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Just how is their time and our cash spent?

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By MARLENE SOKOL

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2000


One of the joys of the Internet is how easily we can check up on our local lawmakers while they're in Tallahassee.

Is it all one big frat party? Or are they huddled among the intelligentsia, making sound decisions about tax rates, the death penalty, public health and the Florida aquifer?

It's all that and more.

Consider, for instance, the time and money they spend honoring fellow politicians and bureaucrats.

Victor Crist (R-Tampa Palms) and Gus Bilirakis (R-Palm Harbor) and Bob Henriquez (D-Town 'N Country) co-sponsored a house bill this year that consoles survivors of the late lawmaker Elaine Gordon and recognizes her accomplishments in government.

Fair enough.

John Grant, the Carrollwood Republican, saw fit to give an award to Carl Kuttler, Jr., a St. Petersburg Junior College president who is still living, but who apparently has collaborated with presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.

Grant co-sponsored another bill that names the Florida State University football field after coach Bobby Bowden, as if anyone doubted that would happen; and yet another that declared March 15 "FSU Day."

Crist, Bilirakis and Henriquez also moved to honor the late Ed Healey, a Palm Beach County man who spent decades championing the cause of public health.

And so on.

The hectic pace of running America's fourth-largest state did not stop Bilirakis, Henriquez and Rob Wallace, (R-Carrollwood) from inviting Floridians to celebrate Irish history and culture with a holiday in March known as St. Patrick's Day.

I'm sorry, but didn't somebody think of that already?

Henriquez also was co-sponsor of bills that designated April 4 as both National Guard Day and Puerto Rico Day.

To be fair, some of this year's bills are even more extraneous to the day-to-day business of state government.

One group of legislators has asked for a special "Lake County Day" because "the county has always been blessed with a thriving citrus industry, beautiful rolling hills, and wonderful recreational opportunities," not to mention that it was the first county to organize a chamber of commerce.

When it comes to special interests, you can always count on South Florida.

You knew somebody would file a bill to stop the U.S. government from returning 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba. There's a bill to designate certain sailing vessels as official state flagships and another that calls for a Bay of Pigs and Operation Mongoose Historical Site and Memorial.

Not to be outdone, another South Florida group thinks Florida should have a say in whether the U.S. Embassy in Israel sits in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Closer to home, Donald Sullivan, the prolific Republican senator from St. Petersburg, has his name on a measure to honor military prisoners of war at highway rest stops.

No disrespect intended but . . . rest stops?

Republican Howard Futch from Indialantic tried to get the scrub jay named as Florida's state bird. "Strictly symbolic," his bill said. New Tampa's representative, Republican Ken Littlefield, was there defending that title for the mockingbird. He needn't have bothered; the scrub jay bill failed in committee.

Then there's "Family Day."

As suggested by Pensacola Republican Jerry Maygarden, the Friday before Mother's Day would be set aside "to acknowledge and emphasize the importance of families to the success and well-being of the state and to reaffirm their commitment to promote strong families within the state."

I'd be asking for my money back, were it not for the fact that Maygarden also wants to exempt diapers from sales tax.

You've no doubt heard about the barbecue bill. Don't worry, the idea to appoint a Secretary of Barbecue comes from a dude in Ocala.

So this fall, when those horrible campaign brochures start to jockey for space with the Burdines ads in your mailbox, when you're wondering just how stupid the candidates think we are or -- worse -- if they're really the simpletons, take heart. No one, to my knowledge, has put ink to the idea of a Tampa Palms Day.

And for that we can be proud.

* * *

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