The governor says parents should be trusted to recognize dangerous cribs, which lawmakers wanted banned.
By JULIE HAUSERMAN http://www.sptimes.com/News/062001/State/Crib_safety_bill_gets.shtml © St. Petersburg Times, published June 20, 2001
TALLAHASSEE -- This year, safety advocates convinced the Florida Legislature that kids younger than 16 should wear bike helmets when they zoom around on motorized scooters. They also got lawmakers to pass a bill saying that kids should ride in car booster seats until the age of 8. And they crafted new legislation to keep babies out of older, unsafe cribs. Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed all of them.
The latest veto -- which doomed the 2001 Florida Infant Crib Safety Act -- came Tuesday, prompting a sharp rebuke from a Democratic state senator who said children may die without the legislation. Explaining the vetoes of all three bills, a Bush spokeswoman suggested the first-term Republican governor prefers to keep the government out of parental duties.
"It's important not to give in to demagoguery in dealing with these issues. The evidence showed that the rejected proposals would have likely done little, if anything, to improve child safety," said Bush spokeswoman Katie Baur. "But what we know for sure is that each would have seriously undermined parental responsibility. We must not adopt policies that exalt the judgment of bureaucrats over that of moms and dads."
The crib safety act would have prevented people from selling cribs that don't meet modern safety standards, including cribs that have lead paint, slats that are too far apart, loose screws, sharp edges, or faulty latches. It also would have prevented hotels and motels from offering guests cribs that don't meet modern safety standards and required the state to inspect hotel cribs for safety. Bush said he supports the ban on selling outdated cribs, but believes the hotel inspection program would add to the state's responsibilities without really ensuring that cribs are safe. Bush also questioned what problem lawmakers were trying to fix.
"There hasn't been a death or an injury in a (Florida) hotel with a crib," Bush told reporters Tuesday. But the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said that 19 babies died in unsafe cribs in Florida between 1992 and 1997, some of them in hotels. As for the hotel inspection program, Bush said it would "give a false sense of security" because the cribs are dismantled and put back together frequently.
"For all practical purposes," Bush wrote in his veto letter, "it would be an entirely different and more dangerous crib than the crib that had one day earlier passed inspection." Bush said the state would have to send inspectors twice a year to the nearly 12,000 hotels and motels in Florida, consuming "an unknown and substantial amount of agency resources" for questionable results. Instead, the governor is asking his Department of Business and Professional Regulation to begin "an aggressive educational campaign" to inform hotel and motel operators of crib safety. And the state will continue to inspect cribs in day care facilities three times each year.
Wasserman Schultz was incensed by the governor's veto, saying that Republicans, Democrats, and the Florida Hotel & Motel Association supported the bill. "I don't know how the governor can sleep at night," Wasserman Schultz said Tuesday. "Unsafe and outdated cribs will remain in circulation. . . . More children will be harmed and some may die, and we have Jeb Bush to thank for it." The Crib Safety Act had wide support in the Legislature, passing the Senate unanimously and passing the House 102-13. It was one of three high-profile child-safety measures that passed the 2001 Legislature.
When Bush vetoed the child booster seat bill, he said the measure was too intrusive. Bush said the state should trust parents. He also vetoed a giant transportation bill that had dozens of new provisions, including one that would have required kids to wear helmets when they ride motorized scooters. Bush didn't explain his position on the scooter helmet question, saying he vetoed the bill because there were too many unrelated provisions in it.
Last year, Bush supported the Legislature's move to let motorcycle riders take off their helmets for good, even though safety advocates said it would lead to more head injuries and deaths among bikers. "I think it was an issue of personal freedom to him; he felt that it was an issue of you're an adult, and if you carry insurance, you're responsible for the choices you make," said Bush spokeswoman Baur. - Times staff writer Alisa Ulferts contributed to this report.