Letter from Tallahassee: Redistricting could squeeze other topics out of early legislative session

by Christian R. Camara on November 10, 2011

Greetings from Sunny Florida, where we seemingly dodged another bullet this hurricane season.  Although the season is not officially over, old-timers down here usually mark the end of hurricane season whenever a cold front has reached far enough down the state. Considering we have already had near freezing temperatures, I can safely say we are out of the woods this year—or so we pray.

Well, things are beginning to pick up in preparation for the upcoming Legislative Session.  Next year, as few outside of Tallahassee may know, the Regular Legislative Session will start early. It is slated to begin in January and run through early March, instead of starting in March and ending in early May. This is because the Legislature will take up the required issue of redistricting. Certain as the sun rises from the east, there will no doubt be legal challenges to whatever maps the Legislature decides to write for various state House, Senate and congressional districts, especially after the passage of a pair of state constitutional amendments last year that require the Legislature to draw maps in such a way as to not benefit incumbents or a particular party, among other things.  Most veterans in the legislative process feel that this, along with the budget will be the Legislature’s focus, and other issues will take a back seat.

Aside from the budget and redistricting issues the Legislature is required to tackle, there are two other issues that are garnering a great deal of attention: automobile personal injury protection (PIP) insurance reform and gambling expansion. The PIP system in Florida, by most measures, is broken and riddled with fraud. Much of this fraud—including staged accidents, improper medical billing and litigation abuse—has resulted in a drastic increase in PIP insurance rates in recent years, even though auto accidents have decreased across the state over recent years.

In fact, despite the decrease in accidents, insurance payouts have increased from $1.5 billion in 2007 and 2008 to approx. $2.3 billion in 2010. Families in certain parts of the state are paying $3000 per year for a $10,000 benefit.  Needless to say, this is a growing problem, which the Legislature will have to take up, especially since PIP coverage is required for all drivers in Florida.

The other issue—gambling expansion—rose to prominence when a large Malaysian gaming conglomerate purchased the Miami Herald property in Downtown Miami with plans to convert it into the largest full scale Vegas-style casino gambling resort in the South.  The battle lines are still being drawn with the state’s largest industry players—including Disney, various cruise lines, retailers, social conservative groups and others—taking sides.  This will probably be an ongoing battle that I predict will not be settled in one Legislative session.

And of course, peppered within these important issues are others that give Florida its unique flavor.  In the last few weeks, state Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, filed  a bill that would repeal the prohibition on dwarf tossing.  Yes, DWARF TOSSING.  Apparently, this is an actual sport mostly played at bars that involves wrapping a little person (or whatever the politically correct term is these days) with Velcro and tossing him (or her) onto a Velcro-covered wall so they stick to it.  Whoever tosses someone the highest is apparently the winner.

In any event, this practice was outlawed by the Legislature over 20 years ago, and some want to see it reversed. I, for, one will absolutely follow this bill. Not so much for its public policy implications, but out of personal amusement. Never a dull moment in Florida.

Until next time!

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