Lifestyle - September 1, 2017

Florida proposes mandatory Scout-recruiting in schools

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]cout-recruiting in schools – If I asked you to name the top issue facing Florida today — the one you’d most like legislators to address — what would it be?

Education? Jobs? Transportation? All good answers.

Now, how many of you said “I’d like a new law that forces every school in Florida to allow Boy Scouts to recruit new members during school hours”?

If so, you are in luck! Because that’s exactly what freshman Republican Rep. Randy Fine of Brevard County and a few of his legislative buddies have proposed.

Called the “Patriotic Societies” bill, House Bill 95 would force all public schools to give Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and other “patriotic” youth groups “the opportunity, during school hours, to speak with and distribute instructional materials to students to encourage participation in the patriotic society and its activities.”

Notice the heavy use of the word “patriotic.” Obviously, if you have any questions about this bill, you hate America … you rotten Commie.

I didn’t want to be Commie. So I asked Rep. Fine, a casino consultant, why this bill was needed.

“I am a proud Cubmaster, and both my sons are Cub Scouts,” he responded in an email, adding that his sons have learned to fold flags and grown closer to religion through Scouting.

“The world would be a better place with a few thousand more Cub Scouts.”

Those all sound like swell choices for parents to make. I’m just not sure why any politician needs to pass a law granting special rights to some groups — and not others — mandating in-school recruitment time.

I mean, I was a Cub Scout, too. I even earned a Pinewood Derby trophy. I liked Scouts.

I also like my church — and all the nonprofit organizations in which my family is involved.

But I don’t think any of them deserve special, statutorily-enshrined access to recruit kids during school.

I think they’re all private organizations, perfectly capable of recruiting in a free-market society without government passing special carve-out legislation that picks winners and losers.

I also don’t like Tallahassee legislators trying to force laws on local governments — especially when legislators whine so much about the feds doing the same thing to them.

I told Rep. Fine all that. He didn’t like it. Not one bit.

He said I was “smug” and that I write from an Ivory Tower. (The Sentinel building is off-white, but only two stories.)

He said other states had already passed similar bills and that, “Frankly, given everything going on in our country these days, I think we could use more boys learning to live by the character of Scouting.”

OK, but kids could also learn something from participating in the American Red Cross, too.

Or AmeriCorps. Or the YMCA, the Salvation Army or the Autism Society of America — none of which benefit from Fine’s special-access bill.

Fine didn’t like that, either. He said my question was “silly” and “stupid.”

“The Red Cross isn’t being denied anything,” he said. “They do not have a youth development program. They have nothing to recruit for.”

This might come as a surprise to the 100,000 or so members the Red Cross’s National Youth Council.

Fine said if the Red Cross or another “legitimate” organization also wanted laws guaranteeing them special recruiting rights, he’d consider helping them get 10 minutes of designated speaking time as well.

So I guess we’re just going to legislate on the fly. It seemed to me Fine hadn’t really thought this thing through … which is a common problem with Florida legislators.

They hear of a problem — sometimes just a perceived problem — and then rush to pass a new bill. Often bad ones.

(Like when they tried to pass a law that would imprison doctors who asked their patients about guns.)

Fine says his issue is legit — that some Scouting organizations can’t visit schools the way they want.

So I checked with Maryann Barry, chief executive of the local Girl Scouts council, who said her organization has a wonderful relationship with local schools and has visits going on right now.

Hmm. No law needed there.

Well, they are having problems in other places, Fine said — places like Collier County.

So I asked the CEO of the Southwest Florida Council, which includes Collier, if he was having any problems with the schools there. Scout Executive Greg Graham cited none and said: “Scouting is very strong in this area.”

This seems to be a Scouting crisis few Scouts are aware of.

But here’s the thing: Even if Scouting organizations are having problems with recruiting, that’s not the responsibility of local school districts.

It’s up to Scouts to build up their own organization … just like it is to all those other worthy groups.

Not every personal crusade or preference merits a new statewide law. Scouts honor.

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