The week in Florida politics

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There was a noticeable spring in the steps of Tallahassee? lobbying corps, government workers (those whose jobs weren? cut) and public officials this week as players in the annual melee of the legislative session caught their breaths following a chaotic finale that kept lawmakers up to the predawn hours of last weekend, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

Freed from their dawn-til-dark schedule, many spent the week reacquainting themselves with families that for all intents and purposes lost a parent or two to the session? final days. But capital insiders also sifted through myriad pieces of legislation to determine if the session was successful or not, an annual ritual made more difficult this year as lawmakers passed no less than 40 conforming and conference measures spanning thousands of pages literally in the middle of the night.

Still, the atmosphere was darn right serene in a city that only last week was home to a cacophony of noise from the throngs fuelled by fifth floor M&Ms and Mountain Dew.

Such pastoral moments may be short lived.

Stung by an avalanche of legislation affecting pensions, teacher performance, elections, drug testing and abortions to name a few, groups who fared poorly during the recently concluded session spent this week deciding whether they would fare better in courtrooms than they did in committee rooms.

Slammed by supermajorities in both chambers, groups with different political bents watched almost helplessly as wave after wave of Republican-backed legislation worked its way through. Those groups were huddling this week to determine what to do to regain some of the ground lost on a variety of fronts.

?nfortunately, the list is long, very long,?said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, who added that the organization will likely have to triage its choices. ?e can only do so much.?

Among the ACLU? first targets will likely be a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 1218) that would allow taxpayer dollars to go to religious groups. Another likely target is a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 1179) that would prevent the Florida Constitution from being interpreted more broadly than the U.S. Constitution on abortion issues. That is important because the Florida Constitution? privacy clause has been successfully used in the past to challenge abortion laws.

Looking beyond the constitution, Simon said the group is likely to file separate challenges to an executive order requiring state agencies to drug test potential employees and another measure (HB 353) that requires all recipients of temporary financial assistance to test negative for drugs or be barred from collecting benefits.

Among the most politically charged issues is a measure dealing with elections. The proposal (HB 1355) makes changes to early voting, address changes and get-out-the vote campaigns. Republicans said the bill was necessary to crack down on election fraud, noting ominously that the Florida code contains loopholes for what the House sponsor called “mischief.”
Democrats slammed the elections bill as an attack on Florida voters by shaving days off early voting, blocking voters’ access to the constitution through citizen initiatives and discouraging key portions of President Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral coalition from returning to the polls next year.

The bill also places further restrictions on groups such as the League of Women Voters that have historically gone out and registered voters. Under the bill, the league and others would have to file completed registration forms within 48 hours or else face a $50 fine for each late form.

?e took a look at the law and determined it is very broad and vague,?said League President Deirdre Macnab, adding that the league is reviewing its legal options. ?hey created an entirely new set of regulations that is going to be very cumbersome for volunteers to comply with.?

At least one action by Gov. Rick Scott has already drawn a legal challenge. A coalition of groups has filed a petition with the Florida Supreme Court asking the high court to declare unconstitutional an executive order to suspend rulemaking authority from state agencies. Scott took the action days after taking office.

Unions are also eyeing the passage of measures to base teacher pay on merit and other that would expand the McKay Scholarship program to students with less debilitating ailments such as allergies and asthma.

?he Florida Education Association is looking at legislation that got passed this last session and kind of examining our options are far as what kinds of things we need to look at as far as deciding whether we are going to challenge anything in court,?said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow. ?here is plenty of legislation that looks like it could be challenged and we are trying to assess what had the best chance of success and we have limited resources so we can? go after everything.?

SCOTT HAPPY WITH FIRST SESSION:
Scott is touting the success of a session that included victories on several of his campaign promises and legislative proposals, from pension reform to drug testing for welfare recipients and education reform — and a deal on the corporate tax cut.

“For a novice, he did remarkably well pushing through an agenda,” said Dan Smith, a political science professor at the University of Florida.

In his post-session radio address, Scott nodded toward some of his successes, including beefing up school choice programs and reorganization of the state’s economic-development agencies that he pushed.

“I applaud the Senate and the House for taking these great first steps to move our state in the right direction,” he said. “In the coming months, I’ll begin putting these first pieces of my 7-7-7 plan into action.”

The hallmark of many of Scott’s successes, though, lies in the phrase “first steps.” Many of the details of Scott’s proposals were pared down or completely altered by the Legislature, which balked at the idea of forcing new state employees into a 401(k)-style defined-contribution retirement plan and increased the exemption for corporate taxpayers rather than the rate cut Scott favored.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Thoughts turn to summer vacation instead of summer session.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: ?t’s not like I’m some jerk. I’m 50-years-old.?Richard Catalano, who won a case in the 2nd District Court of Appeal this week that found the state? car stereo noise law unconstitutional. Catalano was ticketed for blasting Justin Timberlake, but the court said the law violated his freedom of speech.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.