NEWS

KEEP CALM AND SINE DIE

Florida's GOP-dominated Legislature gets stuff done like slashing taxes and passing the largest budget in state history

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Now that the Greatest Legislature Money Can Buy™ has declared Mission Accomplished — the mission being to boost Gov. Rick Scott’s slagging re-elect and make him look slightly less cretinous — and called it a year, we thought it fitting and proper to cast a wistful glance back at the legislative session that was and take stock of how our elected representatives went about the people’s business. (Tl;dr: Ugh.)

We begin this odyssey with a look at what the Legislature didn’t do, a subject about which we could write Tolstoyian volumes: It did not, for starters, broach the subject of expanding Medicaid, which means more members of the state’s working poor, like Charlene Dill [News, “Falling Into the Gap,” Billy Manes, April 16], will die completely unnecessary deaths in the name of political obstinacy.

The GOP-dominated Legislature also (unsurprisingly) failed to lift a finger to further LGBT rights, shooting down bills to add sexual orientation to the state’s nondiscrimination laws — it’s still totally cool to fire someone for being gay — and create a domestic partnership registry [Cover Story, “Marriage Equality. Now,” Jeffrey C. Billman, Feb. 5]. Nor did lawmakers advance a proposed constitutional amendment to offer businesses tax credits for installing solar panels or a bill to protect the state’s springs — and, of course, we won’t be creating an online voter registration system. Democracy shouldn’t be too easy.

Here’s some not-terrible news: While the Senate overwhelmingly passed the odious SB 1714 [News Buzz, April 16], the House did not, and the damn thing is finally good and dead. SB 1714 — backed by the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, which has controlled the state’s beer distribution for decades — would have allowed craft brewers to sell 64-ounce growlers (finally), but only in exchange for a ban on selling their bottles and cans directly to the public. Oh, and the insane bill to allow any yahoo to carry his gun during an emergency crashed and burned, too.

The Legislature did get some stuff done: In between slashing taxes by $500 million (it’s an election year, after all), passing the largest budget in state history (a porky $77.1 billion), expanding the state’s Stand Your Ground law to include warning shots (what could possibly go wrong?), and siphoning off even more tax dollars for private school vouchers, the Legislature found time to tackle the big issues, passing a bill forbidding judges from using foreign law, especially scary Muslim or queer European law). And lawmakers also cracked down a little more on abortion rights, because of course they did. 

Worth mentioning: You’ll hear a lot of talk this fall about how this year’s budget contains the most education spending ever, which is true in a nominal sense, but not really. The $6,937 per student the state is spending this fiscal year is still less than the $7,126 it spent in 2008, and well below the national average.

We’ll conclude on the high notes, such as they are: In a transparent sop to the Hispanics whom Republicans are desperate to court, the Legislature acquiesced to basic human dignity and passed a bill to allow children brought to the U.S. illegally access to in-state tuition rates. (Both Gov. Bat Boy and perpetual wet noodle Charlie Crist have flip-flopped on the issue.) And the Legislature legalized a strain of low-THC marijuana, known as Charlotte’s Web, used to treat children with epileptic seizures. Naturally — this is Florida — the bill does nothing for the thousands of individuals who will medically benefit from the varietals that get you high. For them, there’s Amendment 2, coming this fall.

Math Is Hard
While serving in the Florida House of Representatives, future Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll raked in close to $100,000 in consulting fees from Allied Veterans in 2009 and ’10. But, as we now know, neither her financial disclosure forms nor her income tax filings correctly reported that income. Carroll also reported to the IRS she earned $48,000 from Allied Veterans, while the nonprofit reported it had paid her $72,000.

Soon after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement questioned Carroll about her involvement with Allied Veterans, she resigned (at Rick Scott’s behest) as lieutenant governor — right before a law enforcement sweep netted 57 people for running an illegal gambling operation. Two weeks ago, the FDLE announced Carroll hadn’t done anything illegal, though it has forwarded the matter to the Florida Commission on Ethics. A week later, the Fleming Island Republican pled her case to the Times-Union, blaming Scott for dumping her at the first sign of trouble — “I felt so betrayed,” she said, sprinkling in wonderful words like “treacherous” and “backstabbing” — and hinting at a juicy tell-all set to drop in August, just in time for Scott’s re-election bid to hit the homestretch. Hell hath no fury, etc.

Anyway, since Carroll’s been in the news lately, and since she’s explaining away the discrepancies in her tax filings that led to her dismissal as mere oversights she’d be happy to correct, we feel compelled to note here that this isn’t the first time Carroll’s math has been, well, problematic. Actually, you could say there’s a pattern. As Folio Weekly’s Susan Clark Armstrong reported in 2006, Carroll stated on financial disclosure forms that her net worth rose from $397,000 in 2002 to $202 million (!) in 2006, all on a military pension of $60,000 per year. In 2004, Carroll claimed her net worth was $271,122; the next year, she claimed $23 million, with no explanation for the Lebron-like leap. And then in 2006, Carroll reported her net worth at $202 million. She told Armstrong it should have been $2.3 million, and that she’d made a mistake filling out the form.

As then-state Sen. Jim King quipped: “What a difference a decimal makes.”

What a difference indeed.

Tags: Florida Legislature, budget, GOP, Republicans, Rick Scott, Gov. Rick Scott, governor, Democrats, Florida Beer Wholesalers Association, bill, election, elect,
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