The good bills they passed (really)

By Howard Troxler, Times Columnist

Published Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Let's look at some of the good things our legislators did this year.

No, really!

Start with Senate Bill 216, cracking down on "electioneering" by local governments, using tax dollars to influence elections on bond issues, amendments and such. Two Pinellas legislators, Sen. Charlie Justice and Rep. Janet Long, were behind it.

"Rachel's Law," House Bill 271, was passed because of the death of college student Rachel Hoffman of Palm Harbor, who was killed after being pressed into service as a police informant. This bill requires better rules and procedures.

SB 462 creates a statewide prescription database to crack down on "doctor shopping" by pill-seeking patients, and on doctors who prescribe irresponsibly. I'm not keen on the government being in my medicine cabinet, but this is a massive problem that's killed too many people.

The police will be able to stop your car if you're not wearing a seat belt under SB 344. Again, there are tradeoffs — this law gives police more power, and some fear a rise in stops based on prejudice. But there also might be a drop in the number of deaths.

SB 810 extends unemployment benefits by 20 weeks for 250,000 Floridians, tapping into federal stimulus dollars to do it. This is the best kind of "stimulus," with the only criticism being that the Legislature left another $444 million on the table by refusing to broaden the list of eligible recipients.

Some things on my "good" list require us to pay more money, which is never popular, but is the right thing to do.

After years of irresponsibly freezing the rates of the state-run Citizens Property Insurance Co., HB 1495 finally allows Citizens to resume increases of up to 10 percent a year on an upward "glide path" to soundness.

Another painful necessity is SB 762, which allows Florida universities more power to raise their own tuition up to 15 percent a year. Obviously this is a hardship on students and families — especially since the state also is bowing to reality and admitting that Bright Futures scholarships no longer will pay for it all.

I'm less sure about this next idea, but it's worth trying: HB 1171 creates homeowners' insurance in Florida with unregulated rates. The idea is to get more companies willing to sell it. Nobody has to buy it.

We've heard a lot about "double-dipping" by public employees who "retire" and start collecting pensions while staying on the public payroll. The Legislature will require a six-month waiting period, but only for higher-level employees and elected officials, sparing the rank-and-file.

There will be a little less red tape for families that have lost their insurance and want to enroll in the state's KidCare program, thanks to SB 918.

SB 1540 adds a touch of common sense to the zero tolerance policy in Florida schools, declaring that not every petty offense or misdemeanor has to be reported to law enforcement, and that schools should "consider the circumstances" before imposing a punishment. Let's hope this takes care of the "plastic butter knife left over from a picnic" cases.

Loan sharks will still be prosecuted if they demand their "pound of flesh," but under SB 318, Florida law will no longer employ the term "shylock." Hath not the Legislature modern sensibilities?

All this praise is making me dizzy! Next up: a list of bills Gov. Charlie Crist should consider vetoing.

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