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    Taking another swing at '3 strikes'

    Lawmakers will move quickly to restore the anticrime law struck down by a court.

    By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 25, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- Legislative leaders are moving quickly to plug the legal hole created when a state appeals court struck down one of the Republican Party's most cherished anti-crime bills: The "three strikes" law.

    The 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland in a ruling Wednesday struck down the l999 law requiring tougher prison sentences for criminals who commit their third violent crime.

    Legislators said Thursday they would deal with the problem on three fronts: asking the court to reconsider in a hearing before all of its judges, passing a bill re-establishing the law or appealing to the Florida Supreme Court.

    "We're going to go right back and come up with new legislation," promised Senate Majority Leader Jim King, R-Jacksonville. "This law has dramatically reduced crime in Florida. People now realize if you do the crime, you'll do the time. The sun will not set many days before we return the bill."

    King said the ruling has only deepened the feeling shared by many lawmakers that state courts are writing law instead of interpreting it. "Some of us are fearful that our system of checks and balances is in danger," he said.

    House Speaker Tom Feeney, a frequent critic of state court decisions, said he thinks the Lakeland court may have a point in this case, since the ruling was caused by a last-minute Senate amendment.

    "We'll put a new bill on a very fast track and get it out on the floor so this doesn't send a message that it's open season on Floridians," Feeney said.

    Attorneys for the House hope they can convince the Lakeland court that the law can be saved by severing the section that caused the court to declare it invalid.

    The court, ruling in the case of Rebecca Taylor of Sarasota County, said a section of the law violates a constitutional requirement that bills be directed at a single subject.

    Gov. Jeb Bush advocated the three-strikes law during his 1998 campaign for governor and pledged to help get the law restored as quickly as possible.

    Rep. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, was the first lawmaker to file a new bill.

    "While I respect our courts, Florida cannot risk allowing dangerous criminals to be released into our communities because of a legal technicality," he said.

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    Lucy Morgan

    From the Times state desk