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As you vote, remember Legislature's greatest hits

By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 30, 2002

This morning, let's do precisely what many members of the Florida Legislature hope that we will not do.

This morning, let's do precisely what many members of the Florida Legislature hope that we will not do.

Let's remember some of what the Florida Legislature did to us in its annual session last spring.

The reason your state House member and your state senator do not want you to remember is that the election is Tuesday.

Your legislator instead wants you to think only of all that stuff he or she has been sending you in the mail more recently. It probably says something like, "Fighting for You."

Just remember:

Every piece of that mail, and every commercial on TV, was paid for by somebody who gave money to your legislator, or your legislator's party.

Let's just touch a few of the Legislature's greatest hits.

You didn't get a "sales tax holiday" this year. The Legislature decided you needed to pay full tax on your kids' clothes and back-to-school supplies so that Florida's corporations could get a $262-million tax break.

Florida's telephone companies commanded -- and I do mean, commanded, backed up with big money -- the Legislature to pass a law that jacked up your local telephone bill by as much as $5 a month. Fortunately, Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed that one.

This Legislature took away the power of citizens to intervene in many environmental cases. Citizens now have to prove they are "directly affected." Since you and I are not "directly affected" by, say, killing off the Everglades or the manatees, well, tough noogies.

Speaking of the environment, the Legislature proved to be about as trustworthy as the North Koreans by raiding the Preservation 2000 environmental trust fund for other purposes (again, somebody had to pay for those corporate tax breaks).

My favorite moment involved parents of little kids with cleft palates. A group of these parents went to Tallahassee to protest a bill that could have eliminated their insurance benefits. Only insurance lobbyists were allowed to speak at that meeting, not the parents, and the bill was rammed through the committee. Fortunately, it didn't become law.

Remember that in July, we got a rare peek into the real way this process works, when doctors who wanted a favorable law passed sent out a letter to their colleagues reporting that they needed to pay $10,000 to meet with the leaders of the House and Senate.

It hardly seems necessary to go back any further, but this same Legislature was in office in 2001 as well, and had some real doozies:

-- Finalizing the elimination of an independent state university system, so that politicians can control it directly.

-- Voting to store dirty, untreated surface water in Florida's pure aquifer, ignoring all warnings and scientific evidence. Remember one senator's famous promise that if he polluted the water, "I'll be the first to apologize."

-- Changing state law after a powerful lobbyist complained that his son was denied admission to state medical school.

In reminding you of these things, I am NOT suggesting you automatically vote against an incumbent. Life is more complicated.

Some of them are not so bad. For example, Tampa Bay's members of the Senate voted against the telephone bill, with one exception, and that guy is leaving anyway.

In general, the state Senate has not been as offensive as the House. However, six House incumbents in our area who are on the ballot did vote against the phone bill, and deserve great credit: Nancy Argenziano, R-Crystal River (whose opponent for the Senate, Richard Mitchell, also voted no); Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor; John Carassas, R-Belleair; Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey (now running for the Senate); Heather Fiorentino, R-New Port Richey; and David Russell, R-Brooksville. The rest of the House -- Democrat and Republican alike -- voted for the phone companies, and against you.

On Thursday, this newspaper will publish a Know Your Candidates special section listing all the candidates and issues on your local ballot. It's not too late for you to call your legislator to ask how they voted on these and other issues. You also can look up any bill on the Internet at http://www.leg.state.fl.us.

After that, vote.

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