The Florida legislature has been unusually busy this year, and by and large the results are pretty ugly.
The legislature passed, and Jeb Bush signed, a bill repealing the doctrine of joint and several liability in Florida. Henceforth, joint tortfeasors will no longer be required to contribute more than their percentage of the judge or jury’s assessment of their share of the total fault. Deep pockets can rest easier. The value of patsies just increased. And victims (and taxpayers) will have to pay more when some members of a group of joint tortfeasors are judgment-proof.
Florida is infested with billboards. And south Florida is full of billboards blatantly erected in violation of local law…which for years wasn’t enforced in exchange for bribes and/or campaign contributions. Eventually, the laws here got changed to ‘grandfather’ them in so that some streets I drive on, like Bird Road, are overrun with the things. The Florida legislature’s reaction to this will, however, boggle your mind. It has just passed a bill that…protects billboards from the threat of being obstructed by trees.
Ladybird Johnson must be spinning in her grave. [UPDATE: As noted by an astute commentator, Ladybird Johnson is in fact living; according to the wikipedia "She has been protected by the Secret Service longer than anyone else in history."] This isn’t just a failure to ‘beautify’ roads — it’s a public commitment to permanent uglification. If Jeb Bush signs this one, local governments will be forbidden from planting any trees where they might obstruct the public’s view of those glorious billboards.
The bill requires that billboards be given a clear sight line of 500 feet on roads with speed limits above 35 mph and 350 feet where the speed limit is under 35 mph. If counties or cities plant trees within that zone, they have 90 days to remove them or face a court fight and fines.
And if existing trees near a billboard are knocked down in a hurricane or if they die, they cannot be replaced except by low-growing shrubs or flowers that do not block the sign.
Still on the legislative agenda: proposals to gut the class-size amendment, the voter-approved mandate to have small classes in schools. That amendment has been a perennial bone in the Republican throat since at some point you might actually have to appropriate money to build those classrooms and pay those teachers.
There has been a ray of good news: spurred by the public scandal of an on-camera murder of a child by guards at a Florida “boot camp” (and the furor over the ensuing attempt at a coverup, then a whitewash), the legislature has voted to “demilitarize” the boot camps to which youthful offenders can be sent. Instead of a regime where guards, who were essentially unregulated and unsupervised, could and did use as much violence as they wanted for minor infractions such as ‘not looking respectful’, the new statute “bans the use of stun guns, pepper spray, pressure points, mechanical restraints and psychological intimidation unless a child is a threat to himself or others.” Yes, in Florida this really is enormous progress, so let’s be grateful for it.