Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: U.S. Rep. Broun files ‘Sanctity of Life Act’ then laughs at assassination question

Every year, some conservative politician files a bill in the U.S. House attempting to define “human life.” The reason, of course, is to use such a definition to then attack various policies such as legal abortion and stem cell research.

Luckily every year, cooler heads prevail and (rightly) decide that this question is a scientific and moral one, not political.

But this year, the introduction of a “Sanctity of Life” bill proves a little more ridiculous when you look at who sponsored it.

On January 7, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia filed H.R. 212 — the Sanctity of  Human Life Act — to “provide that human life shall be deemed to begin with fertilization.” The language accompanying the bill states “the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being, and is the paramount and most fundamental right of a person.”

Now, fast forward to earlier this week, when the native Georgian organized a town hall meeting with his constituents. At one point, an elderly man asked Rep. Broun, “Who is going to shoot Obama.” According to witnesses, Rep. Broun responded with laughter and then failed to condemn the question:

“The thing is, I know there’s a lot of frustration with this president,” Broun responded, according to the Athens Banner-Herald. “We’re going to have an election next year. Hopefully, we’ll elect somebody that’s going to be a conservative, limited-government president … who will sign a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.” (Politico.com)

Rep. Broun may have respect for the life of the unborn, but that respect doesn’t seem to carry over to living humans — at least not if they are President of the United States.

Rating: 5 teabags

Click here to learn about the rating system. For archives of the Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, click here.

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Florida Congressman wants to create ‘Museum of Ideas’

Rep. Clifford Stearns from Florida’s 6th Congressional district is one of the many Republicans in the house that campaigned on fiscal responsibility and cutting the nation’s deficit. This Florida Republican even sponsored legislation to bar Federal money from the United Nations and voted for the latest budget that cuts funding for a host of social betterment programs, including AmeriCorps and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

But while he uses one hand to push for a tighter reign on Washington’s wallet, he’s using his other hand to file H.R. 294, a bill that would create a commission to build a “Museum of Ideas.”

He’s filed this bill two other times in recent years.

Stearns’ Museum of Ideas would chronicle the evolution of civilization and human thought. Here’s what he told his hometown newspaper, the Ocala Star-Banner:

“Ideas and innovations — political, philosophical, religious, economic, technological — are the driving force in the human experience, and I believe that a museum dedicated to the creativity of mankind would preserve and celebrate these ideas and innovations, and educate the public on the power of thought,” Stearns explained in an e-mail.

Noble idea, I guess, but bad timing. While he has noted that he prefers private donations to build the museum, creating a commission in itself is costly, in both money and time.

Wait — I got an idea! How about tabling the  museum for the moment and put that time and money to better use, i.e. saving public-sector jobs? Or even better, not spending the money at all.

Rating: 2 teabags

Click here to learn about the rating system. For archives of the Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, click here.

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Senate bill seeks to take away unemployment benefits from millionaires

This is an interesting bill from Rep. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Apparently, there are about 3,000 millionaires that currently receive unemployment benefits from the government. So, while the country suffers from a growing deficit, Rep. Coburn wants to kick those millionaires off the unemployment rolls with S. 310, also known as the “Ending Unemployment Payments to  Jobless Millionaires Act of 2011.”

At first glance, it seems like a good idea. But no matter how distasteful it might be, it’s not a logical solution.

People don’t receive unemployment benefits for being poor. They receive benefits because they were laid off through no fault of their own. As part of their benefits package while working, their companies paid the unemployment tax. So, these jobless millionaires deserve that money just like anyone else. They earned it. You can’t retroactively take that benefit away.

Of course, a good millionaire would try to give back that money or donate it some cause (preferably to help other unemployed people). But creating a law to deal with a few thousand people would be more than a waste of time, it would create a class system with respect to unemployment benefits.

And aren’t conservatives always going on about how rich people shouldn’t be punished for success?

Rating: 3 teabags

Click here to learn about the rating system. For archives of the Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, click here.

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Lawmaker wants every bill to have ‘Constitutional authority’

One of the themes of Republicans running in the midterm elections was limiting government to just the powers enumerated in the Constitution.

One bill from Rep. Phil Gingrey seeks to require that all legislation sponsored in the U.S. House include a statement of “Constitutional authority.” Under H.R. 125 politicians would be required to state how their proposed law fits into the Constitution.

In theory, it’s actually not a bad idea. However, in practice, it’s a waste of time.

