Mark Woods: Laws for thee, not for me. The Florida Legislature is in session.
Whenever the Florida Legislature is in session, an Adlai Stevenson quote comes to mind: “A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation.”
We don’t have redwoods in Florida. But we sure do have plenty of politicians and stumps.
Doctors used to take the Hippocratic Oath. These days it sure seems like before heading to Tallahassee or Washington, D.C., some Florida politicians take a Hypocritical Oath.
It’s not just the age-old hypocrisies — like holding up a Bible in public and preaching “family values,” then behaving quite differently in private.
There’s such a veritable smorgasbord of hypocrisy that it’s hard to decide where to begin. Maybe with guns.
There are several proposals this year to loosen gun restrictions in Florida. Five years after Parkland, one would reverse part of the law put in place after the school shootings, lowering the minimum age to buy rifles and other long guns from 21 back to 18. Bills to allow permitless-carry in Florida have sailed through the Legislature, with some saying it didn’t go far enough, that we should have “open carry.”
While the politicians pushing for all of this have consistently derided “gun-free zones,” they also have consistently maintained a notable one.
It is illegal for a Floridian to carry a firearm into “any meeting of the Legislature or a committee thereof.”
That's right. The same lawmakers who say gun-free zones are dangerous for those in them could make sure they don't work in one. But they never seem to do that.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has supported the efforts to make it easier to carry guns in more places. Again, with some notable exceptions.
When the governor held his election night victory party in downtown Tampa last year, his campaign reportedly wanted the Tampa Convention Center not to allow guns into the facility — and to also say this ban came from the city, not the governor.
An email the convention center’s security manager sent to city officials said, “Basically, it sounds like they want us to say it’s our policy to disallow firearms within the event space …”
Convention center officials refused this request, noting that state law allowed concealed weapons to be brought into a public facility — unless the renter insisted on a gun-free event.
In this case, the renter refused to comment publicly, other than a DeSantis spokesperson telling the Washington Post that “the Governor is strongly in support of individuals’ constitutional right to bear arms.”
Hiring rules ... just not for us
Florida investigative reporter Jason Garcia recently noted this fun bit of hypocrisy.
Bills moving through the House and Senate would force all public employers to prioritize work experience over higher education when hiring. But here’s the twist: While this would apply to all kinds of public entities — state agencies, cities, school districts, etc. — guess who it would not apply to? Guess who the people making the law specifically carved out an exception for?
That’s right. Themselves.
As noted in one section of the bill, it “does not apply to political appointments or other employment positions hired by elected representatives in the state.”
Loan forgiveness for me
Some of the same politicians bemoaning the idea of forgiving up to $20,000 of someone’s student loans — you take out a loan, you should pay it all back, right? — have been quite happy to have their own sizeable PPP loans completely forgiven.
Parents know best
That's the mantra these days. But sometimes the state has to step in. For instance, some Florida politicians are determined to hold businesses accountable for events, open to adults and children, that include "sexualized content." One bill involves possible prison time. It comes from Jacksonville's Clay Yarborough, who as president of the Jacksonville City Council walked into the Museum of Contemporary Art, saw a photo of a bare-breasted pregnant woman and wrote a letter to the mayor "on behalf of the people of Jacksonville" about what he called a "pornographic display."
This is different. In this case, the concern is drag shows. It is not about, for instance, an NBA game where, with adults and children in the stands, dancers perform during timeouts. Or a Hooters with a bikini car wash in the parking lot. Those are fine, because clearly they’re about getting people to cheer for their team or drive a shiny car, not anything whatsoever sexualized.
So sue thee
Some politicians have long railed against lawyers and lawsuits as the bane of this state’s existence. So this session the Legislature quickly passed a wide-ranging plan to limit lawsuits.
Well, some lawsuits.
While legislators made changes designed to reduce lawsuits against businesses and insurance companies, they have already, or are working on, opening the door to all kinds of additional lawsuits.
Last year they made it so parents can sue school districts and workers can sue employers if they believe there are violations of the Stop WOKE Act.
Now the same lawmakers who say there are way too many lawsuits in Florida are working to make it easier to sue journalists for defamation — pushing along two bills that even media outlets typically quite supportive of those lawmakers have said could lead to all kinds of litigation and have a chilling effect on free speech.
James Schwartzel, the owner of 92.5 FOX News in Southwest Florida, said if the proposed bill passes, it will be the "death of conservative talk" in Florida.
But there’s more. Sen. Jason Brodeur, the same Lake Mary politician who introduced the defamation bill, proposed a separate bill that would require anyone who falls under a loose definition of “blogger” to register with the state if they are paid to write about — guess who — Brodeur and his colleagues in Tallahassee.
That was blasted by, among others, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
“The idea that bloggers criticizing a politician should register with the government is insane,” he wrote on Twitter. “It is an embarrassment that it is a Republican state legislator in Florida who introduced a bill to that effect.”
Some of the same Florida politicians who constantly preach limited government and local control — who decry Washington telling us what to do here in Florida — have spent a lot of time lately telling cities, counties, school districts, businesses and more what they can and can’t do.
There are so many examples of this, but a prime, instructive one remains the big cruise ships arriving in Key West.
A couple of years ago voters in the Keys, concerned about what massive ships were doing to their water and quality of life, overwhelmingly approved referendums limiting the size of ships and number of passengers that could arrive daily.
The next Legislative session politicians from other parts of the state pushed for a bill to override the will of the Keys voters. It appeared the bill had died near the end of the session. Then, at the last minute, it came back to life, tacked onto a transportation bill. It was approved by both chambers and sent to the governor, whose political committee had received a $1 million donation from the owner of a company that runs a Key West cruise ship dock.
The big cruise ships continue to muddy the waters of the Keys.
This year we have a bill that would preempt all local government environmental regulations, preventing any city or county law, current or future, from protecting springs, rivers, aquifers, wetlands. That, the bill says, is up to the state.
“In a session of bad bills, it’s hard to choose the worst,” the Florida Springs Council said. “But this one is it.”
We don’t have redwoods in Florida. But we sure do have the kind of politicians who would cut down a live oak, wipe out wetlands, make it easier to pollute water and harder to manage growth — and then make a speech about how they are committed to preserving Old Florida.
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Florida Legislature session includes plenty of political hypocrisy