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    Legislature in brief

    Today is the 18th day of the 60-day session.

    By ANITA KUMAR and Times wires
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 8, 2002


    Court examines two amendments

    Florida Supreme Court justices on Thursday reviewed the wording of proposed constitutional amendments to ban indoor smoking and to limit class sizes.

    The court did not rule whether either measure could go on the ballot in November.

    The class size amendment would limit the number of students to 18 in prekindergarten through third grade, 22 students in grades 4-8 and 25 students in grades 9-12. The measure does not outline how the state would pay for reducing class sizes.

    Justices asked what happens if the proposal is not implemented 2010, the stated goal.

    "If the Legislature hasn't complied, then you will have a cause of action against them," said Mark Herron, the attorney for the Coalition to Reduce Class Size.

    Lawyer Steve Uhlfelder argued against the amendment. "There are things too difficult to be done in the Constitution," he said.

    The other amendment would outlaw smoking in restaurants, except for outdoor seating areas, and enclosed workplaces, including employee break rooms. Exceptions would be made for tobacco shops, bars, designated guest rooms in hotels, and home businesses that don't provide child care.

    Tobacco companies and the Florida Restaurant Association said the ballot question shouldn't describe secondhand smoke as hazardous. They also said it should better describe what is meant by "workplaces." The definition covers restaurants but voters might be misled into thinking it does not, they said.

    FOR TOUGHER DAY CARE RULES: Tekela Harris and her attorney, Benjamin Crump, listen to debate in the House Business Regulation Committee Thursday on a bill to hold church-run day care centers to the same standards as state-licensed ones. Harris spoke for the bill. Her 2-year-old daughter died after being left in a hot van at Abundant Life Academy in Daytona Beach last August. The committee voted 7-4 for HB 175, which moves on to the House Information Technology Committee.

    Pension fund probe begins gingerly

    The chairman of a special House panel looking into the state pension fund's loss from investments in Enron said the probe will focus on a contract fund manager that was buying the stock.

    Rep. Mark Flanagan, R-Bradenton, said he has asked officials from Alliance Capital Management to attend the panel's next meeting. Flanagan said he didn't think a subpoena would be needed.

    The $94-billion fund lost more than $300-million when it sold its Enron shares, which Alliance was buying even as the energy giant spiraled toward bankruptcy late last year.

    The committee inched cautiously into the issue at its first full meeting, with Flanagan saying he wanted most questions held until Alliance was there to respond.

    The House Select Committee on Oversight and Accountability for Florida's Pension Funds mostly heard basic information about the oversight of the fund, and politely questioned state Board of Administration director Tom Herndon. Alliance was one of about 70 outside managers used by the SBA to buy and sell the stocks in the fund.

    "It appears the SBA has acted responsibly," Flanagan said afterward.

    Schools would declare trust in God

    A bill (HB 915) to require school superintendents to allow the "In God We Trust" motto to hang prominently in their schools sailed through the House Council on Lifelong Learning and headed to the full House.

    The motto would be on "an appropriate background" and a minimum of 11 by 14 inches. The American Civil Liberties Union opposed it on constitutional grounds, but sponsor Mike Hogan, R-Jacksonville, said it wouldn't violate church-state separation.

    "It's pretty hard to argue against your state and national motto from being displayed in your school rooms," Hogan said.

    Meningitis shots for freshmen

    A measure (HB 871) requiring all incoming college freshmen in Florida who live in on-campus housing to be vaccinated against meningitis was approved by the House Health Regulation Committee. The measure moves to the Colleges and Universities Committee.

    * * *

    For information about legislation, call 1-800-342-1827 or 1-850-488-4371 toll-free during business hours.

    For Internet users, Online Sunshine is the official site for the Legislature: www.leg.state.fl.us

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