Case in point: Rep. Gingrey sensibly added a statement of Constitutional authority to this legislation. But he cites the broadest, most innocuous provision: article I, section 8, clause 18 (To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.)

But even more ridiculous is Rep. Gingrey’s own hypocrisy. He’s no strict Constitutionalist and has frequently tried to pass bills that have nothing to do with enumerated powers and sometimes even conflict with the Constitution.

Rating: 2 teabags

Click here to learn about the rating system. For archives of the Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, click here.

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Lawmakers target universities that accept illegal immigrants

While we’re still on the subject of illegal immigration, take a look at H.R. 310. This bill filed by Rep. Sue Myrick seeks to withhold Federal funds from universities who accept illegal immigrants. Some states have already passed laws barring illegal immigrants from college.

Last time I checked, it was federal agents (and now state police) who enforced immigration law, not universities. Secondly, most “illegal immigrant” students are those who were taken to the United States by their parents at a young age. Why should they be punished? And, illegal or not, wouldn’t barring thousands of young people from an education cause more harm to the communities with large immigrant populations, i.e. crime, poverty, use of social services?

Rep. Myrick holds some interesting views on immigration. Take a look at this interview where she explains how Hezbollah is entering the country at our southern border:

Rating: 2 teabags

Click here to learn about the rating system. For archives of the Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, click here.

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: More mandatory minimums, this time for immigrants

Yet another immigration-related bill comes from Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican from California. In January, Mr. Issa filed H.R. 45 to “impose mandatory sentencing ranges with respect to aliens who reenter the United States after having been removed …”

Didn’t we learn from the (failed) Drug War that mandatory minimums do not deter lawbreakers and only take power from judges?

Mr. Issa’s bill mandates a year in jail for an illegal immigrant with a clean record who re-enters the U.S. illegally. Currently, the law only provides a maximum penalty of 2 years in jail. The bill would also impose much higher mandatory minimums on immigrants who commit crimes in the U.S.

The parallels to the failed mandatory minimum policies for drug offenses are not unnoticed by criminal justice activists. The Families Against Mandatory Minimums looked up some recent statistics on immigration offenses and found that of the 73,277 people sentenced in 2009, over 90 percent were for illegally entering the U.S. and/or helping others across. Most had no prior criminal record.

FAMM also found that judges already gave most offenders close to maximum sentences. Is there really a need for mandatory minimums?

Rating: 3 teabags

Click here to learn about the rating system. For archives of the Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, click here.

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: The ‘Anchor Baby’ bill

Many legislators came to power in November campaigning on money-related issues: inflated budgets, taxes and the country’s economy. But many politicians also ran on various wedge issues – those hot button topics that force voters on one of two sides. After Arizona leaders passed a law giving police the power to stop drivers and check their immigration status, our neighbors to the south once again became a wedge issue.

So it comes as no surprise that politicians on both sides of the aisle are sponsoring immigration-related bills. Unfortunately, when dealing with an issue as complex as immigration, most politicians only offer simple, politically-expedient and divisive legislation.

The worst of the bills comes from Rep. Steve King. This Iowa Republican — who even scares other Republicans with his inflammatory language — is sponsoring the Birthright Citizenship Act, also known around talk radio circles as the “Anchor Baby Act.” This piece of legislation basically seeks to overturn the 14th amendment, which allows for U.S. citizenship to anyone born on American soil. H.R. 140 already has four other politicians signing on. In addition, many states are planning similar proposals.

Putting the immigration debate aside, this bill is a waste of time for three reasons:

1) If simply being born in the U.S. does not qualify us for citizenship, then a birth certificate is proved useless. How much money, time and hassle will it take for the country to move away from using birth certificates? And how long will that take?

2) The U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld birthright citizenship. Check out the United States v. Wong Kim Ark. Why file a bill that will be ruled unconstitutional? Because it’s the easy way to gain political points. If Rep. King would have filed a Constutitional amendment, we all know it wouldn’t pass.

3) It would have a negligible effect on the numbers of undocumented immigrants. Having babies is not the reason folks come to the United States. Employment is/has/will continue to be the No. 1 reason people cross our borders illegally. Even mothers who come to the U.S. pregnant so their children can become U.S. citizens only do so because they can get work and a better life. Which means, even if this passed, there would still be pregnant mothers crossing the borders. But instead of their children becoming U.S. citizens, the kids will just add to the statistics of illegal immigrants.

