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This bill does a lot more than advertised

By HOWARD TROXLER
Published May 8, 2007


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The big elections law just passed by our Legislature, known as House Bill 537, is supposed to return Florida to a "paper trail" for elections. No more touch screen machines, just like Gov. Charlie Crist wanted.

But I gotta tell you, the Legislature tacked so much extra junk onto this sucker that it looks like a frat-house refrigerator door - and the contents are just about as unknown and dangerous.

Let's put it this way: Just the title sentence of the bill, which describes its contents by saying, "An act to do so-and-so, " is 154 lines long.

Besides getting rid of touch-screen machines, the bill:

- Moves Florida's presidential primary from March to the end of January.

- Changes the "resign to run" law, so that Florida politicians can keep their state jobs and run for federal office at the same time.

- Cracks down further on citizen petitions, and creates a mischievous counterprocess in which opponents can get petition signatures revoked.

- Restricts complaints to the already-puny Florida Elections Commission to the point that rule breakers just about have to turn themselves in.

- Stacks the executive committees of political parties, and gives the state party bosses absolute power to remove local party officers.

- Deals with the ability of political committees to raise money under various names, and to conduct polling.

Good grief! That's still only a partial list. Here are some more topics thrown into the hodgepodge:

City election dates.

State party control over the names of political clubs.

The definition of when a county commissioner is "elected" (the subject of a dispute in Hernando County).

A generous rule for reporting free private air travel given to political candidates.

Detailed election-return reporting that mostly benefits consultants and candidates.

You've heard the expression, "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." This is the opposite principle, which the Legislature knows all too well - if there's a sweet item that somebody wants, it's the perfect time to stick other stuff into the bill.

In short, House Bill 537 is a perfect example of the legislative "train, " a bill that picks up lots of extra cargo on its route through the Legislature.

Some of these items are legitimate fixes. Some are questionable power grabs. Some, such as the earlier presidential primary and getting rid of the resign-to-run law, are debatable.

Taken individually, they are interesting issues, and the governor should consider each one. But he can't veto them individually; he must approve or veto the whole shebang.

If I were the governor, (a fate that a merciful providence has spared Florida), I would announce my intention to veto the bill. I would ask the Legislature to pass a "clean" voting-machine bill in the upcoming June special session, and deal with each of these election-related issues on its own merits, as befits a democracy.

* * *

I hope you'll join me online today for a special two-hour live chat on TroxBlog about what the 2007 Legislature did and didn't do. You can comment, ask questions, or just see what others have to say. Go to www.tampabay.com, click on the "Blogs" link at the bottom-center of the page, and look for TroxBlog.

[Last modified May 7, 2007, 21:06:22]


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