TALLAHASSEE — Stung by an avalanche of legislation affecting pensions, teacher performance, elections, drug testing and abortions to name a few, groups that fared poorly during the recently concluded session are now deciding whether they would fare better in courtrooms than they did in committee rooms.
Slammed by supermajorities in both chambers, groups with different political bents watched almost helplessly as wave after wave of Republican-backed legislation worked its way through the 2011 legislative session. Those groups are now huddling to determine what to do to regain some of the ground lost on a variety of fronts.
“Unfortunately, the list is long, very long,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, who added that the organization will likely have to triage its choices. “We can only do so much.”
Among the ACLU’s first targets will likely be a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 1218) that would allow taxpayer dollars to go to religious groups. Another likely target is a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 1179) that would prevent the Florida Constitution from being interpreted more broadly than the U.S. Constitution on abortion issues. That is important because the Florida Constitution’s privacy clause has been successfully used in the past to challenge abortion laws.
Looking beyond the constitution, Simon said the group is likely to file separate challenges to an executive order requiring state agencies to drug test potential employees and another measure (HB 353) that requires all recipients of temporary financial assistance to test negative for drugs or be barred from collecting benefits.
Among the most politically charged issues is a measure dealing with elections. The proposal (HB 1355) makes changes to early voting, address changes and get-out-the-vote campaigns. Republicans said the bill was necessary to crack down on election fraud, noting ominously that the Florida code contains loopholes for what the House sponsor called “mischief.”
Democrats slammed the elections bill as an attack on Florida voters by shaving days off early voting, blocking voters’ access to the constitution through citizen initiatives and discouraging key portions of President Barack Obama’s 2008 electoral coalition from returning to the polls next year.
The bill also places further restrictions on groups such as the League of Women Voters that have historically gone out and registered voters. Under the bill, the league and others would have to file completed registration forms within 48 hours or else face a $50 fine for each late form.
“We took a look at the law and determined it is very broad and vague,” said League President Deirdre Macnab, adding that the league is reviewing its legal options. “They created an entirely new set of regulations that is going to be very cumbersome for volunteers to comply with.”
At least one action by Gov. Rick Scott has already drawn a legal challenge. A coalition of groups has filed a petition with the Florida Supreme Court asking the high court to declare unconstitutional an executive order to suspend rulemaking authority from state agencies. Scott took the action days after taking office.
Unions are also eying the passage of measures to base teacher pay on merit and other that would expand the McKay Scholarship program to students with less debilitating ailments such as allergies and asthma.
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