Rating: 5 teabags

Click here to learn about the rating system. For archives of the Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, click here.

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Should we give 1 percent GDP to other countries?

Throughout the years, there have been numerous studies that show Americans are a charitable people, both at home and abroad. I would even say that philanthropy is a quality that defines our nation.

But Rep. Barbara Lee’s H. Con Res. 11 takes our coutnry’s philanthropic spirit and puts it on a track to become law. Somehow that doesn’t seem right.

H. Con. Res. 11 would declare that the “United States should provide, on an annual basis, an amount equal to at least 1 percent of United States gross domestic product (GDP) for nonmilitary foreign assistance programs.”

Rep. Lee makes some good points for the bill:

Whereas poverty, lack of opportunity, and environmental degradation are recognized as significant contributors to socioeconomic and political instability, as well as to the exacerbation of disease pandemics and other global health threats;

Whereas elevating the United States standing in the world represents a critical and essential element of any strategy to improve national and global security by mitigating the root causes of conflict and multinational terrorism, strengthening diplomatic and economic relationships, preventing global climate change, curbing weapons proliferation, and fostering peace and cooperation between all nations;

Right now, the bill is more of a statement and would not require Congress to appropriate such money. But it sets a precedent, so I’ve added it to the list.

Rating: 1 teabag

Click here to learn about the rating system. For archives of the Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, click here.

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Now is not the time for a health care Constitutional amendment

While we’re on the subject of politicians with bad timing seeking to change the Constitution, let’s move our focus to another U.S. House member: Jesse Jackson Jr. He wants to add a health care provision to the Constitution.

From the bill:

``Section 1. All persons shall enjoy the right to health care of
equal high quality.
    ``Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce and implement
this article by appropriate legislation.''.

Don’t get me wrong: Mr. Jackson’s Constitutional amendment — along with several others he’s filed this session — seems to be in good faith. Yet, this doesn’t seem to be the best year for such an amendment.

Democrats will have to fight hard to even keep the latest health care law on the books as Republicans file bill after bill to reduce its effectiveness, including their absurdly partisan bill: Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act. So, perhaps instead of grandstanding, Mr. Jackson should be spending time looking into doable initiatives this session.

Rating: 2 tea bags

Click here to learn about the rating system. For archives of the Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, click here.

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Lawmakers foreclose on Sesame Street

Why is Elmo drowning his sorrows in booze?

It might be H.R. 68. This bill, filed by Rep. Doug Lamborn, targets the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a 44-year-old not-for-profit corporation that funds various TV and radio programs (including Sesame Street).  Long the bane of ardent conservatives who view the CPB as a liberal mouthpiece for the government, Republicans swept into office after the mid-term elections have their sights set on ending federal funding for this organization.

It’s nothing new. Conservatives have tried for decades to gut funding from the CPB. In the 60s, Mr. Rogers even got involved defending the non-profit when President Nixon wanted to cut its budget by 50 percent.

But this latest attack on the CPB does more than just eliminate federal funding while the country recovers from the recession; it seeks to forever remove the option for funding the CPB. This could have disasterous effects on some PBS and NPR stations around the country.

(The House has already passed a budget eliminating funding)

Rep. Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, filed a similar bill last year that never made it out of committee. But he has much more support this session with the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

In this session’s fierce budget fight between Tea Party-backed Republicans and President Obama, there is bound to be some casualties. But should educational programming one of them? Especially in this of age of dubious children’s programming – an issue these same Tea Party-backed Republicans have brought up before – pulling the plug on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is not a smart move.

Rating: 4 teabags

Click here to learn about the rating system. For archives of the Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, click here.

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Unemployed? Florida lawmakers want you to work for free

Picture this scenario:

Your longtime job of 10 years laid you off. You were making an honest $40,000. Suddenly, you’re thrown into the same lot as thousands of other Floridians — unemployed with no job prospects. Hesitant, you apply for unemployment benefits. A few weeks later, you receive a check for $275. You look for work, online and off, unsuccessfully. After two months, belts tighten more. Your meager savings is almost depleted. The bills are piling up. You stop driving around filling out random applications, trying to save the gas for actual interviews or referrals.

Then, one morning while drinking day-old coffee, you read in the local newspaper that the Florida Legislature has mandated that you find an organization and work for them. For free. No money for gas or child care.

Call it volunteering.

That’s the latest unemployment-related bill — that does nothing to fix unemployment, by the way — from state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican.  She’s the sponsor of HB 509, which is currently in the Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee.

