State Politics

Fla. lawmaker wants to banish bad laws

BY KATE SANDERSHerald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE -- — The boy couldn’t believe what his lawmaker dad said on the phone.

Was it really illegal in Florida to ride a bike with no hands?

Bailey, 9, had a confession: “Daddy, I break the law every day I go to school. It’s just for a second! Is that illegal?”

It is, said Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, and it’s ridiculous.

Workman is on a mission to obliterate such illegalities buried in state law — like smoking clove cigarettes, coasting down hills in neutral, and unmarried couples living in cohabitation or “open adultery” — even if he doesn’t believe in them.

What’s most important, he said, is restoring personal liberties chipped away by government.

“Now, I don’t advocate cohabitation, I will kill either of my kids if they try that. I also don’t advocate adultery, my wife would kill me if I advocated for that,” he said. “But it still shouldn’t be a law.”

It also helps to please your boss.

The second-term legislator’s repeal run started in November when House Speaker Dean Cannon told him he wanted to leave office with fewer laws on the books than when he started. Then Gov. Rick Scott made reducing state regulations a top priority.

Workman, a 37-year-old mortgage broker, took the hints. He asked the local Republican Liberty Caucus to mine the Florida Statutes — five books and an index — for targets. He whittled down the group’s suggestions to seven bills and also gave away a few to colleagues.

Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, is trying to repeal a law requiring diners to order a salad or vegetable, entree, bread, and beverage to take home resealed wine. And Longwood Rep. Scott Plakon, a libertarian-leaning Republican like Workman, is proposing several of his own, including one that would repeal the unlawful roaming of sheep-killing dogs.

Workman presented four bills in committee meetings this week. An avid runner, Workman was so excited for one that he jogged to the lectern. He needed only six minutes to pass repeals on “arcane” rules for chauffeur’s licenses and coasting.

There were just a few questions, including one from Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg: “Why do we need to get rid of it if it’s not doing nothing?”

Said Workman: “Every law that we pass in some way takes a little piece of the liberties that we are supposed to protect for our citizens. ”

Another colleague pressed him on the original legislative intent of one of his targets: a provision that prohibits motor vehicles from coasting in neutral or with the clutch disengaged downhill.

“I think probably to take away liberties and freedoms of citizens,” Workman said.

That got laughs.

“Are there any safety concerns, seriously?” Rep. Richard Steinberg, R-Miami Beach, continued.

Workman apologized and explained the outdated law applied to technology “that probably came with the invention of the horseless carriage.” He was “just jesting” earlier, he said.

His business finished, Workman darted out of the meeting and into an elevator. As the doors closed, he told friends in the lobby, “I’m a pretty big deal. My Capitol office smells of mahogany and leather-bound books.”

He was joking again — refashioning a line from fictional newscaster Ron Burgundy in Anchorman.

Actually, Workman’s House office is dominated by a life-sized cardboard astronaut and space shuttle models. There’s a portrait of Ronald Reagan and a snapshot with Jeb Bush.

What does Workman say to those who think he’s goofing off when there’s important matters to discuss?

Essentially, “please.” He spends 15 minutes of his day on these repeals, he said, and it’s worth it.

“It might seem insignificant, but it truly is good work,” Workman said. “It does increase the freedom and liberties of our citizens. I’m proud to be taking the time to do it.”

But in his zeal to repeal, he made a mistake.

It’s from his office Tuesday that he makes a hasty call to his legislative aide to stop a bill meant to remove outdated tattooing laws that would be replaced by newer statutes taking effect Jan. 1, 2012.

Chalk it up to poor drafting or inattention, but the bill he proposed would have allowed minors to get inked without parental consent, at least for a few months until the new law took effect. Wanting to avoid a span of “wild west tattooing,” Workman withdrew the bill.

Workman had a favorite about dangerous fires. Florida Statutes, as he understood them, require anyone who sees someone’s house or property in flames to report it. He said he’s the kind of guy who would rush in and put it out, but people have a “God-given right to go, eh, that sucks, and walk away.”

Again, Workman hadn’t stopped to read the fine print. The law only applies to those who started the fire or are legally obligated to put it out.

“It has become clear that the language proposed to be repealed does in fact serve a role in Florida law,” he clarified in an e-mail.

He withdrew that one, too.

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