State Rep. Frank Artiles Transgender discrimination bill has gotten lots of attention in the two days since it was filed. HB 583 the so-called “Single Sex Public Facilities” legislation would for all intents and purposes criminalize the use of public restrooms by transgender citizens of Florida AND could depending on interpretation hold liable business owners who allow use of those facilities.
The buffoonery of such a hateful piece of legislation is obvious and has been well-dissected by other people. But what is once again galling and has escaped discussion thus far is the heavy handed behavior of “conservative” lawmakers when local governments take progressive measures to protect local citizens.
Rep. Artiles motivation for filing such an onerous piece of legislation was the decision of the Miami-Dade County Commission to update a 1998 non-discrimination ordinance on December 2nd to include protection of people on the basis of gender identity and expression. Organizations such as SAVE who was largely responsible for the passing of this ordinance and the updated protection as well as Equality Florida have spoken in great detail already about the implications of HB 583. The analysis of both these groups is on the money and we have no need to add anything to what they have already put out there publicly.
But the actual policy impact of the legislation aside, let’s again let’s look at preemption as a tactic of so-called conservatives. For years we were indoctrinated with the mantra of “government closer to the people should make decisions” by Republicans tired of Democratic control of Congress and most State Legislative chambers. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Republicans in Florida behave like power drunk big government advocates whose reactionary measures resemble the types of public responses those in power give when challenged in third world dictatorships or communist countries. Simply put, any effort to govern on a local level differently than what Florida’s entitled Republican legislature would mandate will get you in trouble with the likes of Rep. Artiles.
Here in Florida, the Republicans gained complete control of State Government in 1999 and immediately began concocting ways to undue local efforts or laws that might have conflicted with the ideology of the GOP. Late in the 1999 legislative session, Conservative Rep. George Albright (R-Ocala) whose other great cause that year was to prevent the St John’s River from being designated as an “American Heritage Waterway” took on Miami-Dade County. The county led by Mayor Alex Penelas was suing gun manufacturers for creating a public health crisis. Fortunately for the citizens of Dade County, the bill had to be pulled from the House floor thanks to the Colombine Massacre which had taken place just hours before second reading.
Over the course of the next sixteen years various measures including HB 655 in 2013 have been pushed by the legislature and elected officials at the state level. The legislature have in time, also become experts at passing on unfunded mandates to local governments while the House and Senate constantly attempt to thwart the will of the voters in Florida’s urban areas with various measures that protect special interests from local ordinances and initiatives. HB 583 continues this long-standing pattern of behavior from the legislature.
Artiles himself has become a figure of comic relief in some quarters. Few can forget his embarrassing appearance on CNN four years ago advocating Docs vs Glocks legislation and the subsequent take down by Anderson Cooper and Jeffery Toobin. This bill will provide similar fodder for critics of Florida in other parts of the country and comic relief for those that love to laugh at our state.