March 20, 2019 - 9:00am
My first legislative session was in 1979 and I was the incoming president of the then-Florida Association of Private Investigators.
Over the years I’ve seen a few floor speeches and subcommittee/committee debates that I would characterize as truly outstanding.
Before yesterday, the last one I witnessed was when then-Rep. Marco Rubio, in his sophomore term, I think, rose to speak before a committee on kidney dialysis treatment. He used passion and a grasp of the details to build a straw-man argument that I also used as a high school and college debater.
Rep. Rubio told the committee what he wanted to impart to them and then he told them exactly what the opposition would say as he calmly tore apart their arguments before they ever got up to speak. Rubio won that vote and, of course, the rest is history.
It was a flawless performance made even more interesting because you could tell that this issue was important to the future speaker of the House and U.S. senator.
Yesterday, I saw another spectacular performance when House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Chair James Grant presented his closing arguments on a proposed committee bill.
As a speech major, I was enthralled listening to him as he swatted away the shallow, duplicitous and off-target arguments presented by the proponents of Amendment 4, one-by-one.
Chair Grant also laid into the mainstream media which had written their slanted newspaper stories the previous day without ever talking to him. What he was holding up for examination was the classic opinion piece that suffices for reporting these days, in which the reporters invariably side with the Left on every issue.
I’m not telling you anything new because Americans for quite some time now have figured out the bias in the “free” press and it's why newspapers continue to have declining readership.
Case in point is Scott Powers' story in Florida Politics, which never once cited Chair Grant’s main argument that the proponents who came to oppose the PCB because he included court costs, fees, etc., and was therefore undermining the will of the voters, when in reality, the proponents' own counsel before the Florida Supreme Court had argued that court costs and fees were indeed expected to be included for completion of sentence.
Yet, nary a word of the chair’s main argument was included in Mr. Powers' recount of the subcommittee debate, even though the chair encouraged everyone to go read the court transcripts on more than one occasion.
The fallacy of the proponents was that they never answered the chair's other issue, which was that “felony sexual offenses” wasn’t a legal term and thus needed to be defined by the House as the responsible policymakers.
My purpose today is to make sure that readers of Sunshine State News get the Right side of the debate because (1) there is a legitimate argument to be made on legal terminology, and (2) the panel discussion conducted by two House committees back on Valentine’s Day demonstrably called for clarity and preciseness so that all stakeholders would be able to make correct decisions.
Arguments by the proponents that there was no need for clarity because people are already registering to vote around the state begs the obvious question -- the need for consistency in all 67 counties rather than individual interpretations by countless well-intentioned, front-line workers in county supervisor of elections offices.
A good friend of mine who testified for the proponents and who is a very good lawyer with a long-held passion for helping the downtrodden and forgotten, accidentally I believe, let the cat out of the bag when he said that “felony sexual offenses” was used as a marketing tool after polling indicated that those words would be easily understood by citizens.
Yet, easy-to-understand-for-voters’ words can never be sufficient for a constitutional document that will need to be legally parsed by lawyers for generations to come.
Words in a constitutional amendment matter even more, and Chair Grant went to great lengths to explain why our federal Constitution speaks of “negative” rights, rights that can’t be taken away, while our state Constitution is being filled with “positive” rights that don’t fit the model for constitutional construction.
Mr. Powers, after the committee vote, wrote that the ACLU and the League of Democratic Women Voters blasted the attempts by the House to clarify as “undermining” and an “affront.”
I wonder how long it’s going to take for amendment proponents to understand that there is an inherent weakness in proposing citizen amendments, and that is despite the self-serving argument that their amendment is always “self-executing,” few of them really are.
And when amendments are crafted based on marketing and polling rather than with words that have a specific legal meaning, then the drafters are just begging for the Legislature to come in and clean up their sloppy work.
I also get a kick out of the proponents of a citizens' amendment when they talk about the voters' “intent” as if they’re the only ones who can mystically conjure up what the voters were thinking and that the millions of voters were somehow thinking the same exact thing as they were.
Issues aside, if you want to see a debate that harkens back to the Golden Age of legislating in Florida, I encourage you to go to The Florida Channel and watch the best debate performance by an elected official in at least the last 15 years. Watch here. Be sure you watch the chair's final argument starting at minute 2:16:00.
I haven’t gotten to witness many great speeches, but when I do, it is truly something to behold and it makes you want to believe that words are important and that our democracy will survive after all.
Barney Bishop III is president and CEO of Barney Bishop Consulting and is the immediate past president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida. A self-described conservative Democrat, he believes the private enterprise system is the hallmark of our democracy.