Republicans in the Florida legislature are poised to create more damaging, expensive, unconstitutional laws that could take years to undo in the courts.
They did it with the death penalty. They did it with drug-testing-without-cause laws for poor people. They did it, most profligately, with gerrymandered maps.
And they could do it again with a bill that, if passed, would ban nearly all abortions in Florida.
On Jan. 26, The Tampa Tribune reported that HB 865 — a bill that defines “life” as beginning at conception and thereby criminalizes all abortions — cleared the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
The 13-member subcommittee voted 8-3 in favor of the bill, mostly along party lines. Two Democrats missed the vote, with Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, defecting from his party cohorts to vote “no.” The only way to get around the proposed law is for a woman to have two doctors certify that the abortion is necessary to prevent death or serious and permanent injury.
The bill’s author, Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, told the Tribune that Roe v. Wade “is not a law,” and that, even if it were, it would violate the Constitution.
Certainly, it would violate his imaginary version of it. One can only speculate as to the elaborate, delusional scenario in which Van Zant’s bill would be vindicated in the courts.
On its face, Van Zant’s abortion ban is unconstitutional. But Republican lawmakers don’t care.
One of Van Zant’s Republican colleagues, Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, acknowledges that the bill probably won’t even see the light of day in the Florida Senate. But Spano voted for it in committee, anyway.
The anti-abortion crowd has at least four other anti-choice measures in play this year: Medicaid prohibitions to clinics that perform abortions; mandatory hospital privileges for doctors who perform abortions; heightened licensure requirements for abortion clinics; and fetal-tissue research restrictions.
That last one is designed, no doubt, to revive the false allegation about “selling baby parts” that right-to-life
videographers lodged against
Planned Parenthood last year. Those videographers were indicted last week, while Planned Parenthood
There’s a void of regulations regarding fees-for-service when women decide to donate fetal tissue, and that void is a boon for lawmakers in a presidential election year.
The other proposed regulations appear to be more run-of-the-mill unconstitutional restrictions on women’s rights.
But Republican lawmakers don’t care.
They didn’t care when they ignored numerous warnings that our death-penalty sentencing statutes were running afoul of the U.S. Constitution.
After nearly a decade, and millions of dollars spent on death penalty litigation, the nation’s highest court determined, on Jan. 12, what we already knew: Our death-penalty-sentencing scheme violates the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury.
Republican lawmakers would have done better to listen to one of their own back in 2013. That’s when state Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, tried to fix the problem that the Florida Supreme Court warned us about in 2005. The American Bar Association warned us again in 2006.
But Republican lawmakers didn’t care.
At the moment, in light of the SCOTUS’ Jan. 12 ruling in Hurst, we have no procedure for sentencing convicted murderers to death. (Never mind how many Death Row inhabitants have been executed under Florida’s unconstitutional scheme between 1972 and 2016 (See “Deliberations Debacle,” Folio Weekly Magazine, Jan. 27).
That lack of permissible death-penalty-sentencing procedures has at least one judge in Florida, Pinellas County’s Circuit Judge Michael Andrews, calling a halt to capital cases in his courtroom. Prior to that, Orlando’s top prosecutor, Jeff Ashton, said his office wouldn’t pursue any more death penalty cases until the legislature repairs the law. (Ashton, a Democrat, earned fame as a prosecutor in the Casey Anthony trial. The notoriety was dwarfed only by his subscription to the Ashley Madison infidelity-hook-up website.)
Ashton’s Republican cohort in Jacksonville, State Attorney Angela Corey, has said her offices won’t be halting their pursuit of the death penalty.
Squandering precious court time and taxpayer dollars has, after all, become a Republican tradition in Florida: Enacting a campaign promise made by Gov. Rick Scott in 2010, the legislature passed a law mandating that welfare recipients be tested for drugs, without regard to probable cause.
“Cause, schmause,” lawmakers all but said out loud.
Though stricken relatively quickly by a federal appellate judge in 2014, the battle over the law cost taxpayers $1.5 million in attorneys’ fees, before all was said and done.
The mac-daddy example of legislative disregard for the law, however, takes the form of the grossly gerrymandered electoral maps drawn by lawmakers in 2012. The redistricted maps were flagrant not only because they targeted the very heart of democracy — the electoral process itself — but also because lawmakers wasted so much money in their failed attempt to rig the game.
According to the Miami Herald, lawmakers’ map-drawing shenanigans cost taxpayers more than $11 million. Those dollars paid for four trials, three special sessions and eight Florida Supreme Court rulings.
Conservatives burn money in Florida by passing patently unconstitutional laws and then charging taxpayers to fight the lost causes in court.
Who will stop Republican lawmakers before they pass any more disastrous, unconstitutional, litigation-inducing laws? The 2016 legislative elections, based on new, court-ordered maps, can’t come soon enough.