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SPEAKER FEENEY’S OPENING DAY REMARKS

March 6, 2001
Source: Representative Tom Feeney,  Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives

Good Morning. Welcome to the 103rd Regular Session of the Florida Legislature. Thank you for joining us today.

It’s springtime in Tallahassee, where hope springs eternal. Everybody has a bill, or an idea, that is still alive. It’s Opening Day, and everyone has something and they’re all in the hunt. Of course, at this time of year, the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs are still in the hunt, too.Last November, the voters elected 63 freshman legislators to the Florida House. I feel strongly that drawing on the energy and enthusiasm of this new class, together with the experience and wisdom of our senior members, will create a dynamic House, capable of serving Florida with a quality and depth unique to our institution.The last time we met together in this Chamber was a moment of historical challenge for our nation and our state. But it was also a time when the Members of this institution, Members separated by policy, politics, history, and geography all recognized that the matters before them were difficult and important, and all Members rose to the occasion, regardless of these differences. The performance of this institution in those difficult days will be remembered for years to come as a tribute to the strength of our democratic system and to the honorable elected officials who make up the Florida House of Representatives.Many observers were surprised at how the House behaved. Some people expected a circus. None of the talking heads that tell us what to think expected a civil, reasoned, intelligent policy debate in the Florida House of Representatives. I will forever be proud of all of you—each and every one of my colleagues here in the House—proud of all of your efforts to assure that we would all behave like grownups while debating a politically divisive issue. While we work, we want to enjoy one another and have fun in the process. Any member in need of amusement is welcome to the Speaker’s Office where we have reruns of the Frankel and Fasano series available 24 hours a day.Now we must bring that same dedication to the task of fulfilling, in the next 60 days, the vast and varied needs of this diverse state. And the reality is that 2001 will be the most challenging budget year in recent memory. We have read the commentaries that stress the difficulty of crafting a budget in years like this. But, as Churchill said, "Do not argue for the difficulties; the difficulties will argue for themselves."Let’s follow Churchill’s advice and pay attention to opportunities and the end result - not the difficulties we will encounter along the way. We should recognize our fiscal limitations and use this challenge to come up with constructive ideas on how to develop public policy beneficial to all Floridians.Our circumstances are challenging, but far from bleak. In the first place, recognize that spending will be going up, not down. Our state will spend 2.3 billion more than last year. A growth rate of 4.5%, which is greater than the rate of inflation. Much of this new spending will be in health care and education.And most of the "cuts" you’ve heard about are just cuts in the rate of growth, not actual cuts.Our challenges are not all about money. Simply spending more money alone does not alleviate human misery or resolve social ills. As President Reagan said, Reflecting on the Great Society spending programs that began in the 60’s, "We declared war on poverty and poverty won."As we prepare to spend $43-billion in taxpayer funds and as we look at proposed new programs, remember that the law of unintended consequences applies. All too often, well-intended legislative actions will have unanticipated, adverse consequences that overwhelm the intended positive impacts. It’s enough to beat the arrogance out of any elected official. Or, if you serve here long enough, it’s enough to curl your hair.Recognizing, the law of unintended consequences is one of the core principles of a conservative government. What more could a conservative expect from government besides respect for the peoples’ choices and the peoples’ money, respect for the law of supply and demand, and respect for the law of unintended consequences? In fact, those are pretty good principles for any liberal government, too. I am convinced that if we can adhere to these simple ideas, this House of Representatives can achieve a great deal and can earn the support and confidence of the people of Florida.I want to create a civil society where a limited government promotes individual freedom, but also erects a safety net to protect Florida’s most vulnerable and needy. A civil society that creates the conditions to assure growth and economic opportunity in the Sunshine State for decades to come.And so we’ll work with President McKay to help families and communities care for children with learning disabilities, for the homeless, and for Florida’s seniors. We will fight to preserve basic health care for poor children and for prescription drug assistance for low-income seniors.I’m proud to say that on education, we have stepped up to the plate. Florida, as a state government, already funds 20% of school construction—twice the national average. In 1997, we put another $3-billion into school construction, but when we did that we also required school districts to stop waste, abuse, and the Taj Mahal style of school construction. In the last two years, we’ve seen historic increases in K-12: classroom funding totaling over 1.6 billion in new spending.But, again, money alone does not educate children. Indeed, most studies show that there’s little if any correlation between government spending and academic achievement. We must not lull ourselves in false comfort by just spending more money.I’m proud the A+ plan has changed the focus in education from inputs—how much money we spend —to outputs—what children are learning. And I’m proud that, while rich parents have always had a choice of schools where they could send their kids, we may enable middle-class and poor Florida parents to opt out of failing or overcrowded schools. And, to prove that incentives work, last week we saw a Harvard study showing that the main reason all Florida’s "F" schools improved last year was the "threat" of vouchers.The message: accountability, choice, and competition will work!We have many issues on our plate this session. Nancy Argenziano and Carol Green are fighting for elder care and nursing home reforms that will increase the quality of care for our most fragile seniors, and reduce unnecessary litigation and insurance costs. Concurrently, serious abuse or neglect will be met with aggressive state enforcement and civil penalties against abusers.And there are always important family issues. Representative Joyce Cusack will soon see her bill on parental rights reach the House floor. Congratulations, Representative, we can all be proud of the leadership you have shown. Another of our freshman who deserves recognition for showing leadership is Representative Joe Negron, whose work on parental empowerment in education will produce results this session.Growth management presents another challenge. We all agree that unfettered, unplanned, and unrestricted development hurts the quality of life of all Floridians. But school boards must be held accountable for planning school facilities, and