Dogged Approach

How enlightened. How progressive. How exploitative. Guests can now bring their dogs to hotels at Walt Disney World Resort. Actually to four of them–and they will charge between $50 and $75 per day for those canine guests.

Which reminds me of a management sign that puts this policy into context. “Dogs are welcome in this hotel. We never had a dog that smoked in bed and set fire to the blankets. We never had a dog that stole our towels and played the TV too loud or had a noisy fight with his traveling companion. We never had a dog that got drunk and broke up the furniture…So if your dog can vouch for you, you’re welcome too.”

Congressman Putnam

While Adam Putnam is the pre-race favorite to win the Republican nomination for governor, no one believes the process won’t have its ugly side. Think none of the oppo ads and robo calls won’t  reference the fact that when “Opie” was in Congress he was the protégé of Dennis Hastert, the House Speaker with the sexually sleazy past?

No, it wouldn’t be fair. Yes, it would be condemnable. So, watch for it–and then take a shower.

Serious About Play

It doesn’t get the partisan attention and accompanying headlines that charter schools and prayer get, but recess in traditional K-5 public schools has also caught the attention of the legislature. As a result (of parental lobbying), the coming school year will include a mandate: 20 consecutive minutes of daily, free-play recess.

Individual school districts will be entrusted to work out details, which have some parents skeptical. But, still, the mandate is for unstructured play. The bottom line is this: Too much of our children’s kid years are now spent with structured activities, helicoptering parents and technological devices.

Anyone who has ever raised a kid, or been one–and that’s all of us–knows the score. Kids need time to just be kids.

Putnam Pandering

Adam Putnam could give ambition a bad name. It’s what happens when you’ve really, really wanted to be governor since student council days at Bartow High. While he looked like Opie Taylor, he acted like Lee Atwater.

The stepping stones were in place: the Florida House, the U.S. House and the Florida Cabinet. He’s touched them all, with the name recognition that comes with it. Now–at 42–he wants the big gubernatorial payoff.

Too bad he’s not skipping one calculation in particular, because there’s a big difference between uber ambition–and whoring out to the NRA. Florida would be less safe if Putnam were to have his way, because his way includes allowing gun owners to carry firearms on college and university campuses and openly in public. And let’s not forget nearly 2 million Floridians have concealed weapons permits.

Those who really know the reality–not Second Amendment channelers of the Founding Fathers, but higher education administrators and most police officials–vehemently oppose such a proposal.

And, BTW, ask around to those who market this state and its obvious attractions to tourists and students nationally and globally. See if they think there’s any fallout likely from further ratcheting up Florida’s reputation as the “Gunshine State.”

Rights Restoration

In Florida the backlog of felons who have completed their sentences, served their probation and paid their fines is well beyond 20,000. But those hoping to have their rights restored will need a lot more than hope when dealing with the state Board of Executive Clemency’s slow-churning wheels of justice. The patience of Job and a lot of luck, for openers. They’re stuck in a bureaucratic pipeline that four times a year hears fewer than 100 requests for rights restoration.

But thanks to the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, a petition drive for Constitutional change is underway. It targets the November 2018 ballot. It would restore voting rights to most ex-felons who have completed their sentencing obligations. Those convicted on murder or sex charges would not be eligible.

While most of the arguments on behalf of the restoration of civil rights are understandably couched in “fairness” rhetoric, one rationale is typically understated. Frankly, it’s also best for the rest of us.

The recidivism rate for ex-felons without restored civil rights in dramatically higher than for those who have regained them. In short, societal integration is made easier. Call it enlightened self interest.

Wireless Intrusion

Call it a classic, double-edged sword. Gov. Rick Scott just signed a bill that clears the way for superfast 5G wireless technology in Florida. It would likely enhance Florida’s chances to attract advanced-tech companies to the Sunshine State, including tech-trending cities such as Tampa. Good.

But then there’s that other edge.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a trend over the last few decades with the proliferation of cell towers. They now dot our landscapes, not always unobtrusively.

