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    Legislature in brief

    ©Associated Press
    March 13, 2002


    Today is the 51st day of the 60-day session.

    * * *

    Environmentalists' concerns eased

    A bill to keep people from suing to block building projects simply because they oppose development was approved by a Senate committee Tuesday after changes addressing environmentalists' concerns.

    The bill (SB 270) would not allow someone to initiate a lawsuit challenging a building project unless that person is somehow affected by it. Environmentalists have said it would make it more difficult for citizens to challenge permits issued to developers.

    But among changes made was a provision letting existing environmental groups initiate lawsuits if they have at least 25 members in a county where a project is proposed. And once someone sued, anyone would be able to join the effort, said Senate Majority Leader Jim King, R-Jacksonville, the sponsor.

    "I did not drive a wooden stake into anybody's heart with this bill," King said.

    A similar bill (HB 819) is pending in the House.

    Fast train inches onward

    The high-speed rail system called for by voters who passed a constitutional amendment in 2000 received a cautious boost from the Senate Commerce and Economic Opportunities Committee.

    It approved a bill (SB 1992) authorizing the Florida High Speed Rail Authority to seek competitive proposals for design, construction, operations, maintenance and financing of the system. But the bill specifies that the authority cannot enter into a contract without legislative approval.

    Sponsor James Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, assured the committee that the state will not be stuck with the cost of building and operating the system, which would initially connect St. Petersburg, Tampa and Orlando.

    Sebesta said if the private sector will not pay for the system, he would lead efforts to persuade voters to reverse the amendment.

    Tribal authority revised

    Indian-on-Indian crimes would be handled by the Miccosukee tribal council or federal government under an amended bill approved by a Senate committee.

    The original legislation (SB 2248) would have any crime committed on the Miccosukee reservation prosecuted in federal and tribal courts.

    It still has two more committee stops before heading to the full Senate floor.

    A similar bill (HB 1771) is awaiting floor debate in the House.

    Tax holiday passes Senate panel

    A Senate committee kept a sales tax holiday bill alive, but it faces three more committees before it can reach a floor vote.

    The House passed a similar bill Monday.

    The Senate Commerce and Economic Opportunities Committee approved its bill (SB 214) on a party-line, 5-4 vote, with all four Democrats opposing it. They said the $39-million is needed for public schools.

    The bill exempts clothing, wallets and bags such as backpacks costing $100 or less from the 6 percent state sales tax for a week starting July 27. It was amended to apply only to Florida residents, who would have to show drivers' licenses or ID cards.

    The House bill (HB 97) has a $50 limit on the value of exempt items and does not restrict the exemptions to Floridians.

    Sent to the governor:

    A bill that started out as an effort to encourage the adoption of retired racing greyhounds, but was amended to allow larger pots and more operating hours in card rooms at racetracks and jai alai frontons. The bill (CS SB 160) passed 86-26 in the House. Its final fate is doubtful; Gov. Jeb Bush has opposed measures that expand gambling.

    A measure making it clear that residents may fly American flags in a respectful manner regardless of homeowners' association rules. The final House vote on the bill (CS SB 148) was 108-4.

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    From the Times state desk