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Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation is back for 2011!

It’s been two years since the last Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, but I’m happy to announce the Guide is back to track the most absurd bills in the 2011 legislative cycle.

It’s the perfect year, too.

Both locally and nationally, U.S. citizens are seeing some of the most reactionary law-making in years. The political atmosphere is decidedly partisan … and sometimes just plain mean. There are hundreds of new politicians looking to make a name for themselves with opportunistic legislation. And with record numbers of laid-off reporters and bankrupt media companies, it’s an impossible task to track the hundreds (thousands?) of bills coming up for a vote.

That’s where the Guide comes in.

But this year, I’m doing something different: I will focus mostly on federal legislation as oppose to only focusing on Florida’s fair share of foolish ideas.

If you remember from the past two installments of the Guide, I’ve used some kind of graphic to rate the idiocy of featured bills from 1 to 5. In 2008, I used “Bumper Nutz,” those wildly-colored genitals that rednecks like to put on the back of their trucks. In 2009, in honor of Florida Rep. Darryl Rouson’s “bong tax,” I rated ridiculous legislation with 1-5 bong hits, with “5 bong hits” being the most stoned bills coming out of the Florida Legislature.

This year, with the Tea Party movement changing the face of politics in Florida and nationally, I thought the rating system should reflect this new (bizarre) phenomenon of U.S. politics.

So I’m using teabags. I will rate bills by 1 to 5 teabags, with five teabags representing the worst concoction of a law – reactionary, wasteful, and of course, ridiculous.

For a complete list of all previous posts, click here.

(Photos of teabags courtesy of Andrew Coulter Enright / Flickr under Creative Commons licensing)

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Florida House passes offshore oil drilling bill

In my few years as a reporter, I’ve followed four different state legislatures — not necessarily reporting on them for the publications I worked for, but keeping an eye for my local readers. And in those years, I’ve never seen a politically-motivated “fuck you” like HB 1219.

Originally proposed by Republican Charles Van Zant and re-written by his colleague Rep. Dean Cannon, this bill would allow oil and gas drilling three miles or more from Florida’s coast. Taking advantage of President Bush’s relaxation of a federal law that prohibited such drilling, if this bill passes the Florida Senate, we could begin to see rigs right off our favorite beaches. Particulary insidious, the revamped version of this bill was released just 10 days before the session is to end.

I’m not going to get into the huge issue of drilling for oil domestically. But there are significant questions about how drilling so close to Florida’s shores would affect our tourist economy and it does neither side justice to bring up such an important bill so close to the end of session. (I think the term is “railroading” a bill through, right?) Obviously, these lawmakers are not responding to a crisis, but trying to send a (right wing talk show-inspired) political message to the nation. That’s irresponsible to Florida’s citizens.

In fact, a handful of Republicans — all from the Tampa Bay area — opposed the bill. Big shout-outs to Bill Galvano of Bradenton, Jim Frishe of St. Petersburg and Ed Hooper of Clearwater.

Unfortunately, their opposition wasn’t enough. Luckily, the Senate does not seemed poised to take up this cause:

“I’m not receptive to it,” said Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach. “That is a really significantly important issue and one that I think would, frankly at our end, would take some serious review.”

Rating: 5 bong hits bongbongbongbongbong

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Law would give campus police more power to arrest off-campus

First off, I want to make this clear: I am in no way demeaning campus police officers. God knows we could’ve used more of them at Virginia Tech. And I’m also not insinuating that campus cops are somehow less worthy than regular police officers. They just have different jobs and jurisdictions.

That said, SB 554 is completely out-of-bounds.

This bill, proposed by Republican Charlie Dean (who has some other questionable ideas this session), would give special powers to state university police officers to make arrests off-campus. And I’m not just talking about arresting some guy with a gun across the street from the school — which we could all agree makes sense — but also more simple offenses like traffic violations.

Already, some city and county law enforcement agencies have “mutual aid agreements” with campus police that give them some authority outside of campus. For example, I’ve seen USF police at DUI checkpoints along Fowler Avenue working alongside the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and Tampa Police Department.

But this law would allow campus police to conduct speed trap operations by themselves off campus. The law would also give them the authority to, say, raid a party at an apartment complex near the campus. Critics of this law should ask: what happens when campus police are spread thin around a neighborhood and not patrolling the university?

Rating: 3 bong hits bongbongbong

(Read about my rating system here.)

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Lawmakers want the sun out of the sunshine laws

I’m a journalist and I love public records.

