James Madison Institute

The James Madison Institute (JMI) is a nonprofit public policy foundation based in Tallahassee, Florida. Its stated mission is “to keep the citizens of Florida informed about their government and to shape our state’s future through the advancement of practical free-market ideas on public policy issues.”

Founded in 1987 by Dr. J. Stanley Marshall (formerly the president of Florida State University), JMI seeks to influence public opinion by placing opinion pieces in Florida’s newspapers, conducting issue seminars, and appearing as expert speakers at legislative hearings and “town hall” meetings.

JMI also works closely with elected officials to develop ideas on legislation. Through policy briefings and orientation seminars for newly- elected legislators, JMI introduces lawmakers to free-market policy ideas on health care, education reform, fiscal policy, and property rights.

Protecting property rights

JMI believes that the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protections of property rights “are as fundamental to freedom as any of the other fundamental rights.” However, in JMI’s view this right is often undermined by government regulators.

In June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that local governments may seize private homes if they think it will create additional tax revenues or other economic benefits. JMI immediately responded by pointing out similar threats in Florida, and making the case for additional legal safeguards to protect landowners.

In 2009, JMI public affairs director Matt Warner wrote in The Tallahassee Democrat that, far from being an isolated incident, the Kelo case was part of a disturbing trend in which “revenue-hungry municipal and county governments have been using the power of eminent domain to take property away from its owners and convey it to other private interests – often well-heeled business interests.”

Later in 2009, Florida Governor Jeb Bush met with JMI vice chairman Stanley Marshall to discuss how to make it tougher for governments to condemn private property by invoking eminent domain. Later that week, JMI held an “Eminent Domain & Property Rights Forum” which brought together experts to develop responses to the Supreme Court ruling.

JMI cited a number of recent cases demonstrating the urgency for action in Florida. The Florida Supreme Court had recently ruled that Panama City’s condemnation of property was “entitled to a presumption of correctness,” provided there was sufficient evidence. But according to an October 13, 2005 Tallahassee Democrat article, JMI insisted that the court accepted as evidence a mayor’s opinion that a targeted area “is a bad place.”

In 2006, the Florida Legislature restricted municipalities’ ability to take private property from an owner and give it to another private interest just to enhance the tax base.

JMI played an important role in building support for property rights reform. The Coalition for Property Rights, a Florida alliance of citizens and business leaders, noted in 2006 that JMI president Robert McClure “assisted in educating lawmakers regarding the context and impact of the Kelo decision.”

Fighting government takeover of health care

In 2009, JMI opposed President Obama’s health care plan, reasoning that the plan would lead to a government takeover of the system.

In particular, JMI warned the public about the dangers of the so-called “public option” component of the proposal. Under this approach, the government would create a health insurance plan to compete with those offered by private insurers.

In its opposition, JMI often cites a case familiar to Floridians.

In 2007, the state legislature allowed a state-run “insurer of last resort,” Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, to compete in the property insurance market. “Armed with the advantage of governmental price controls, similar to what would be in place with a health insurance public option,” wrote JMI’s Thomas Perrin in 2009, “Citizens rapidly gained a third of the entire property insurance market in Florida.”

In an October 2009 Fort Myers town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Congressman Connie Mack, JMI director of public policy Robert Sanchez told an audience of 1,600 that intrusive government mandates were already inflating health care costs. Sanchez cited mandates that require individuals to buy health care plans with options that they don’t need. For instance, Sanchez asked why a 58-year-old woman should be “required to buy health insurance that includes pregnancy coverage.”

JMI promotes reforms that reduce government interference and give consumers the responsibility for making personal medical decisions. These include:

  • allowing the tax deduction that currently goes to employers to go to individuals so they can purchase their own plans;
  • reducing the number of government mandates;
  • allowing interstate purchasing of insurance plans; and
  • reforming medical malpractice laws.

In February 2008, JMI organized a briefing for dozens of legislators about how to improve health care through deregulation and other reforms. Among other things, the speakers argued that the federal government should stop dictating how states operate their Medicaid programs. Instead, they said, Medicaid should be offered in block grants so states can design programs that fit their specific needs.

Educating lawmakers

In November 2000, Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney asked JMI to organize a four-week training session for 62 freshman legislators. JMI recruited more than 100 speakers including Governor Jeb Bush, Florida U.S. Senators Bob Graham and Bill Nelson, former Governor Reubin Askew, and Heritage Foundation president Edwin Feulner.

The speakers recommended a range of proposals, including the repeal of certain taxes that negatively affect Florida’s business climate.

Giving teachers a choice

JMI believes teachers’ unions are generally out of touch with their members, and chiefly interested in pursuing political agendas that have little relevance to their professional needs.

JMI provided a 1995 start-up grant for $40,000 to an alternative union called the Professional Educators Network of Florida (PEN). PEN does not engage in collective bargaining or solicit political contributions. For annual dues of $180, PEN provides teachers with liability insurance and legal services. It represents about 2,000 educators in all 67 Florida school districts.