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Legislative leader gets ideas aplenty

By ALEX LEARY
Published August 11, 2006


ORLANDO - The ideas, more than 1,100 in all, run from profound to practical to downright silly, like putting a 5 cent deposit on cigarettes to prevent people from tossing their butts. But an idea is an idea, and the more the better.

Such is the governing principle of a two-day conference convened Thursday by the incoming speaker of the Florida House, Marco Rubio, who wants to distill the best 100 ideas into a book that will guide Florida's future.

"Once you put something in writing, people have something to hold you accountable to," the Miami Republican said, sitting under a chandelier at Universal Studios' luxury Portofino Bay Hotel.

The event drew more than 500 people, including onetime vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has pegged Rubio as a rising national political figure and calls 100 Ideas "a work of genius."

With scores of lobbyists and lawmakers mingling about, it seemed the fourth-floor scene of the state Capitol had been transplanted - except there was not a member of the minority party to be found. Democrats called it a partisan affair.

"On the eve of an election cycle, my colleagues are grasping at the mantle of innovation even though it's contrary to their actions in the previous legislative sessions. You can't just talk the talk," said incoming House Democratic leader Dan Gelber.

Rubio hatched the concept in fall 2005, along with two other future leaders of the House, Ray Sansom and Dean Cannon, and set up a Web site - 100ideas.org - where people could contribute their thoughts.

Hundreds have done so:

- Chuck Schroeder of St. Petersburg called for changes in state law to make it easier to get stolen property back from pawn shops.

- Robert Connors of Lake Wales was one of many to suggest a light rail system to cut down on highway congestion.

- Others called for universal health care, better pay for teachers and increased reliance on alternate energy sources.

Rep. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, emerged from one of the afternoon sessions with a sense of optimism he said he had not experienced before. "We're hearing from real folks and that's what we ought to be doing."

[Last modified August 11, 2006, 02:20:06]


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