Mock those crazy bills — un­less they pass

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Opinion - By Fred Grimm

For us opin­ion wran­glers, the weeks pre­ced­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion make for easy pick­ings, a time when col­umns roll out of Tal­la­has­see ready­made, al­ready roil­ing with con­tro­versy, howl­ing with in­dig­na­tion.

Opin­ion pieces, as we cliché artists like to write this time of year, vir­tu­ally write them­selves. Hear that click­ety-click­ety-click-click. That’s my com­puter key­board howl­ing with in­dig­na­tion. Over this crazy bill, or maybe that crazy bill, some ya­hoo leg­is­la­tor has filed up in Tal­la­has­see.

Sud­denly, as if a leg­is­la­tor’s wild predilec­tions might ac­tu­ally be­come Florida law, we find our­selves de­bat­ing the moral im­pli­ca­tions of dwarf toss­ing. Or so­ci­ety’s ur­gent need to reg­u­late hard cider con­tain­ers. We won­der whether Florida should out­law the metal repli­cas of bull tes­ti­cles of­ten seen dan­gling from bumper hitches. Whether pub­lic school class­rooms should be out­fit­ted with ban­ners declar­ing “In God We Trust.” Whether ad­ver­tis­ers can use pub­lic school buses as rolling bill­boards.

Just last week, Den­nis Bax­ley, a long­time provider of fish in the prover­bial bar­rel, once again res­cued colum­nists from our win­ter slum­ber. The sen­a­tor from Ocala, where folks don’t ap­pre­ci­ate pointy-headed sci­en­tists mess­ing with their world­view, in­tro­duced a bill that would al­low school dis­tricts to teach “dif­fer­ent world­views” about such lefty myths as evo­lu­tion and cli­mate change.

Hear that dis­tant sound? That’s us opin­ion slingers, howl­ing like in­dig­nant ban­shees, in­vok­ing the Scopes mon­key trial. Much like we did back when Sen. Stephen Wise of Jack­sonville in­tro­duced his own anti-evo­lu­tion mea­sure, ask­ing the ques­tion that left bi­ol­o­gist cring­ing: “Why do we still have apes if we came from them?”

This year, Evers of­fered his own an­tiDar­winian quote, not quite as pithy as Wise’s wise­crack, but absurd enough to bail me out on a slow news day. “Noth­ing is ever set­tled if it’s science, be­cause peo­ple are al­ways ques­tion­ing science,” Bax­ley told the Tampa Bay Times. “If you look at the his­tory of hu­man learn­ing, for a long time the of­fi­cial world­view was that the world was flat.”

This is where I get to write that Bax­ley is the flat-earther in this equa­tion. Gotta love that Bax­ley, who al­most ev­ery ses­sion in­tro­duces some­thing out­landish. Mostly, of the gun­slinger ilk. He and his fel­low NRA min­ions pro­vide opin­ion colum­nists steady work with bills that would en­cour­age Florid­i­ans to pack heat in bars, on col­lege cam­puses, at air­ports, at sea­ports, at po­lice sta­tions, at polling places, at sport­ing events, at city com­mis­sion meet­ings.

Bills de­signed to keep Yan­kee sen­si­bil­i­ties from in­ter­fer­ing with the dis­play of Con­fed­er­ate flags, memo­ri­als, stat­ues are as de­pend­able in Tal­la­has­see as the swal­lows of Capis­trano. This year’s ver­sion would also pro­hibit lo­cal gov­ern­ments from al­ter­ing the names of streets and schools named for Con­fed­er­ate sol­diers. (We’re talk­ing to you, Hol­ly­wood). Once again, old col­umns are reprised, not­ing that it was the slave states that lost the war.

Each piece of whacky leg­is­la­tion de­mands 800 words of out­rage from your lo­cal news­pa­per hack. Be­sides, who wants to write about is­sues of ac­tual im­por­tance. Like health care pol­icy. Or mill­age rates.

This year, Florida colum­nists will be pay­ing in­or­di­nate at­ten­tion to the “Pro­hib­ited Acts in Con­nec­tion with Ob­scene or Lewd Ma­te­ri­als” bill. Which would ban the “sell­ing, lend­ing, giv­ing away, dis­tribut­ing, trans­mit­ting, show­ing, or trans­mut­ing” or com­mit­ting cer­tain un­seemly acts with an “ob­scene, child-like sex doll.”

Who knew? But you can de­pend on us opin­ion writ­ers to crank up the out­rage.

But much of our shock and fury are feigned. We know, in our disin­gen­u­ous hearts, that’s it’s mostly fluff. Be­cause wiser heads in key Se­nate or House com­mit­tees will qui­etly ta­ble off-the-wall leg­is­la­tion. We know, se­cretly, that the wild stuff will just dis­ap­pear.

Ex­cept, some­times it doesn’t. Bax­ley and his bud­dies man­aged to pass the no­to­ri­ous 2005 Stand Your Ground Act. In 2017, the flat-earth­ers en­acted a law al­low­ing any Florida res­i­dent to chal­lenge text­books or other teach­ing ma­te­ri­als that of­fend their sen­si­bil­i­ties. Which trans­lates into a war on evo­lu­tion and global warm­ing.

Cra­zies man­aged to sneak through laws that won’t al­low cities and coun­ties to pro­hibit smok­ing in parks and beaches. Or de­mand that restau­rants dis­close the nutri­tional con­tent. Lo­cals can’t ban plas­tic bags or Sty­ro­foam con­tain­ers. Can’t reg­u­late drones. Can’t en­act lim­its on bee­keep­ing. Cities and coun­ties can’t pro­hibit home­own­ers from keep­ing jun­gle cats around the house. Or keep guns out of their parks. Or en­act a liv­ing wage or­di­nance.

All those laws started out as ab­sur­di­ties, good for a laugh be­fore the ses­sion be­gan. Yet, they passed. It could be a bad year for evo­lu­tion and sex dolls.

Fred Grimm (@grim­m_fred or [email protected]), a long­time res­i­dent of Fort Laud­erdale, has worked as a jour­nal­ist in South Florida since 1976.

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