The 2012 Florida Legislature began its work three months early this year to start the process of redrawing state house, senate and congressional district lines based on new Census numbers referred to as redistricting that is required as a result of the decennial census and reapportionment. While this and passing the state budget remain the only constitutionally-mandated duties of the legislature, members of the House and Senate found time to file some two-thousand bills ranging from death by firing squad to restrictions on the number of twinkies one can purchase with food assistance. Fortunately, the leadership of the Senate immersed itself in controversy, subjecting its members to tough votes, mostly coming up short and paying a political price.
Amid the infighting, desperate leadership looking for an easy win targeted the civil liberties of Floridians. The resurrection of a decade-long battle over prayer in school gave the socially conservative wings of both parties cover to claim a bipartisan victory. The Governor’s blatant disregard for basic constitutional liberties was on display as he championed drug testing for state employees, this time through the legislative process. Last session’s unfinished war on women’s health found shelter this year in nine antichoice measures, one of which threatened to effectively shut down any reasonable access to abortion care throughout the state. All the while partisan rhetoric and election-year pandering made any chance of reforming our elections, criminal and juvenile justice, or public education systems a distant prospect.
Fortunately despite some defeats, and with the help of our allies and in our organizational coalitions, we reveled in some victories: the defeat of every anti-choice measure this session, protecting and preserving a woman’s access to safe and quality health care in Florida; the narrow demise of a big business prison privatization scheme that would have fed Florida’s addiction to mass incarceration; the retreat of Alabama/Arizona-style anti-immigrant laws that promote racial profiling and fear in our communities; the absence of legislation or a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn our historic legal victory on adoptions; the Supreme Court’s affirmation that voters asked and will receive fair and apolitical districts by rejecting the legislature’s Senate maps; and the passage of one of our own proactive pieces of legislation protecting the safety and defending the dignity of incarcerated pregnant women by banning the cruel and archaic practice of shackling in the third trimester and during the birthing process.