local governments must prepare for measured, quality growth when growth is inevitable. Representatives Dockery, Alexander, and Sorenson are among our leaders in promoting balanced growth alternatives.Energy deregulation is another area where accountability, choice, and competition will work, only if we distinguish between punditry and reality. Deregulation does not mean closing down opportunities to add new energy sources or generating capacity. And it certainly does not mean hyper-over-regulation of an essential industry. In other words, energy deregulation is not synonymous with California, which is suffering today because its government attempted to repeal every fundamental law of economics. If we do it right, proceeding deliberatively and with full respect for the law of supply and demand, future generations of Florida families and businesses will be able to enjoy plentiful supplies of affordable energy. And Representatives Goodlette, Miller, and Bense intend to see us ensure we do it right.Another priority issue this session: election reform. Election reform must instill in every Florida voter the confidence that, when the game is over, you can look back and say the umpires were fair and the scoreboard is accurate.Representative Frankel and I are working together on legislation to lift the veil of secrecy from those mysterious, third party organizations that run attack ads. These organizations will have to disclose who they are, who funded them, and how they spent their money.And Governor Bush is leading the effort to establish ballots, machines, and procedures that are accurate and fair. The Florida House of Representatives, with help and direction from Representatives Byrd, Goodlette, Rubio, and Smith, will do its part to assure integrity in the election process.But let’s be honest. With the right to vote comes voter responsibility. In an ideal world, voters would know not only the offices, candidates, and issues, but also something of economics, civics, and American history. Along with reforming the electoral process, we must find ways to help Floridians deepen their understanding of what it means to be a citizen of this republic—for that’s what it will take to bequeath to our descendants the same democratic republic that is our great inheritance from our Founders.Making government more efficient and rewarding great state employees is a goal towards which we should work on with the Governor. In a new millennium, government doesn’t have to stick with all the old habits, but should reinvent itself to meet new challenges.And the tax rate in America is the highest it’s been since World War II. Last year Federal, State and local government spending consumed the first 12 weeks, or almost 25% of the average Florida families working year. Florida’s families will work until May 7th to pay taxes; only the rest of the year do they get to keep the fruits of their labor. Because it’s the moral thing to do to advance freedom, because it will help small businesses and families in their pocketbook and because it can spur economic growth and job opportunities, we should cut taxes where we can, starting with meeting our promises to our seniors and savers and continue the phase out of the intangibles tax. I’ve spoken of my passion for individual choices and freedom. But meaningful choices are not just of schools, and meaningful freedom is not just relief from taxes. It means equal access to all Americans. Rep. Wilson, as I told you last week, I’m prepared to join you at any public establishment in Florida and sit by your side, providing you allow me to purchase the first round of refreshments.While we serve here in this great House; the peoples House, we must not only serve with dignity and respect for one another but also for the institution. This House is the heart and soul of Democracy in Florida.When we passed a constitutional revision to protect the death penalty, and 73% of Florida voters agreed, when we voted to have 13 year old children advise their parents before having an invasive operation, when we balanced the competing interests of 16 million plusFloridians and produced a balanced reform of the civil litigation system, and when we pass legislation to reduce the average stay of convicted murderers on death row from 15 years to 7, and their appeals from 12 to 3;Maybe we’re wrong, perhaps unwise or even foolish. But if we violate the express provisions of the Florida or U.S. Constitution – then it’s appropriate for courts to declare our product unconstitutional. If actions are unwise, we face the voters every two years. We’re accountable to those we serve. It’s our constitutional obligation to make policy, through legislation and it is clearly not within the province of the courts.During the ratification debate on the Constitution critics charged that the Legislative branch would be too powerful and subject to special interest. The author of our Constitution, James Madison responded:"Gentlemen suppose that the general legislature will do everything mischievous they possible can and that they will omit to do everything good which they are authorized to do. If this were a reasonable supposition, their objections would be good. I consider it reasonable to conclude that they will as readily do their duty as deviate from it. But I go on this great republican principal; that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea."Reflecting on events some 40 years latter, Jefferson said: "at the establishment of our Constitution, the judicial bodies were supposed to be the most helpless and harmless members of the government. Experience, however, soon showed in what way they were to become the most dangerous…sapping, by little and little the foundations of the constitution…."And roughly 40 years after that, in his first inaugural address, in response to the Dred Scott Decision; Lincoln said, "if the policy of the government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by the Supreme Court. The people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal."No one believes that the Judiciary should not be independent from coercion over their decisions and encroachments by the Executive or Legislative branches; but if you believe in democracy, then you MUST defend the proposition that it is the elected Legislature, and not judiciary, that should legislate policy. This House should defend democratic traditions.

Let me close by reminding you that as we begin our session, I know that all 120 of us have a great two years of legislating in front of us. So I share with you, and especially the new members, the advice of several prior Leaders.

#1) U.S. Senate Chaplin in the 1800’s was named Edward Hale. Rev. Hale was once asked: "Do you pray for the Senators, Dr. Hale? To which he replied, "No, I look at the Senators and pray for the country."

You’ll learn to work with our colleagues in the Senate.

#2) And the great Speaker of the U.S. House, Sam Rayburn gave this advice every 2 years to freshmen: "Don’t try to go too fast. Learn your job. Don’t ever talk until you know what you’re talking about if you want to get along, go along."

#3) And the great Floridian Lawton Chiles, who in 39 years of service never lost a race (trust me on that one) gave this advice to my class when we were freshmen:

"When you go home, always tell ‘em how you voted, but never tell them why you voted how you voted. How you voted will never change as you look back in future years. But why you voted that way just might."