Give it a rest

Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, drumming up campaign support, refuses to let abortion ruling alone.

Published: Friday, August 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 31, 2003 at 10:36 p.m.
When the Florida Supreme Court threw out recently Florida's "parental notification" law relating to minors obtaining abortions, House Speaker Johnnie Byrd responded predictably.
Byrd, who is ginning up a campaign for the U.S. Senate next year with the help of a huge communications staff on the state payroll, quickly asked Gov. Jeb Bush to add consideration of the issue to the agenda of the special session on medical malpractice.
But Byrd acknowledged that simple legislation would be useless, since the court threw out the old law on grounds that it violated the state constitution's privacy clause.
If the court ruling is to be overturned, it would require passage of a constitutional amendment by the Legislature and approval of voters - in the general election of 2004.
So what's the hurry? This is the state constitution we're talking about, not merely a statute that is subject to change at the whim of any Legislature.
Byrd didn't answer that question. He simply said the issue was too important to wait, according to The Associated Press.
Too important to his political future, perhaps. There are votes to be farmed among the religious conservatives who feel most passionately about the abortion issue, and Byrd wanted to be first in line at the harvest.
It may have been smart politics, since Byrd left it to Gov. Bush and Senate President Jim King to say that - even though they also wanted a constitutional amendment - the issue could easily wait until next spring, when the Legislature meets in its 2004 regular session.
The last thing this Legislature needs right now is to consider another volatile issue while it remains hung up about limits on medical malpractice lawsuits.
If, by next spring, the Legislature has drawn up a proposed constitutional amendment that three-fifths of the House and Senate can support, it can place the amendment on the November ballot.
But that assumes that such language can be agreed upon easily. At least the delay proposed by Bush and King will give lawmakers adequate time to consider all the ramifications.
If the Legislature tried to pass an amendment now, it likely would be flawed in one way or another.
Our preference would be that the Legislature simply accept the state Supreme Court's decision - which came on a 5-1 vote - and forget about tampering with the constitution.
We think Floridians knew full well what they were doing when they approved an amendment that, essentially, gave them the right to be free of unwarranted government intrusion into their private lives.
The parental-notification issue, while it has some surface appeal, really is an attempted wedge into the whole abortion question that state and federal courts have disposed of long ago.
The state Supreme Court threw out a broader state law in 1989, and the recent decision was fully in line with that decision.
The Legislature passed another parental-notification bill in 1998, but Gov. Lawton Chiles wisely vetoed it.
After Bush took office in 1999, he signed another bill - triggering the litigation that led to the recent Supreme Court decision.
As long as we have politicians, we'll have politicians demagoguing issues. It's probably unreasonable to expect otherwise. But Florida's politicians should give this issue a rest.

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