Feeney's 5 rules will filter bills in House panels
By ALISA ULFERTS and STEVE BOUSQUET
© St. Petersburg Times,
TALLAHASSEE -- What House Speaker Tom Feeney gave legislators Monday wasn't exactly a get-out-of-jail-free card.
But the shiny, plastic piece embossed with Republican Feeney's five guiding principles can help spring lawmakers' bills out of committee and onto the floor for a vote, Feeney said.
"If your bill isn't heard, you can show your card to the committee chair and point out how many of the principles your bill met," Feeney said.
This 2002 legislative session starts early, may end late and will play host to a number of complicated bills, including the redistricting package and the crafting of a budget in a lean year.
Even though the 63 representatives who sat through their first lawmaking session this year are a little wiser, Feeney said he wanted to leave no doubt about his priorities and what it takes to get a bill passed.
"Everyone has their biases and their differences in philosophy. The best I can do is share mine honestly with you," Feeney said.
The five principles on the card printed by the House's printing office are, in order, less government, lower taxes, personal responsibility, individual freedom and stronger families.
Feeney said emphasizing those points, and authorizing his committee chairmen and chairwomen to filter all bills they consider through that sieve, wasn't intended to prevent potential political embarrassments from landing on Gov. Jeb Bush's desk just as his re-election campaign heats up.
Rather, Feeney said, he wanted to take the mystery out of why some bills get heard and others die in committee.
"Nobody is going to be indoctrinated by a Feeney style of how to think," Feeney said.
But what Feeney calls principles, some Democrats consider partisan propaganda by a speaker who has made no secret of his desire to run for Congress in 2002. The card asks, for example, whether a bill enhances "the traditional American family" or encourages people to provide for their own "moral fortitude."
"This is an attempt to get him elected to Congress, and this is his platform," said state Rep. Suzanne Kosmas, D-New Smyrna Beach.
Rep. Sally Heyman, D-North Miami Beach, said Feeney's stated principles of "less government" and "individual freedom" are inconsistent with the Republicans' support for restrictions on abortion rights.
Some lawmakers said they assumed Monday's meeting was mandatory after Feeney sent an e-mail message to all members last week, advising them of the "legislative focus" session. Feeney emphasized during the session that attendance was "not mandatory." But by the time he sent a followup e-mail, emphasizing that the session was not mandatory, some said they had booked airline flights and reserved hotel rooms.
"When the speaker writes me a letter, I always listen to him," said Rep. Kenneth Allan "Ken" Gottlieb, D-Hollywood.
House Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Lois Frankel said she didn't need a card to remember her principles.
"Mine are in my head and in my heart," Frankel said. She and other Democrats were quick to point out that the five principles make no mention of one of Democrats' chief concerns: protecting the environment.
But Rep. Paula Bono Dockery, R-Lakeland, said the card will let everyone know the standards ahead of time. As chairwoman of the General Government Appropriations Committee, Dockery said she plans to use the card to give all lawmakers' bills a fair shake.
"It's a great reminder for everyone," Dockery said.
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