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  • Legislature in brief

  • From the state wire

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  • Tourism suffers across Florida after pummeling by hurricanes
  • Key dates in the life of Terri Schiavo
  • An excerpt from the unanimous ruling in the Schiavo case
  • Four confirmed dead after small plane crash in Panhandle
  • Correction: Disney-Cruise Line story

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    Legislature in brief

    By ALISA ULFERTS, LUCY MORGAN and Associated Press
    February 28, 2002

    Today is the 38th day of the 60-day session.

    Sales tax holiday bill advances

    A repeat of the popular state sales tax holiday aimed at back-to-school shoppers advanced in the House on Wednesday.

    The Fiscal Responsibility Council approved, 20-5, a nine-day late summer break from the 6 percent tax on some clothes and school supplies. It is the final committee stop for the bill (HB 97) before the House floor. Gov. Jeb Bush supports it.

    But due to a tight economy, the tax break may not be back for its fifth year. It is not in the budget being written by the Senate.

    House sponsor Rep. Bev Kilmer, R-Quincy, said it would cost the state just under $20-million.

    Medicaid funding called critical

    Advocates for the sick and disabled gathered Wednesday to urge lawmakers to restore key Medicaid programs that were cut in last year's special session.

    To different degrees, Gov. Jeb Bush and the Senate propose restoring the cuts in their budget plans, but the House does not. But none of those plans are enough, said representatives from the Florida Hospital Association and Florida Legal Services.

    Advocates say people who received organ transplants and depend on Medicaid's Medically Needy program for their post-transplant medications are particularly at risk if that program isn't restored.

    The Medically Needy program is for people who have suffered a catastrophic illness or injury and have used up their own insurance but don't qualify for regular Medicaid.

    Feeney defends aide

    House Speaker Tom Feeney lashed out Wednesday at a newspaper reporter who has been investigating Bridgette Gregory, a $56,000-a-year policy analyst in his office.

    "She's one of the busiest state employees we have," Feeney said at an unusual news conference he called to defend her.

    Feeney apparently was angry at Shirish V. Date, a Palm Beach Post reporter who has been calling Gregory's family, friends and associates.

    Gregory, 27, previously worked for the Republican Party of Florida and has helped with Feeney's exploratory campaign for Congress. Feeney said she has not done campaign work on state time and has reimbursed the state for all personal phone calls she made on a state cell phone. Last fall she was paid $11,000 by the campaign when she took five weeks off without pay from her House job, a common practice among state officials.

    Besides other duties, Gregory has handled special events for the speaker's office, Feeney said. She is "incredibly talented and very bright and if anything, underpaid." Date declined to comment.

    No exception to cloning ban

    A move to exempt medical research from legislation that would ban human cloning failed in the House.

    The chamber voted 66-49 to kill an amendment that would limit the ban to reproductive cloning but permit research on therapeutic cloning for treating patients with such diseases as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

    The bill (HB 805) banning human cloning will go to a final House vote Friday or next week. An identical bill (SB 1164) has been approved in two Senate committees.

    Bills stand up for flag fliers

    Homeowners' rights to fly the American flag would be better protected under two bills advanced by the Senate.

    One (CS SB 148) would let any homeowner display a portable American flag in a respectful manner -- regardless of any restrictions to the contrary in the rules of a homeowners association.

    The other (CS SB 150) would make it unlawful to stop anyone from flying a flag unless the display threatened someone's health or safety.

    A similar bill (HB 177) awaits a vote by the full House.

    The legislation is in reaction to the fight between a Jupiter man and his homeowners association. A Palm Beach County judge sided with the association last June, ruling that former Marine George Andres was violating its rule barring flagpoles.

    Cell phones out of local hands?

    Cities and counties could not prohibit the use of hand-held cell phones while driving under a bill (SB 358) the Senate passed. It went to the House, where a companion bill (HB 233) awaits a floor vote.

    The legislation reserves all regulation of cell phone use to the state. It also directs the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to collect data on accidents caused by driver distraction and report back.

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    From the Times state desk