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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
South Tampa News

O'Neill: New Florida laws say much about society


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While it was kind of anticlimactic and politically defused, nearly 200 legislative bills became Sunshine State law recently after Gov. Rick Scott had signed off.

For the record, nothing headline-grabbing had changed since the legislative session. But now it's official, starting with the state's budget - balanced out at $74.1 billion.

So, no, there was no under-the-radar compromise you missed on Medicaid - no matter what the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, the health care industry, the Florida Senate and a majority of voters thought. Where there's a will, there's a Won't Weatherford. Nor was the ban on texting while driving upgraded from a secondary offense or accelerated (effective Oct. 1) in implementation. And assault weapons are still good to go, "stand your ground" is still standing and owed Internet-sales taxes are still uncollected. This is still Florida.

But among the new laws are three that are sobering societal commentary about our times, our values and, of course, our politics. It speaks volumes that a society actually needs to codify such things.

--First, it is now decreed that when a child is conceived during a sexual assault, there will be no paternal rights for the rapist. Obviously, that needed to be stipulated.

--Second, health providers will be required to provide emergency medical care to an infant who survives a failed abortion. Health care professionals must "humanely exercise the same degree of professional skill, care and diligence to preserve the life and health of the infant" as would be the case in a natural birth. Obviously, the Hippocratic Oath wasn't enough.

--Third, Florida has made it more difficult for the mentally ill to buy firearms. Previously, Florida law prohibited those committed involuntarily under the Baker Act, which applies to people deemed a danger to themselves or others, from buying a gun. Now this prohibition also applies to those who voluntarily seek mental health treatment after being examined under Florida's Baker Act statutes. Hovering over the new law was a certain quintessentially rhetorical question: Why, even in pistol-packing, Second Amendment-absolutist Florida, would you not keep all Baker Acters away from guns? Obviously, it needed affirming, even in the better-never-than-late state.

Florida Gator fans can anticipate a lot of wincing over the notoriety that will only ratchet up further in the first-degree murder case of former UF tight end Aaron Hernandez. If convicted, Hernandez - summarily cut by the New England Patriots after the story broke - faces life in prison without parole. He pled not guilty at his arraignment, but was denied bail and jailed.

The Bristol, Conn. native committed to Florida in 2007 after visiting the campus and staying with Tim Tebow. He later had "issues" in Gainesville that included an arrest, a suspension and questioning about a shooting. By his junior season - his last - he had partaken of Bible study sessions that were personally conducted by head coach Urban Meyer, who vouched for his rehabilitation.

In retrospect, this could look like Exhibit A for Faustian deals many universities with big-time, big-budget football and basketball programs make to recruit blue-chip "student-athletes."

But it could be worse. I know. I'm a graduate of Penn State.

I can understand members of the black community not necessarily being on board with precisely equating the civil rights and gay marriage struggles. But what the Rev. Tom Scott, a black, antidiscrimination bastion and former Tampa City Council member and Hillsborough County commissioner, said on the subject recently was still dumbfounding.

"The black community sees the issue of being gay or lesbian as a decision," Scott told The Tampa Tribune. "But in the case of African-Americans, it was not a decision, it was their color. You were born black."

Upon further reflection, that flawed, "decision" contrast is not so much dumbfounding as it is dumb.

Maybe it's too much to ask. But wouldn't it be appropriate if mainstream electronic media, both local and national, would go back to identifying legitimate news subjects - on second reference - by their last name? Leave it for blatantly partisan hacks and pseudopolitical pundits to traffic in first-name familiarity.

I've heard countless anchor-desk references to "Trayvon" in the George Zimmerman trial. During the 2008 presidential election a weekend anchor of a local network affiliate told me that management had to send a memo to on-air staff to remind them to refer to John McCain's opponent as "Obama" and not "Barack." It made them sound like cable partisans. And recall all those "Saddam" references during the Gulf War.

Unless someone has achieved iconic longevity in the culture - Ike, Elvis, Oprah, for example - this largely has to do with nontraditional first names and careless, clueless newsreaders.

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