Sanford-Burnham wants more tax dollars

The annual springtime madness (lawmaking, not basketball) is headed into its final month. Let's check in on some of the issues we've been following:

Biotech bonanza. The Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute is back at the trough of taxpayer dollars.

This is the same outfit that received a record-setting (for our region) incentive package worth $300 million in 2006 to build labs in Orlando.

Back in February, I told you that the institute was about to start tapping into the state cigarette tax each year — up to $24 million through 2021.

Now Sanford-Burnham is lobbying to increase that amount to $60 million through 2033, or up to $3 million a year for the next 20 years.

Plus, draft budgets in the House and Senate each include additional dollars ($2.5 million in the Senate and $3 million in the House).

This is a departure from what the folks at Sanford-Burnham told me in February. At the time, lobbyist Elizabeth Gianini wrote, "We are not seeking new monies this year."

And spokeswoman Deborah Robison wrote, "We are not introducing new projects that would require additional state funds this year."

Oh, I get it. You aren't going after new dollars for new projects. Just increases in the dollar amounts you say you need for the stuff you were already doing. Glad we've got that cleared up.

Weak-kneed on texting and driving. Ninety-five percent of Floridians support a ban on texting while driving, according to a new University of Florida poll.

I don't know if Jimmy Buffett could get that kind of support if he ran for mayor of Key West.

Instead of seizing the chance to pass a life-saving law that would be welcomed across the state and across party lines, lawmakers want to get away with doing as little as possible.

A proposed ban on texting while driving likely won't do a thing to discourage people from the reckless habit. (CS/HB 13 and SB 52)

The bill would make texting while driving a "secondary" offense, meaning drivers would have to be pulled over for something like speeding before they could be cited for sending a text behind the wheel.

Worse, the fine for the first offense is a measly $30. A second offense in five years will set you back just $60. Those penalties are nowhere near what an AT&T survey found to be the most likely deterrents: a suspended license or a $500 ticket.

The AT&T survey also found that 49 percent of adults text and drive. So if we factor in the UF poll, that means about half of the people who say they oppose texting and driving actually do it themselves. My guess is that this is why we aren't seeing a stronger ban out of Tallahassee.

Armed teachers. There's been a lot of talk lately about whether this country has given up on a chance to reform gun laws in the wake of the massacre of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., just three months ago.

Of course, that was never even a passing fancy here in Florida, where our Legislature is as gun-friendly as an NRA convention.

Bills to push universal background checks, increase taxes on gun sales to support mental-health treatment and regulate who can sell at gun shows are non-starters. None has had a single committee hearing.

But one proposal that deals with both guns and schools is getting traction. A House committee last week passed a bill (HB 1097) that would let principals designate certain teachers and staff to carry guns on campus.

Leave it to our lawmakers to try to solve gun violence by adding guns to places most of us least want them to be — our classrooms.

bkassab@tribune.com or 407-420-5448

CHICAGO

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