St. Petersburg Times Online: News of Florida

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Ah, 2000: a vintage year for fine whine


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 22, 2000

Okay. It's time for the "Whine Cellar." Seems like we need one every year at about this time.

First occupants of the cellar this year are the state's teacher unions. They are dissatisfied with their pay. In a year when the Legislature is giving them about $1.3-billion more money than they got last year, they are not happy. They want still more.

They say Florida teachers are paid $4,700 less than the national average and $4,000 less than teachers get in Georgia.

Let's all cry for them. Ignore the fact that the average teacher in Florida makes almost $36,000 a year. That's about $1,000 higher than the median household income in Florida.

The next occupants of the Whine Cellar -- and they certainly take up more space and time than any other occupant -- come in the form of House Democrats.

They are still learning how to be a minority. Last week they were in full whine over the number of bills they have passed this year. It's not enough, they say.

House Minority Leader Les Miller Jr. stood up on the House floor last week to complain. Democrats make up 37 percent of the House, but only 25 percent of the bills have been heard by the House.

So now we have a quota system?

Good grief. Does no one consider the merits of an issue anymore?

The House's Republican leaders quickly responded with a chart showing that the percentage of bills heard by the House back in 1989, when the GOP was a minority with the same number of members the Democrats have now, was exactly the same.

It is a fact. When the Democrats were in charge more bills sponsored by Democrats passed. Why is anyone surprised that the reverse is true?

It all sounds like the day in 1996 when the Democrats started complaining about the quality of the parking places they got inside the Capitol. House Speaker Dan Webster, the first Republican to have the office in more than 100 years, noted that he merely gave the Democrats the same spaces they had given the Republicans.

Some days I feel like I am watching kindergarten children at play.

And all the squabbling is not confined to Democrats versus Republicans.

One day last week Rep. Debby Sanderson, R-Fort Lauderdale, watched Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, sit on the front row of a committee where she was presiding. Feeney is the next in line to be speaker. That is not a person to be kept waiting.

But Sanderson let him sit there cooling his heels while she heard other bills. Some were even presented by aides to other members. Feeney's bill didn't get heard.

And so it was no surprise Wednesday when Feeney pulled his bill out of Sanderson's committee so she no longer has control over it. He then put it on the agenda of the full appropriations committee next week.

"America is a great country, isn't it?" quipped Sanderson when asked about the situation later. She insists she didn't deliberately keep Feeney waiting.

"We literally ran out of time," she said with a nice innocent smile.

Nor should it come as a surprise to Sanderson that Feeney and House Speaker John Thrasher are taking a new look at adoption reform bills that she did not want to pass.

Last week Thrasher said he had agreed to not take up the bills. Wednesday afternoon, his answer was different.

"We're going to take another look at it," he said.

Thanks to term limits, Sanderson won't have to live in a sub-basement office next year, but if she wins her Senate race, she may have a problem getting bills through the House.

We are moving into the final two weeks of the legislative session. It will only get worse.

Ahhh. That's what we like. Mean, talky politicians running loose in the Capitol and protecting their backsides.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.