandatory costs to live, work or drive in this state, you raised taxes.
If the Legislature's in session, it's a safe bet that new license plates are being proposed. (Never mind that we already have more than 100 specialty plates, sometimes confusing law-enforcement officers.)
New proposals include a "Catch Me, Release Me" plate to fund marine research, championed by Deland Republican Pat Patterson, and an "Endless Summer" plate, co-sponsored by Brevard County Republican Steve Crisafulli, that would honor surfing and all manner of surfing-related endeavors.
Kids as sardines
Keep your eye on the growing movement designed to convince you that you didn't know what you were doing when you asked for smaller class sizes. Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, has offered a joint resolution asking voters to repeal the constitutional amendment voters passed in 2002. Apparently, many of you didn't know what you were doing when you said 25 students was plenty for a ninth-grade class.
A few more
Congressional term limits. Orlando Republican Sandy Adams is one of a few legislators pushing for congressional term limits. The effort may be popular on the campaign trail, where Adams is running for Congress herself. But the impact of this legislation probably won't mean much, since it's essentially just a resolution urging Congress to take action. By the way, the last time term limits were debated locally was when former U.S. Rep. Ric Keller said he had a right to break his promise to run only four times — and voters disagreed.
(Don't) Let the sun shine. Many local officials have called for legislators to put an end to secret meetings and memos when the public's money and business are involved. Legislators, however, seem to covet their secrecy — having pushed no bills to expand Government in the Sunshine laws to cover the Legislature.
States' rights. With a Democrat now in the White House, Florida Republicans have developed a new affinity for "states' rights." There are various bills asking the federal government to keep its nose out the state's business when it comes to everything from health care and gun rights to the National Guard.
Speak up. If you want to weigh in on any of the legislation mentioned above — or anything else you want Tallahassee to address — you can reach the legislative switchboard at 850-488-4371.
Scott Maxwell can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-6141.