That’s my bias.

But even non-journalists should love public records, too. Without public records, you couldn’t find out how much your house sold for in the past. You wouldn’t know if there is a robber or rapist in your neighborhood. And you wouldn’t know if your child’s teacher had some unsavory past. Without public records, you would have no way of knowing if that nice mayoral candidate took money from developers or not. You wouldn’t know about the huge skyscraper or strip mall being planned for that vacant lot across the street. Without public records … you get the idea. Public records are not just the tools journalists use to get you important information — in many ways, public records are the tools for keeping this democracy, well, democratic.

So why is it that every year the lawmakers up in Tallahassee try to chip away at the Sunshine Laws little by little, hoping we won’t notice?

This session, several legislators from both sides of the aisle are attempting to gain several exemptions to public record laws. A few have decent, if wrong, arguments surrounding them; other bills are completely ridiculous.

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Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Denying financial aid to visa-carrying students

Most states, with the exception of maybe Vermont, revel in their diversity. It’s a quality that state leaders sell to the citizenry, prospective businesses and the federal government. Although many institutions strive for more diversity, none seek it out more than universities and colleges. Diversity in the student population is a major selling point for institutions of higher learning.

That’s why SB 1294 is such a surprising bill to propose.

This law would prohibit any university from using state funds (directly or indirectly) to provide financial assistance to students with a F-1 or M-1 visa. The legislation, introduced by Ronda Storms (of course!), is couched in saving money and providing more assistance to Florida residents seeking a higher education. The irony is the bill would also require universities and colleges to provide a detailed account of where their funds go every year, which would create another layer of bureaucracy and erode any money saved.

Rating: 2 bong hits bongbong

(Read about my rating system here.)

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Expansion of warrantless arrest laws

Next up on my running series about the absurd bills debated in the Florida Legislature is SB 1428. This bipartisan bill, sponsored by Republican Thad Altman in the Senate and Democrat Adam Fetterman in the House, would expand warrantless arrests in Florida.

What are warrantless arrests? The definition is self-explanatory: any arrest without a warrant. Obviously, officers arrest people every day without a warrant. The reason? Most state laws allow police to make a warrantless arrests if 1) the criminal act is a felony, 2) the officer sees the crime committed or, in some cases, if probable cause is obvious (like if an officer sees a huge stash of cocaine in the seat of your car).

Warrantless arrests aren’t necessarily bad. In cases of murder or armed robbery, for example, you need to get the suspect off the street immediately. A case can be argued for some misdemeanors, too, like domestic violence. But some states have gone a little overboard and given officers the right to conduct warrantless arrests on all misdemeanors without any requirements. For example, the testimony of a citizen could be enough to garner an arrest.

SB 1428 would expand warrantless arrest laws to include the unlawful public exhibition of sexual organs and DUI. The first part seems OK; just think of some perv in front of a school. Just because the perv might be clothed when officers arrive, you would like the police to have enough probable cause to haul him away just by the words of a few students who saw him do his dirty deed. But warrantless arrest laws and DUI could have larger implications.

I’ll let Frankie the Law Dog explain:

The current version of the warrentless arrest statute allows officers to arrest a person on misdemeanor DUI without a warrant in only three circumstances:  (1) when the officer witnesses each element of a prima facie case of DUI, (2) when the officer is investigating an accident and develops probable cause to charge DUI, or (3) under the so-called “fellow officer” rule – when one officer calls on another officer for assistance and the combined observations of the two officers together establish probable cause for the arrest.

Importantly, under the current version of the statute, the fellow officer rule does not impute the knowledge of citizen informants to law enforcement officers.  However, if HB 793 becomes law, any citizen could walk up to an officer and relate the commission of misdemeanor DUI by someone, and the officer would have probable cause to arrest.

I can think of a dozen instances where “citizens” could unfairly blame DUI on someone. DUI is a serious crime, no doubt. But just like sex offenses, a DUI arrest — even if the suspect is not ultimately convicted — can have major implications on someone’s professional and family life. Shouldn’t we keep the tough warrantless arrest safeguards we have now?

(P.S. I fully admit I don’t have a law degree and I’m open for debate on this one from someone who does.)

Rating: 1 bong hit bong

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Florida lawmakers want to ban novelty lighters

lighters

There are few bills that reach the absolute absurdity of SB 806, a proposed law banning lighters that resemble “a cartoon character, animal, toy, gun, watch, musical instrument, vehicle, food or beverage, that plays sound or musical notes, or that displays flashing lights or other visual effects.”