With the newly signed HB 687, there now could loom scenarios of countless “micro antennas” topping ever-sprouting utility poles. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has noted that his city has already received an application to build 21 telecommunications structures 45 feet high, including one in front of the Museum of Fine Arts and another in front of the Dali Museum. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn can envision similar aesthetic blasphemy on the wrong right-of-ways in Ybor City, near the Riverwalk and along Bayshore Boulevard.

There’s also this: The Legislature and Gov. Scott are telling Tampa, St. Pete et al to, in effect, suck it up, stop complaining, accept the dictates of Tallahassee and take one for Team Pragmatics. Buckhorn has labeled it a “power grab.”

So much for the usual ideological suspects quoting Thomas Jefferson extolling the virtues of local government governing best–because it was closest to the people. How naive.

For The Reefer

Politics is pragmatics. That will have to be the rationale for John “For Medical Marijuana” Morgan lobbying the deplorably influential Roger Stone in hopes of influencing the Trump Administration about removing marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. As in paving the way for decriminalization.

As in good luck tapping into all that reefer-Republican good will.

And, yes, Morgan says he still plans on suing the state over a smoking ban in the recently passed medical marijuana legislation.

Legislative Legerdemain

After Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron colluded in private to strike an $83-billion budget deal–trading cash for policy change–non-GOPster observers were appalled. More telling, so were some Republican legislators.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, was speaking for more than himself when he said: “This wasn’t shopped at all with the rank and file. There has to be a better way.” His Republican colleague Sen. David Simmons, chairman of the Senate budget committee on K-12 education, said the last-minute, secretive process was “wholly defective.” In effect, it gave opaque a bad name.

But one constant in Tallahassee remains manifestly transparent: It’s still a self-serving, duplicitous mess.

Self Determination Vetoed

City-only sales tax.

It doesn’t get the scrutiny or media coverage that some other statewide issues–from medical marijuana, Florida Forever and charter schools to Enterprise Florida, Visit Florida and Stand Your Ground do–but it’s an issue with serious implications for several Florida cities. None more so than Tampa.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn and his Orlando counterpart Buddy Dyer have been the most prominent proponents–but Jacksonville, Miami and St. Petersburg are also major players. Basically the mayors all want the right to hold city-only–not just countywide–referenda. And, heretofore, the state legislature has treated their entreaties with disregard, if not disdain.

Buckhorn’s case is straightforward. The one glaring need for this city–as well as this region–is meaningful mass transit. It means quality of life for those of us who live and work here; it means staying competitive for those who recruit and market. A Riverwalk and Jeff Vinik will only get you so far.

It’s beyond obvious. It’s beyond a priority. Absent a city-only, sales-tax referendum, the non-Tampa parts of Hillsborough County can continue to, in effect, veto transit initiatives that pass within Tampa city limits. It happened in 2010. It would happen tomorrow. It is what it is, without belaboring the point.

This time Buckhorn and Dyer elicited encouragement from Gov. Rick Scott. The concept made it out of the Senate as an amendment to a transportation bill. But the House wouldn’t hear of it. It only heard Speaker Richard Corcoran’s mantra: “The House had zero interest in tax increases of any kind.”

Corcoran’s OutHouse is to the right of the Tea Party when it comes to taxes. For anything. It’s unconscionably ham-handed, ideologically expedient, counterproductive and, frankly, undemocratic.

Tampa, Orlando and the other major cities don’t just want to hold their own referenda addressing their own critical needs. They also want to make the case that self-determination isn’t some idealistic, stump-speech phrase that we only support in the abstract.

USF Stiffed

Conspiracy theorists have plenty to ponder.

Did USF get sandbagged by UF or, more likely, FSU on “pre-eminent” status? Over dollars they didn’t want to split three ways? Did a John Thrasher ‘Nole-mole move the goal posts from a four-year graduation rate of 50 percent to 60 percent? Or was this just a last-minute, transparency-challenged, stuff-happens dynamic in a legislature where nothing is guaranteed except frustration, duplicity and dysfunction?

For the record, USF, an urban university with more diversity than its Gainesville and Tallahassee counterparts, has a four-year graduation rate of 54 percent. That’s a notable improvement from a few years ago–but now shy of the new, last-second standard. For further context, it should be noted that the four-year college graduation rate nationally is 26 percent.