To Cobb, the nudists' apprehension is unwarranted. "The bill wouldn't stop nudity, or stop tourists from taking off their clothes in appropriate places," she asserts. (Nudism advocates say that without a formal local government vote permitting nudity in certain places -- a political impossibility -- the practice might indeed be banned.)
The committee room was packed on January 24, when proponents and supporters lined up to testify. Legislators spoke up, too. Rep. Mark Flanagan (R-Bradenton) fumed, "I find it offensive that anyone can just throw down their towel beside me and my family and get buck-naked." Chairman Elvin Martinez, apparently swayed by the religious right's propaganda, intoned, "My understanding of the current status of the law is there's nothing illegal about anyone in this audience standing up and taking off all their clothes and sitting here naked." (In fact, nobody did so, but anyone who had would have risked arrest for disorderly conduct; court rulings upheld such arrests in 1976 and 1986.) On the other hand, Rep. Sally Heyman (D-North Miami Beach) argued, "We don't have enough money for prisons, but what do we do? Pass legislation that makes skinny-dippers sex offenders. We don't need to create new criminals, we need to deal with the criminals we have."
Buddy Johnson and his supporters sought to downplay the scary economic side effects cited by critics. "This bill would not put South Beach out of business," he said before the bill was amended to cover only state parks, adding that the measure is needed because Florida is a "family-friendly" state. David Caton, executive director of the American Family Association of Florida and a self-described "former porn addict," built on those themes. "Family tourism is the largest industry in our state," Caton declared. "We can see that nudists are very organized, they're encroaching on the beaches, and they're demanding more places to show their...wares."
Master strategist Ramon Maury knows that the fight for preserving truth, justice, and the American T & A is a never-ending one. The bill may reach the floor when the legislature returns next month, but Maury is hoping to sidetrack it to other committees and then work to kill it. "The battle has just begun," he promises. "We have a long way to go, and we hope the people of Florida wake up and take action.