Rick Scott’s toxic legacy

From gun deregulation to education cuts, the laws enacted under the GOP governor will haunt Florida for years

Topics: AlterNet, Florida, ,

Rick Scott's toxic legacy Florida Gov. Rick Scott (Credit: AP/Chris O'Meara)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

While millions of residents and visitors are working on their tans, shady politics are prospering in the Sunshine State. What residents are now learning is that the negative impact of the work of the Republican-dominated Legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Scott will haunt them for years to come.

AlterNetMost of the new measures were approved over the past 12 months, but as we are all learning, seven-year-old legislation is causing excessive pain, heartbreak and anger in 2012.

1. Stand Your Ground

Florida’s so-called “Stand Your Ground” statute was passed in 2005 with bipartisan support. The measure, signed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, was pushed by gun rights activists and makes it clear people can use deadly force when they fear their lives are in imminent peril of death or great bodily harm, even if they are not at home. Supporters of the law say it has reduced criminal activity, although it could stand some changes. Opponents want the law thrown out entirely. And Jeb Bush now says the law does not apply in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26 in Sanford.

“Stand your ground doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back,” Bush said at a University of Texas at Arlington forum a month after the incident. The 17-year-old Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer during a scuffle. Despite calls for justice from Martin’s family and nationwide protests over the shooting, local police and prosecutors cited “Stand Your Ground” in initially deciding not to charge volunteer George Zimmerman. A state investigator has ruled Zimmerman can’t be charged with first-degree murder.

On Wednesday, however, a special state prosecutor announced that Zimmerman would be charged with second-degree murder and was in police custody. The state’s prosecutor said police investigators needed to take the time necessary to establish probable cause and decried the publicity surrounding it, saying it could prevent selecting an unbiased jury. However, without the national outcry, it is questionable whether any charges would have been forthcoming.

And Florida has buckled under more recent pressure from the National Rifle Association. An editorial in the Tampa Bay Times says “Florida leads the pack in passing bills written by the gun lobby that block any sensible attempt to control the purchase and use of firearms.” Weapons opponents say Florida is now the “Gunshine State.”

2. The Gunshine State

Right-wing Republicans approved a bill in October 2011 that declared that the Legislature “is occupying the whole field of regulation of firearms and ammunition … to the exclusion of all existing and future county, city, town or municipal ordinances.” Anti-gun forces and local officials were outraged. One effect of the law is that Tampa city officials cannot ban handguns near the site of this summer’s Republican National Convention. If the city council did so, it would face a state fine of $100,000 for interfering with the statute. So while the city council is banning hatchets, knives, pepper spray, chains and water guns during the GOP gathering, anybody can carry a gun near the convention unimpeded.

Another provision of the law is truly frightening. It makes it easier for anyone to bring a concealed weapon into the state government complex in Tallahassee. No longer can police ask people to check their weapons before entering the state capitol itself. Adding insult to injury, many lawmakers spent taxpayer money to install emergency alert buttons on their phones, just in case someone starts shooting. But as one Democratic senator notes, panic buttons won’t be much good if someone charges into a government office with guns blazing. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says violent crime has fallen statewide, but gun-related deaths increased 35 percent from 1999 to 2009. And here’s something that really worries gun opponents: In a state with 19 million residents, there are 6 million gun owners, almost a million of whom can now carry concealed weapons.

3. Resurrecting Jim Crow

A year ago, Republicans crammed another right-wing manifesto down the throats of Floridians. HB 1355 was called an omnibus elections bill. Those against the measure call it a rollback of voting rights that will hit minorities and others especially hard and could impact 2012 election outcomes. They say many of the state’s 11 million registered voters won’t get to cast ballots in future elections. “It undercuts democracy,” says Denise Velazquez of the group State Voices Florida 501C3 Civic Engagement Table.

She finds one part of the law “most offensive.” It places severe restrictions on third-party groups registering new voters and says it’s likely to have an overwhelmingly negative effect on blacks and Hispanics across the state. Velazquez calls the law a “silent understanding to disenfranchise voters.” Another provision aimed at restricting voters’ freedoms compresses the time for early voting to just eight days.

But in acting to reduce voting rights, the Republicans didn’t just penalize minorities. In March 2011, Gov. Scott scaled back the right to vote for thousands of people with criminal records. In many cases, they have to wait up to five years before being allowed to reregister to cast ballots. A state with a lengthy and hateful record of voter discrimination seems to be carrying on that nasty tradition even today.

4. Who Needs Public Schools?

The Republican establishment in Tallahassee continues to cut the state’s commitment to education. “Rick Scott and the legislature don’t care about education,” says Susan Smith, president of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida. In 2011, Scott and his cronies removed $1.3 billion in funding for kindergarten through grade 12, resulting in hundreds of teacher layoffs.

