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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
Editorials

Editorial: Lawmakers handcuff volunteers

Published:   |   Updated: May 21, 2014 at 06:05 AM

It is remarkable that a Legislature that purports to favor efficiency would harass citizens whose labors save tax dollars.

Yet despite objections raised by volunteer groups, lawmakers this spring adopted a measure that penalizes “citizen support organizations” that pitch in to aid and raise funds for state parks, veteran groups, the disabled, needy children and other worthy causes.

Senate Bill 1194 bolsters government control while intimidating citizens. Gov. Rick Scott should veto it.

Lawmakers claim the legislation represents ethics reform because it includes annual financial reporting requirements. But as former state Sen. Paula Dockery wrote in a Tribune column, most of these organizations are not-for-profits that already have rigorous reporting and auditing requirements.

The stinger in the bill is a provision that forces the support groups to undergo a “sunset review” every five years, where the Legislature would decide whether the citizens groups would continue to exist.

This would jeopardize groups that devote time, money and labor to help the state.

Many of these groups take on multi-year projects. Finding donors and volunteers would be difficult if the state may eliminate the organizations before the projects are done.

There is no reason for such high-handedness.

The citizen organizations have caused no problems. Indeed, they save the state millions of dollars.

As the Friends of Florida State Parks points out, the 84 citizens groups associated with state parks or trails have raised more than $4 million in fundraising efforts and $2.5 million in direct services, such as buying equipment or assisting visitor programs. Volunteers make up 38 percent of the state park service’s staff and devote 1.4 million hours of labor a year to the parks.

So why would lawmakers want to hector the people who save tax dollars while helping park visitors?

We still wonder whether this is an attempt to put a leash on citizens groups and keep them from protesting Tallahassee political shenanigans.

Remember, it was park supporters who loudly protested a few years ago when the Scott administration sought to put private campgrounds in dozens of parks with little regard for the environmental consequences. They also raised the alarm when Scott considered a plan to build golf courses in parks.

Outraged park advocates managed to stop those ill-advised plans. But things could change if the state is allowed to intimidate volunteer groups.

There is absolutely no need for such a law. As we wrote during the session, it is an example of superfluous rules and Big Government abuse.

Scott should trash it.

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