By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
ST. PETERSBURG — If there was ever anything that needed a New Year’s resolution in 2013, it’s the stake of freedom in the Sunshine State.
Things aren’t looking too good for Florida with officials bringing in more burdensome taxation, tougher penalties for free speech and creeping infringement on civil liberties.
According to the 2012 Economic Freedom of North America Index, published by the Fraiser Institute, a nonprofit free-market think tank in Vancouver, B.C., Florida ranks 39 out of 60 states and Canadian provinces for economic freedom, considered “less free” than half the other jurisdictions on the North American continent.
It ranks below traditional blue states such as Illinois, New York, Connecticut and California, known for high taxes and regulations, and barely pulls ahead of Pennsylvania and Maryland, states with strong labor unions.
The ranking takes into consideration taxation, government interference in the economy and protections for private property.
Even without a state income tax, Florida finds itself in the bottom tier among states that collect more in taxes and impose more rules and regulations on private businesses.
But that assessment is modest compared to the view of the ACLU of Florida, which Thursday released a report entitled “Combatting assaults by the Legislature and the Administration of Gov. Rick Scott on Civil Liberties.”
The group claims that the state government has done its part to “unleash unprecedented assaults on Floridians’ civil liberties.”
“No public relations campaign can paper over the picture described in our report,” Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement. “For the last two years, whether it has been the right to vote, freedom from unreasonable searches by government officials, women’s rights, the protection of personal privacy, religious freedom or freedom of speech, the ACLU has had to protect Floridians from a wide-ranging assault on their rights by their own Legislature and Governor.”
Examples cited by Simon include the drug testing program for welfare beneficiaries and state employees, as well as the various election law changes that may have made it more difficult to vote for many residents.
The report also mentions attempts by the Legislature to funnel state funding to religious groups and bar doctors from inquiring about possession of firearms in their medical examination.
Examples of abridging economic and personal freedoms have been covered by Florida Watchdog in the past several months.
- Laws restricting the ability of citizens to protest military funerals.
- Requirements that political candidates swear an oath as to the authenticity of their ads and imposing a financial penalty if they stretch the facts.
- Banning the use of cell phones while driving.
- Outlawing cell phones in public meetings so they will not serve as a distraction and will limit influence of lobbyists.
- Making it a crime to serve food to the homeless.
- Imposing penalties if residents do not recycle certain materials.
A new bill filed last week in Tallahassee by state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota, also would reward residents for snitching on their neighbors who may be taking inappropriate homestead exemptions on their property taxes. Tattletales would be granted up to $500 for each charge determined by the authorities, according to the bill.
“Surely the Legislature has better things to be doing than working on new ways to limit the speech of Floridians,” ACLU of Florid’s Baylor Johnson told Florida Watchdog last month. “We hope that in the coming legislative session, lawmakers respect the First Amendment rights of Floridians.”
Contact Yaël Ossowski, Watchdog.org’s Florida Bureau Chief, at Yael@Watchdog.org