Legislators Sometimes Forget When Trying To Quash Voters’ Wishes


You hear loads round Presidents’ Day and different patriotic holidays about how nice democracy is and the way necessary voting is. But in Florida, when a vote would not go the way in which large companies like, our Legislature is ever desperate to squash the voters’ needs.
Sometimes, although, of their rush to crank up the steamroller for a great squashing, our legislators do one thing significantly boneheaded.
A very good instance is what is going on on proper now with Key West and cruise ships.
Until a few year in the past, Key West was a busy city, its streets crowded with each vacationers and chickens. But when the pandemic hit final year, lots of the vacationers disappeared (the chickens, in fact, proceed roaming unchecked).
Prior to March, hundreds of vacationers had been arriving 3 times a day by way of the ginormous cruise ships that dropped anchor within the city’s port. Nearly 1 million cruise ship passengers visited the town of 25,000 residents in 2019.
When COVID-19 turned the ships into floating petri dishes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered all of them docked for the period. They nonetheless have not been allowed again to sea.
Not lengthy after the cruise ships stopped visiting, Key West residents noticed one thing fascinating.
Arlo Haskell”We all noticed a pretty striking improvement in the near-shore water quality,” Key West native Arlo Haskell, govt director of the Key West Literary Seminar, informed me this week. Soon, anglers observed their catch bettering, too, he stated.
Six journeys a day by the large cruise ships had been stirring up the heavy silt within the 6-mile lengthy, 300-foot-wide channel that results in the port — a channel that is pretty near a delicate however very productive coral reef, which suffers when the water turns murky.
The clearer water, and issues concerning the cruise ships bringing diseased passengers to an island with just one hospital, helped gasoline a drive to cut back the ships’ impression. A bunch that Haskell helped type and lead, the Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, put ahead three referendum objects for the voters to contemplate, and so they all handed in November by a large margin.
The first bans cruise ships with a capability of greater than 1,300 folks from docking within the metropolis. The second limits the variety of cruise passengers who can disembark every day to 1,500. The third says cruise strains with good environmental and well being security information get to disembark first. The first two handed with assist from greater than 60 p.c of the voters, whereas the third received greater than 80 p.c.
They handed these measures regardless of a secretive marketing campaign by the cruise ship {industry} — uncovered by the Miami Herald — to idiot the voters with misinformation.
Now a state senator is leaping in to assist the {industry} beat the voters retroactively. But after I learn his invoice — SB 426 and its identically worded companion, HB 267 — I began laughing, as a result of one thing important was lacking.
Then I watched a legislative committee this week spend greater than an hour discussing the Key West scenario. Not one single member of the committee introduced up this downside that, to me, was as apparent as an iceberg in entrance of the Titanic.
Tossing overboard a 200-year-old system
The solely factor that was apparent to the committee members was that the voters had made a selection that was Bad For Business and have to be overturned — even when it means tossing out a system that is been in place for almost 200 years.
The port of Key West has been managed by the town since 1828. It and the opposite 14 Florida ports scattered from Pensacola to Miami are all managed by native authorities entities — the town, the county, or a neighborhood port authority, in accordance with the Florida Ports Council.
The native governments make every kind of selections concerning commerce at their ports, comparable to who can lease house there. For occasion, in 2019, the Port of Fort Pierce selected to concentrate on repairing mega-yachts to the exclusion of different companies.
Nobody complained about this association in two centuries — till now, when a couple of legislators are able to toss it overboard to assist the highly effective cruise {industry}.
SB 426 is sponsored by Sen. Jim Boyd, a Bradenton insurance coverage govt who beforehand served within the House, which suggests he in all probability ought to know higher than to make this explicit mistake that he is made.
His four-page invoice goes by some rigmarole about how necessary the ports are to Florida’s financial system earlier than lastly getting round to their level: “Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, a local government may not restrict or regulate commerce in the seaports of this state … . All such matters are expressly preempted to the state.”
In different phrases: You Key West yahoos wish to make adjustments that damage the cruise {industry}? We’ll simply must take your port away from you — and from the opposite 14 (even the one with the mega-yachts) — and hand it over to the state of Florida.
Reading this jogged my memory of the scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” the place the evil French archaeologist Belloq tells Indiana Jones, “Again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away.”
That did not finish effectively for Belloq, however the Legislature does this sort of factor on a regular basis.
