Governor’s Veto of HB 177 was Right Move

May 9, 2012  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Bishop Blog

For the third time in two weeks there has been an article about Governor Rick Scott’s recent veto of HB 177 by Sen. Ellyn Bognadoff (R) and Rep. Ari Porth (D).  This bill which would allow for some nonviolent felons to be diverted to substance abuse treatment was passed with only four negative votes between both chambers.  You would think that two of these writers, who work for newspapers, would have read the Governor’s veto message and did more exploring than just calling the sponsors, who of course are going to be upset that it didn’t pass muster.  The third writer was from the ACLU and certainly needed little encouragement to criticize our Governor.

So, let’s get the true facts out on the table.  First, this legislation was billed as part of a “Smart Justice” approach to a continuing problem – non-violent, low-level druggies who face prison time – which no one disputes.  Our prisons in Florida have thousands of these individuals and to the extent that they will all be released, sooner rather than later, and they have a substance abuse problem they do in fact need treatment.  Since he was first elected, Governor Scott has supported Smart Justice’s goals and has in fact recommended reform in his budgets.

Second, a very small group of us almost five years ago initiated Smart Justice as a cost saving measure when Florida TaxWatch discovered that then-Governor Charlie Crist wanted to build 19 new prisons.  It didn’t make sense to build more prisons when so many prisoners were recidivating because of a lack of services for their substance abuse and mental health problems.  We called not only for a new approach to corrections but also for a commitment to Faith-based prisons.

Consequently, a representative of the Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA) approached me to say that they would support a smarter approach so long as we pledged to not violate two principles:  do not support changing the 85% time that all felons must serve and do not support any early release of prisoners.  I quickly agreed since it was critical for this movement to gain the support of law enforcement.  In addition, to my surprise they indicated that prison guards wanted to work in Faith-based prisons since they were the safest ones.

I’m told that there is a 10,000 inmate waiting list for Faith-based prisons, yet corrections does not seem to be moving very quickly in that direction.  Whether that is accurate or not, if we have prisoners who want Faith-based services, we should do everything possible to accommodate them if it can be accomplished through volunteers or if the cost is justifiable.  Allison DeFoor who was with me at the beginning of Smart Justice has been a tireless advocate for Faith-based counseling and has been volunteering for years, along with many others, down at the Wakulla Correctional Institution.  There is no additional cost for him to provide counseling to prisoners.

In the Governor’s veto letter he writes that he is opposed to felons being diverted to counseling and then not having to serve the minimum 85% of their sentence.  Coincidentally, that is exactly the same concern that law enforcement has and HB 177, despite its very good intentions, violates one of the two premises that Smart Justice was founded on.  This doesn’t mean that the Governor has given up or no longer supports Smart Justice.  What it does mean is that this Governor – and law enforcement – is not going to support legislation that allows criminals to evade serving 85% of their prison time by simply receiving behavioral healthcare services and not having to do the time.

That is fine and dandy because we can rewrite this bill next session and we can satisfy the legitimate concerns of law-abiding citizens that all criminals will be punished.  And we can do so in a fashion that will give them a chance to receive the help that they need while rightfully paying their debt to society.  Instead of criticizing the Governor we should be thanking him for charting a path that we Smart Justice advocates can clearly see, if only we will open our eyes and appreciate his concerns.

Higher Education Needs Reform: The Blue Ribbon Task Force

May 8, 2012  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

By Barney Bishop, Strategic Public Affairs, Expert Out Loud

If you are an eternal optimist then Governor Rick Scott’s veto of enhanced education funding for the University of Florida and Florida State University last week was an omen of good things to come.  For in his veto letter the Governor clearly laid out a roadmap of how this concept could pass his muster the next time it comes to his desk.

Much was written by the mainstream press about the Governor’s veto and that it was wrong-headed to do.  Yet, on Friday the Governor announced a seven member Blue Panel Task Force on State Higher Education Reform led by the very capable Dr. Dale Brill, President of the Florida Chamber Foundation that along with SUS Chancellor Frank Brogan and the Florida Board of Governors will provide recommendations that would allow FSU and UF to raise their tuition higher than the other universities in the state.  The much lauded goal is to help boost FSU into the league of UF and other major universities that already are members of the prestigious AAU – the finest research universities in America.

In the span of five days the Governor has gone from being scorned by the press to being recognized that he will always adhere to his principles but, if possible, will suggest a remedy if there is a way to overcome his objection.  This is exactly the way we should all expect all of our Governors to act and this Governor with his uber- Chief of Staff David McNamara has pulled the rabbit out of the hat that will set this up for a victory in next year’s legislative session.

I believe in what the Governor is trying to achieve and both our PreK-14 and higher education system is ripe for continued reform.  It’s less really about the amount of money than it is about how we spend the money we have but you’ll never convince the left and the press that is so.  Failing public schools must endure competition if they are to become better otherwise they will continue to wallow in mediocrity simply to make the teacher union happy and keep poor performing teachers employed.  Speaker of the House Dean Cannon said as much in his opening remarks to the Joint Session this past January.

Too many of our next generation of children are only getting a modicum of what they need in reading and writing skills.  As a result our higher education system has to “pay” $172 million dollars a year to “remediate” high schools students who are not yet up to par to perform in college.  Yes, that’s how much we spend every year for failed-to-be-ready-to-compete high school graduates.  If there isn’t a bigger admission of institutional failure in our educational system, I’m not sure what it will take to convince you.