“Just horrific,” is how Mario Piscatella of the group MPA Political describes the cuts. “They’re undermining our education system.” And Piscatella criticizes another Republican initiative. Rather than funding colleges adequately, he says the state voted to build a 14th state university, which seems to him an utter waste of tax dollars. “Scott talks about bringing in new jobs and companies to Florida, but that won’t happen with poorly educated kids,” Piscatella adds.

Others note the budget cut for education was so steep that the governor’s popularity plummeted. So in the 2012 state budget, Scott added $1 billion for schools. He’s been touring the Sunshine State, telling students how the new money will help them learn and find good jobs. Many call it sheer hypocrisy intended to get voters to support Republicans running for reelection to the legislature this fall. Scott does not run again until 2014.

5. Limiting Car Insurance Claims and Payments

Earlier this year, the state legislature approved a measure Scott and his Republican cohorts call motor vehicle insurance reform. Supporters say it’s meant to stop fraud by unscrupulous drivers. Opponents label it anti-consumer, pro-industry legislation. The measure is so controversial that eight Republican senators voted against it, although it managed to squeak through the upper chamber by one vote. The new law is set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2013. It deals with PIP insurance, personal injury protection.

PIP is mandatory for all Florida drivers. It covers medical bills and lost wages resulting from motor vehicle accidents. Florida is a no-fault state, so benefits are paid by drivers’ insurance firms, regardless of who is at fault in an accident. At present, PIP pays 80 percent of medical bills and 60 percent of lost wages, up to $10,000 after a deductible. Republican state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff is one sponsor of the new measure. “We see scams in many forms, including staged car wrecks or bogus medical claims,” she says. “Floridians should not be forced to pay higher premiums due to these unscrupulous individuals taking advantage of no-fault auto coverage.”

But others see it as purely pro-business. “The new law is very arbitrary,” says Miami-based attorney Jeffrey Gale. He says it forces accident victims to seek medical attention within 14 days. If they don’t, Gale says PIP won’t pay. And he notes that, unless the victim gets emergency medical treatment, PIP payments are reduced to $2,500. “It’s taking the decision on a person’s need for medical care out of the hands of a doctor and putting it in the hands of insurance companies,” Gale adds.

The bill was a pet project of Scott, who, before becoming chief executive of the state, was the chief executive of a large group of hospitals across Florida. Republicans predict that insurance rates will go down over time. But the new law does not force companies to reduce insurance premiums for Florida consumers. Some doubt premiums will come down, and they predict the companies will just make more money.

“Profits over people,” concludes attorney Jeffrey Gale. The Miami lawyer says the new law may actually bring him higher fees in some medical lawsuits, but he still opposes it, because it is anti-resident and pro-business. And he says the new PIP plan is still not the best way to deal with accident insurance. What Florida needs to do, he says, “is to abolish PIP and institute mandatory bodily injury coverage.”

The Sunshine State is one of the few that does not have it, he said, “and it’s just ripe for abuse.” Gale is quick to hurl epithets at the governor and his legislative cohorts. “These changes do not come about by chance but are the result of real decisions by real people, and the real people making these decisions favor big business over people,” he said.

6. Florida’s GOP War on Women

The Republican right-wing express was less successful in one area, but the legislature tried very hard to reduce the rights of women. A handful of bills was introduced in the 2012 session that Democrats, and even some Republicans, found so offensive they prevented the measures from being voted on.

The “Florida for Life” Act would have banned all abortions, no exceptions permitted. It stalled in committee. The “Fetal Personhood” bill was also tabled. But one measure was approved by the House and was ultimately blocked by a bipartisan group of Florida senators. SB 290, also known as the Trap bill, was described by critics as an “omnibus antichoice” measure. It would have placed tough restrictions on abortion clinics and providers. It would have mandated that abortion clinics be owned and operated by physicians only. It created a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking the procedure, and it outlawed third-trimester abortions, except if the procedure were necessary to prevent the death of a pregnant woman or cause substantial and irreversible physical impairment.

And the List Goes On

There were other outrageous measures: a bill to gut growth management in the fast-growing state (passed in 2011); an effort to cut the minimum wage by 50 percent for workers who get tips (failed); a plan to steer public money to for-profit charter schools (approved); and legislation to adopt an Arizona-style anti-immigration policy (failed).

There’s every indication Gov. Scott and his right-wing allies will continue the assault on Floridians’ freedoms, assuming the Republicans win reelection this November and retain control of the legislature.

“They didn’t campaign on what they’re actually doing, and they don’t pass sensible legislation,” says Democratic Progressive Caucus president Susan Smith. “They said they would create jobs and improve conditions.” But Smith says they have not done that, and they’ve merely made things much worse. And the damage, in some cases, could last forever.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>