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Andrew Skerritt: Ideological politicians run amok during legislative session

Whoever limited the length of the Florida legislative session did so wisely. There’s no telling how much damage earnest but ideological politicians can do in 90 days.

Too often we saw legislators proposing bills to suit constituents with narrow interests.

 Exhibit 1: The Growler bill pushed by major beer distributors but one that could have crippled the state’s fledgling micro-brewing industry.

Legislators are inclined to meddle badly with education too.

A Tampa Bay Times education blog gushed that schools won this time around. But given the Republican majority’s disdain for public schools, there is no guarantee that when schools win our students won’t lose. Let’s just wait and see.

But even as per pupil spending increased, there was still dubious legislation. Do we really need a law banning school districts from scanning students’ palms, fingers and retinas? So much of our legislation seem to be generated by outlandish Internet speculation and fear-mongering.

Which brings me to the bill to give parents more say in how school districts handle controversial textbooks. School boards had their own mechanisms to deal with this issue. This is a classic case of “small government” legislators big-footing local school officials.

But on the positive side, it was good to see legislators provide in-state tuition to students who entered this country as underage, undocumented immigrants. Also, it was heartening to see them back Common Core. I haven’t figured out all the details of Common Core yet, but I’m for trying anything that would improve the quality of students who graduate from high school.

I’m often suspicious of the motives of GOP politicians trying to reform government agencies. I can’t say that about the child welfare reforms that came on the heels of Innocents Lost, the scathing Miami Herald series about all the children who died while under state supervision. Thanks to a $1 billion surplus, the state can afford to hire not just more investigators but also social workers. More accountability and transparency at the Department of Children and Families can’t be a bad thing.

Gun rights advocates left Tallahassee with a big grin on their faces. Like most years, they got most of what they wanted, including the so-called “Warning Shot” bill, which backers say would have spared Jacksonville resident Marissa Alexander a 20-year sentence for firing a gun during an altercation with her estranged husband. The “Pop Tart” bill will now ostensibly protect students from overzealous administrators who fear that the seventh grader wearing the black T-shirt with an AK-47 emblem or treating his banana like a Gluck pistol could be the next mass school shooter.

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Marion Hammer, the state’s top gun-rights advocate, has called SB7029 not a gun-rights bill but legislation to protect children from adults who despise guns.

If you think that sounds crazy, then you won’t be surprised to hear what Hammer said about the Florida Sheriff’s Association for its opposition to the so-called Zombie Apocalypse bill. If passed it would have given Florida gun owners the right to carry concealed weapons — even if they don’t have a concealed carry permit — during emergencies, such as hurricanes. The Sheriff’s Association opposed the bill and Hammer complained that the association opposes the Second Amendment.

Thankfully, the bill died.

Hope that’s a good omen for this hurricane season.

Andrew J. Skerritt is author of Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South. He lives in Tallahassee. Follow him on Twitter @andrewjskerritt. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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