Senators sneer at foes of Indian bill
© St. Petersburg Times
TALLAHASSEE -- A bill to eliminate state jurisdiction over Miccosukee Indian land was approved by a Senate committee openly hostile to opponents.
The bill (CS SB 2248) is opposed by Gov. Jeb Bush, Attorney General Bob Butterworth and law enforcement officials around the state, who fear it could spark the spread of casino gambling and leave the victims of crimes on Indian reservations without adequate protection.
Senate Criminal Justice Committee chairman Victor Crist, R-Tampa, and others on the committee were highly critical of prosecutors and law enforcement officers who testified against the bill, which is being pushed by influential South Florida lobbyists.
"I'm surprised to hear all this opposition to a bill that's been here for two months," Crist said after advising the audience he would limit testimony.
The Senate version was introduced Feb. 19 by Sen. Rudy Garcia, R-Hialeah, but was not scheduled for a hearing until late last week after a similar bill sailed through the House policy council without being heard in committee.
The two bills were not linked in the Legislature's computer system, leaving some interested parties unaware that both bills existed.
But that didn't stop Crist and Sen. Ron Silver, D-North Miami Beach, from publicly criticizing opponents in an extremely hostile meeting.
"Does the statewide prosecutor have a computer system?" Silver asked sarcastically after hearing Assistant Statewide Prosecutor Jim Schneider object to the bill. "I would suggest that the statewide prosecutor get to know the process a little better."
Schneider said the bill had not been on anyone's radar screen until last week when it suddenly surfaced in the House.
James T. "Tim" Moore, director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said the current system, giving police jurisdiction with tribes and federal authorities, should not be tossed aside without further study.
Garcia said he introduced the bill at the request of the Miccosukees because the tribe should be treated like other Indian tribes around the country.
Only Sens. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, and Locke Burt, R-Ormond Beach, voted against the bill. Smith is a former prosecutor who said he was unaware of the bill until Monday morning.
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From the Times state desk
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