Our higher education system while good is not very, very good and so the key question for the future is are we going to help produce the skilled workforce needed for the future?  While we have America’s first high-technology industry right here in our state – the Space Program – and Florida has smartly been investing strategically in and around Kennedy Space Center.  Along with aerospace, we have still emerging bio-life; bio-medicine and bio-science industry clusters growing that will be synergistic with a top-notch skilled workforce.  And, Orlando especially has become home to many small but cutting-edge computer simulation companies doing work for the military since all four branches have their simulation commands at the UCF Research Park.  And across town in Winter Park, Electronic Arts, the giant in the gaming business, is growing its operations in a race for supremacy in high technology.

Yet, our State University System (SUS) needs to be producing more of these STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) graduates that can then feed into these cutting-edge jobs than what we are doing now.  Thus, the initiative this past session to allow differential funding for FSU-UF based on certain criteria being met which only they could meet. The Governor, opposed to tuition hikes in principle, vetoed the bill.

Tuition hikes are always controversial which is why it’s the third rail of education in Florida and it rightfully revolves around access versus quality.  But have you seen what kind of cars college students are driving these days?  Most don’t work but go to school full time.  They don’t even take 18 per semester credit hours like I did when I was in college because federal grants only pay for 12 hours of study.  So with higher education becoming more expensive by the year why do we still cling to four years when we should be getting them out in three?  In the end though, if the college grads don’t have the skills that employers of the future will need then few will become employed here.
The Blue Ribbon Task Force will have its collective hands full trying to wade through the education battlefield of turf-defense.  Nevertheless, it must have strong and defensible recommendations that will serve our state well if we are to continue the much-needed education reform that will produce the outcomes we all say we need.

Barney Bishop III, who just founded his third company – Barney Bishop Consulting, LLC, is an outspoken, lifelong Democrat with a strong fiscally conservative streak. He is the former President & CEO of Associated Industries of Florida and he believes that government is not the answer to all of our problems, that civil discourse is obligatory, that compromising on details will not undercut one’s core beliefs, and that a resilient, robust private sector is the elixir needed for a true democracy to grow and survive. You can contact him at .

Noble Political Moments Worth Remembering

May 7, 2012  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  Columns

Politics is a contact sport. A bloody and brutal one. But it doesn’t always have to happen that way and two recent examples remind us of why politics can still be a noble profession.

Redistricting is the bane of any legislator’s dreams because whenever you move the lines of a district you are playing with their ability to get re-elected. Survive it and you can have a new lease on public life. But if the lines go the wrong way, you have a tough choice to make.

Twice within recent months, we have witnessed the personal ambitions of two elected officials – Reps. Brad Drake, R-DeFuniak Springs, and Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando – be set aside because they didn’t want to run against their colleagues, Reps. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, and Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, respectively.

This is a rare event in politics and one of the consequences of the once-a-decade redistricting process. Brad Drake is an astute, affable young businessman who was growing in seniority in the House while representing Washington County, one of the state’s most rural districts. But the new lines for the House meant Brad and his next door neighbor, Marti Coley, would have to run against each other. Marti took her husband David’s seat after his shocking and untimely death.

Coincidentally, both Brad and David worked together as legislative aides; Brad for Don Brown and David for Jamie Westbrook, before becoming elected in their own right. In an eloquent farewell speech on the floor of the House, Brad spoke about the love and affection he had for David and Marti and knowing that she wanted to finish her commitment of eight years, he voluntarily stepped aside. It was a class act by a statesman who put his respect for public service and the common good before his own political desires.

In Orlando, Rep. Eric Eisnaugle recently came to the same conclusion and made the announcement in a simple letter to the editor. Not a press conference. Not even a press release. I got the opportunity to work with him over this past session and found him to be tenacious with a determined spirit. Eric was a major player with a bright future in House leadership, yet he, too, cut his career short to forgo a contest with his cross-town friend, Steve Precourt.

And he did it by talking about the seat belonging to the people, not him. Rarely do you hear a politician talk with distinction like that. Washington are you listening?

This is what should be taught in Civics 101. This is why many of us got involved in public service back in the 60’s and 70’s, to be a part of something bigger, to try and solve our problems for the betterment of all mankind. Stuff that hardly anyone talks about anymore.

Brad and Eric could have just as easily filed to run, and since they are incumbents they would have raised a lot of money and had a chance to win. But neither took that route and their unselfishness is to be admired and praised.

For this, we will miss their dedication to wanting to “do what was right, rather than what it took to get re-elected” as Eric recently wrote in his announcement to the hometown newspaper. Far too often that is not the case in the legislative arena and we are all poorer for it.

That’s why we should continue to cherish the right to vigorous political contests. But once elected, we have the right to expect the legislature to do the people’s work by setting aside petty differences for a higher cause – the good of us all.

Even if Washington is doomed, there is at least a glimmer of hope in Tallahassee where two legislators transcended their own will, for the will of the people. You just can’t get any better than that.

Barney Bishop III, former head of Associated Industries of Florida, is the founder of Barney Bishop Consulting. You can contact him at