You wish to grant ex-felons their voting rights? Too dangerous, says the Legislature, we will throw up further roadblocks to them voting. You need us to spend extra money on saving wilderness from improvement? Too dangerous, we will finagle the price range so we are able to proceed ravenous the Florida Forever fund. You wish to restrict class sizes in faculties? Too dangerous, we will prepare dinner the books so lessons appear compliant after they aren’t. A legislator is already plotting to undermine the vote to lift the minimal wage to $15, creating employee classifications that may be exempt.
Way again in 1981, Florida’s schoolchildren voted to make the Florida panther our official state animal. But when it got here time for the Legislature to ratify that selection, some lawmakers stated the youngsters did not know what they have been doing, as a result of clearly Florida’s state animal needs to be the gator (I think they have been U.F. grads). A public uproar made them again down.
At least the pro-gator legislators weren’t as dunderheaded because the sponsors of SB 426/HB 267, who forgot one thing fairly important after they wrote these payments.
What they forgot, what they assumed
I sought an interview with Sen. Boyd about his invoice, however he was unavailable, alas. One of his aides despatched me a imprecise assertion about why he filed his pro-industry, anti-voter invoice: “With the tremendous economic loss many encountered this past year, I don’t believe we ought to restrict opportunities for Floridians to be able to earn a living and support their families.”
Not a phrase about folks having the ability to halt air pollution in their very own group, although.
I contacted a few the teams which might be backing the payments. Neither talked about the flaw within the payments. Instead, they each referred to quilting.
“We support the legislation in concept because it confirms the principle that maritime commerce is subject to a uniform regulatory framework instead of a patchwork of conflicting restrictions in each municipality,” Laziza Lambert, of the Cruise Lines International Association, informed me in an e mail.
The Florida Harbor Pilots Association helps the payments “because it is critically important that commerce in Florida seaports is conducted under the consistent and predictable framework already established in federal and state law,” spokeswoman Sarah Bascom stated. “A patchwork of new local government regulations would make port operations unpredictable, drive away commerce, threaten port investments, disrupt Florida’s economy, and result in job loss.”
The “patchwork” argument will get trotted out when the Legislature needs to bigfoot some native authorities choice that protects bushes or bars the sale of a sort of sunscreen that is dangerous for marine life. Of course, on this occasion the “patchwork” has been working high quality for a protracted, very long time.
But here is the question no one wished to deal with: If you are taking management of the ports from native governments and hand it to the state, what half of the state will get it?
This is why I used to be laughing. Boyd’s invoice by no means specifies which state company ought to take cost of the ports. Could it’s as a result of there is not any state company with a background in working ports?
The Department of Transportation may have the ability to step in — besides that is the company that screwed up its toll-collection system and angered motorists everywhere in the state. Now it is scrambling to take care of a politically pushed demand for 3 costly new toll roads no one needs (a project pushed by Boyd’s Senate predecessor, Bradenton lawyer Bill Galvano).
So DOT has its fingers full. Who else? This is type of an emergency, so how concerning the Division of Emergency Management? No, they’re busy fumbling vaccine distribution. How about Visit Florida? No, the controversial tourism company is simply too busy attempting to persuade out-of-staters that it is secure to return again right here, regardless of the images of individuals not carrying masks whereas celebrating the Super Bowl.
One intriguing risk got here to thoughts after I was discussing this with somebody from the Florida Ports Council, which is made up of representatives from the 15 ports. The council wasn’t thrilled concerning the Key West vote, nevertheless it opposes these payments the way in which the Pope opposes sin — to the shock of a number of the payments’ supporters.
“Initially, some people thought we would be in favor of this,” Jessie Werner, the council’s vice chairman for public affairs, informed me. “Apparently they misunderstood that we’re an association. We wouldn’t want to be a port authority.”
Can you consider it? Somebody thought the way in which to punish the Key West voters was to remove their energy over the port and hand it to the Florida Ports Council, not understanding that the council is just not a authorities company.
I requested Sen. Boyd’s aide about this. He did not answer however insisted the payments will not take away all of the native governments’ management, simply their energy to control commerce. I assume which means junking the Fort Pierce mega-yacht operation. That limits commerce too, proper?
I swear, generally watching our Legislature at work is loads like watching the chickens in Key West. They strut round and make lots of noise like they’re impartial however, in actuality, they’re going to observe anybody who tosses them sufficient feed.

Craig Pittman
Craig Pittman is a local Floridian. In 30 years on the Tampa Bay Times, he gained quite a few state and nationwide awards for his environmental reporting. He is the creator of 5 books, together with the New York Times bestseller Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country, which gained a gold medal from the Florida Book Awards. His newest, printed in January, is Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther. The Florida Heritage Book Festival not too long ago named him a Florida Literary


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