No, really — that’s a quote from the bill, which is sponsored by Republicans Senator Lee Constantine and House Rep. Scott Plakon.

But what’s really ludicrous is Florida isn’t the only state trying to enact novelty lighter bans. All across the country, state legislatures are lining up to snuff them out. Even at the national level, politicians are waging a war against lighters; this year, senators Ron Wyden, Susan Collins and Chris Dodd introduced the “Protect Children from Dangerous Lighters Act.”

The impetus for the bill is, of course, children — children who (somehow) grab a hold of these lighters and start setting people aflame. Of course, alternatives to this bill could be banning kids under 18 from buying any lighter, or — and I admit this one is a little crazy — calling on parents to take responsibility for their kids.

And I always heard Republicans were against larger government intrusions into our lives …

Rating: 5 bong hits bongbongbongbongbong

(Read about my rating system here.)

(Photo courtesy of New York state’s Department of State)

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Ronda Storms hates public art

stormsThat State Senator Ronda Storms is a very talented woman. I mean, what other Florida politician can create such disdain among large swaths of the state’s population? She’s pissed off gays, First Amendment champions, librarians, science teachers and now, art lovers.

SB 1104 seeks to repeal the 30-year-old Art in State Public Buildings Program, a state provision that requires a small percentage of money for public buildings go into artwork for said structures. In an interview with a Tampa Tribune reporter, Storms says the bill is only fair while the state deals with a tough budget crisis:

“While I certainly believe art and culture provide wonderful benefits to Florida, I do not believe that at this time most Floridians want to continue this luxury when people are losing their jobs and seniors and children are losing health services.”

But is the outlay of money for public art really harming the state’s coffers? The Tribune had some interesting findings:

Under the program, the cost of the art can’t be more than half of 1 percent of the total cost of the building or $100,000, whichever is less. The average the state paid for a work of art was $7,955. The state spent a total of $406,725 for public art in 2005; $294,069 in 2006; and $701,389 in 2007.

The statute applies only to buildings with public access. It excludes prisons, secure areas, maintenance sheds and other structures the public normally would not visit.

Under the statute, more than 1,000 works of art have been purchased and installed in state buildings, including universities, state parks, Department of Transportation district offices and state agency buildings.

Just like parks, recreational facilities and libraries, art adds a quality of life to a city. Considering public art money is a fraction of Florida’s budget, and may even generate money by impressing tourists and possible new businesses, this bill is positively ridiculous.

That must be why Storms recently added a sunset clause to the bill that would allow the public art program to return in 2011. A huge outcry among art lovers probably prompted that change of heart. Maybe repeated calls and e-mails to her office (and to your own state lawmaker) would nudge her away from the bill altogether.

(By the way, the House sponsor is Republican Rich Glorioso from Plant City. I don’t want him to get off the hook either. Contact his office here.)

Rating: 4 bong hits bongbongbongbong

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: More bad drug laws

Remember George Orwell’s 1984? Great book with a grave message: Watch out for the thought police.

“Thoughtcrime” comes to mind when I read SB 236.

deanProposed by Democrat Dave Aronberg and Republicans Charles Dean and Carey Baker, this law would increase the penalties of stealing from utilities if the stolen power is used to grow marijuana. (Marijuana is specifically mentioned in the bill, though the proposed law could be used for other controlled substances.) Currently, anyone who steals from the utilities is guilty of a misdemeanor (depending on the amount stolen) and must pay back the power company. But if this bill passes, the intent to grow weed would increase punishment to a third-degree felony, a possible five-year prison sentence.

This bill comes as Florida deals with an ever-growing (ha!) amount of grow houses. In fact, as I’ve reported before, Florida is ranked No. 2 in the U.S. for marijuana cultivation, right behind California.

Without even getting into the debate over our wacked-out drug laws, and without pointing out that other states are loosening drug laws as Florida cracks down, I don’t see how stealing electricity for growing marijuana is any worse than, say, stealing electricity to create fake money, or stealing natural gas so you can cook the materials needed for explosives. Should we have subsets of the utility theft code for every stinkin’ intent for stealing power? Ridiculous.

Even if you don’t have the libertarian view on marijuana, why not up the utility theft penalties for everyone?

Accordingly, I give this bill a rating of 3 bong hits.

bongbongbong

(Read about my rating system here.)