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    Legislature in brief

    Today is the 39th day of the 60-day session.

    March 1, 2002

    Doctors and nurses are squabbling over a bill that would let aides who aren't registered nurses assist anesthesiologists in operating rooms.

    The Florida Association of Nurse Anesthetists on Thursday launched a campaign aimed at blocking a Senate bill (SB 966). The group lost its fight in the House, where a similar measure (HB 599) passed 71-47 on Feb. 13.

    The legislation would let a person be an anesthesiologist assistant with a year of clinical training. The Florida Society of Anesthesiology, a doctors' group, seeks the measure, claiming a nursing shortage makes it necessary.

    Some physicians, however, are lining up with the nurses, and both sides accuse the other of being more concerned about profits than patients.

    "It promotes the bottom line for one group of physicians, namely the anesthesiologists," Dr. Richard Anderson, an internal medicine specialist from Fort Myers, said at the nursing group's news conference. He said anesthesiologists could pay non-nurses less but charge the same fees.

    Gambling interests win another round

    Another day, another vote for gambling.

    A day after senators agreed to let charities sell instant scratch-off bingo tickets, they voted for expanding operating hours and raising the betting limits in card rooms at Florida's racetracks.

    The 21-13 vote sent the bill (SB 160) to the House, where a similar one (HB 631) awaiting action goes much further by legalizing slot machines at the tracks.

    Six years ago, then-Gov. Lawton Chiles agreed to a bill legalizing poker rooms at tracks under very strict limits, including a $10 pot limit. The new bill expands the limit to $200 per pot.

    Critics, such as Sen. Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg, attacked the idea of Florida getting money "on the backs of the gambling public."

    Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, the sponsor, denied she was expanding gambling in Florida. She said her bill is a "clarification" that makes it easier for bettors to go to card rooms. "It's pointless to have them if nobody goes," she told the Senate.

    Both bills also require dog tracks to promote greyhound adoption programs.

    Extra help for Parole Commission

    Six senators succeeded Thursday in adding $2.5-million to the Parole Commission budget.

    The money will be used to add 29 employees and cope with a big backlog of cases of former felons unable to get their right to vote restored after serving their sentences.

    The money came from a program to supervise juvenile offenders.

    Sen. Kendrick Meek's amendment requires the Department of Corrections to offer a clemency application form to every inmate released from prison or community supervision.

    Meek, D-Miami, was joined by five Democrats, all African-Americans who have tried to make it easier to restore voting rights. He said 45,000 cases are awaiting action, and some take more than two years to resolve. Many of those who cannot vote are black.

    Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa, said he held a workshop on the issue last year in south St. Petersburg and was shocked at the response. "For three hours they lined up outside the doors," Miller said. "Something is absolutely wrong here."

    Coordinating growth with schools

    Last year, Gov. Jeb Bush pushed a bill that would have required local governments to say no to new development in neighborhoods where schools are overcrowded. The effort collapsed after developers loudly opposed it.

    On Thursday, a watered-down version of that legislation easily passed the Senate, 34-1. The bill (CS SB 382) says school boards and local governments must share information and plan together for growth. It does not say local government has to turn down development where schools are too crowded. And it does not include any strategy for raising money to build new schools.

    Several other growth management bills are moving through the House and Senate, including one that would allow developers to create special taxing districts in new neighborhoods to help fund school construction.

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    From the Times state desk