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    Legislature briefs

    By STEVE BOUSQUET and LUCY MORGAN
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 24, 2002

    Today is the third day of the 60-day session.

    AARP endorses tax reform plan

    The AARP, which claims 2.6-million Florida members, has endorsed Senate President John McKay's proposal to lower the sales tax and expand the base by eliminating many exemptions.

    The AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, is a political force in Florida because the state has so many older voters. The group praised McKay's leadership on the tax issue and said whether to modernize the tax system rightly should be decided by voters "instead of leaving it in the hands of a small group of legislators."

    McKay's proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 938) now has 22 Senate sponsors -- 15 Republicans and seven Democrats. It is expected to get the 24 votes needed to pass the Senate, but House passage is iffy at best.

    The Florida Association of Broadcasters is producing a fresh batch of TV ads that are expected to aim at pressuring individual senators to oppose McKay's plan.

    Voter list: helpful or intimidating?

    Florida lawmakers are still debating what went wrong at the polls on Election Day 2000, and whether they have made things better or worse.

    Legislation passed last year and signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush requires posting a list of voter rights and responsibilities at each precinct. Voters will be told they should keep a current voting address, bring an ID to the polls and "study and know candidates and issues."

    The U.S. Justice Department raised no objections to the voter list, but it is the subject of a court challenge in Miami.

    In a House committee Wednesday, several Democrats said the posting could discourage some people from voting. But Republicans killed a Democratic amendment to strip the list from the law by a 9-4 vote.

    "People are discouraged when you put things like that in front of them," said Rep. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

    "Voting is a two-way street," countered Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. "We have to make sure that the voters out there understand the nature of what they are doing."

    Yes, it has been a tense session

    The legislative session is two days old, and already tempers are flaring.

    Two lobbyists for greyhound racing interests engaged in what eyewitnesses said was a pushing and shoving match Wednesday in the Capitol after a meeting with some legislators on a controversial proposal to put slot machines at Florida tracks.

    The combatants were Patrick Rooney of the Palm Beach Kennel Club and Jack Cory, a longtime lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association. What's more, the clash that began in a men's room and moved into a hallway was caught on videotape by a TV crew from Tampa's WFTS-Ch. 28.

    "That's the last time I'm going to put up with any of your s---, and you better understand that, boy," Rooney is heard saying on tape as he pushed Cory.

    Neither man could be reached. Two lobbyists who helped break up the fight declined to comment, and Rep. Carlos Lacasa, R-Miami, who was at the meeting with lobbyists, said he didn't see it.

    Rep. Johnnie Byrd put things in perspective for WFTS. "This is the American way," the speaker-to-be from Plant City said. "Sometimes tensions flare. This is important work."

    Democrats' report gets bad grade

    The Florida Democratic Party could be fined for not filing a complete campaign finance report that was due Jan. 10. Quarterly reports are required from political parties detailing who contributes money and how it was spent.

    When the party filed its electronic report for the last quarter of 2001, virtually none of the expenditures could be read by state elections computers. Division of Elections Director Clay Roberts asked the party to submit another report but it, too, could not be read.

    Roberts said the party will likely have to pay automatic $500-a-day fines but could face additional penalties from the Florida Elections Commission.

    Democratic Party spokesman Tony Welch blamed a software error that is fixed.

    GOP executive director David Johnson said Democrats are offering "a lame excuse."

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    From the Times state desk