New Florida laws show it's an election year

July 8, 2014 

Almost 160 new state laws kicked in last week. Some actually do some good. Others will be great as long as state agencies -- with a sad habit of ducking for cover when the going gets rough -- follow their mandates. Still others don't help at all.

And what should be to the shame of Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators, Medicaid expansion -- which would help at least 1 million Floridians -- again was a non-starter. These elected leaders didn't even pretend it was a priority.

Still, the news was not all bad, first, because it's an election year and, second, because shaming works wonders. As a result, children brought to this country by parents who are undocumented now can pay in-state tuition -- markedly lower than that charged students from outside Florida. This quest had to travel an unreasonably rocky road over the years.

This time around, enough lawmakers who had been against the proposal -- and Mr. Scott -- decided they were ardent supporters, and the bill passed. Not without needless last-minute feints and blocks, of course, but a majority of lawmakers ended up on the right side. The last thing this state can afford is to punish smart, motivated students because their parents reside here illegally. Given how long this item has been stalled, "it's an election year" likely was the impetus to push in-state tuition over the finish line.

As for shaming, it took almost 500 children in the files of the Department of Children & Families, the agony of their deaths at the hands of abusive, neglectful caretakers disclosed day after day in the Herald and blame laid squarely at the doorstep of a dysfunctional DCF, for many lawmakers -- too many -- to finally come around. When they did, however, saving the lives of children in troubled circumstances was established as DCF's priority; child-protection workers are to be better qualified and better trained; and "transparency and accountability" is the new mantra.

We'll see. The law will only be as good as the people who carry out its mandates and as a state that aggressively monitors outcomes.

Lawmakers, of course, also compounded several challenges that should have been left alone -- and Mr. Scott abetted them by signing harmful bills into law: They agreed to expand the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, which takes state funds that could give public schools a boost, and gives it instead to private and religious institutions to educate students; they tell doctors, again, how to conduct their practices, this time requiring physicians to conduct exams before performing abortions to determine whether fetuses are viable, and if they are, abortions generally would not be allowed.

Also notable are the initiatives that didn't get any action, for good and for ill: Because they failed to act, lawmakers gutted tax credits for the film industry, likely sending a lot of job creators to states that get it right.

On the brighter side, after getting dangerously close, lawmakers pulled back from draining funds from crisis-stabilization units where people in a mental-health crisis get appropriate emergency treatment. That would have been a sure target for Scott's veto pen. Do-nothing lawmakers aren't all bad, sometimes.

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