CLICK HERE to read the original opinion piece on The Florida Times-Union
By Ron Littlepage
As always, the legislative doings in Tallahassee last week were interesting.
The Senate Judiciary Committee took up Sen. Aaron Bean’s “Pastor Protection Act.”
The basic thrust of the bill, which the committee approved 7-3, is to protect members of the clergy from legal action if they refuse to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies because of their religious beliefs.
During the debate, it was established that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution already provides that protection.
But supporters, especially worried about religious institutions losing their tax-exempt status, said an “insurance policy” was needed in case things change.
Those supporters, however, aren’t likely to use that logic when another bill comes up for consideration that would add anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community in Florida when it comes to employment, housing and public accommodations.
An argument that always pops up against expanding the law to include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is that they aren’t discriminated against now.
How about an “insurance policy” just in case that’s not true?
By the way, if the Legislature passes that bill, I’m sure you will hear a huge sigh of relief from Jacksonville City Council members who are struggling with a similar proposal.
Also last week, the full House passed a bill that would pave the way for fracking in Florida, a priority for the oil and gas industry that has been funneling cash to campaign accounts of legislators as usual.
Such bills are often wrapped in shiny paper to make them look benign when they aren’t.
The bill’s supporters say it is needed because of the $1 million included in it for a scientific study to determine whether fracking is safe and the regulations that would be put in place if it is.
Science, science, science, they argued during the House debate, will protect the state’s fragile environment.
That’s a head-scratcher since those same legislators don’t listen to scientists who warn that climate change is real and that Florida is ground zero for sea-level rise.
Also there’s no comfort in the fact that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will be in charge of the study.
We know what happened when scientists working for the St. Johns River Water Management District, which is under the DEP’s thumb, came to conclusions that didn’t fit DEP’s narrative. They were fired.
And let’s just say the DEP under Gov. Rick Scott’s anti-regulations crusade hasn’t been exactly aggressive in enforcing regulations to protect the environment, which doesn’t bode well for when fracking begins in earnest.
Another issue before the Legislature — at least as monumental as repealing the old law that made it illegal for an unmarried couple to shack up together — is a proposal to change the statues representing Florida in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.
Each state can be represented by two statues in the hall. In 1914, a statue of John Gorrie was donated by Florida, and in 1922, a statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith was added.
A Senate bill called for replacing Kirby Smith’s statue with a statue of a person chosen by a commission.
The House, sensing a slam against the Confederacy, added replacing Gorrie’s statue as well.
Gorrie is credited with being instrumental in the development of refrigeration and air-conditioning, which had a big impact on Florida’s growth for the good or bad, according to your point of view.
It’s time to honor someone who had a similar impact on Florida, much more than a war hero from a divisive, long-ago war.
Replacements aren’t without precedent.
In 2009, Alabama replaced a statue of a Confederate soldier with one of Helen Keller.
California added Ronald Reagan in 2009, and last year, Arizona added Barry Goldwater.
Coming up with someone else to represent Florida makes sense. And, no, it shouldn’t be a statue of Tim Tebow.