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    Panel ponders 3 amendments, costs

    Lawmakers ''will do our level best'' to implement the class size, smoking ban and prekindergarten measures, Senate President Jim King says.

    ©Associated Press
    January 7, 2003

    TALLAHASSEE -- A state Senate committee took its first look Monday at three constitutional amendments that the Legislature has to figure out how to pay for and put in place.

    Senate President Jim King pledged that lawmakers would "do our level best" to implement the amendments, which require the state to provide the money to lower class sizes, ban smoking from restaurants and most other workplaces and offer prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds.

    The Jacksonville Republican told those he's chosen to chair committees that they may face tough votes on program cuts or tax hikes to come up with the money needed for the amendments.

    "None of us want to do this but we are acting because the people of this state told us they wanted us to be prepared," King said.

    However, he added that lawmakers might go back to voters and ask them to limit the class size measure if the original version proves too difficult.

    The president said he'd also like to get "feedback from the folks that elected us" on the ways lawmakers may come up to pay for class size reductions.

    A Senate committee is charged with coming up with recommendations for implementing the class size amendment, the early education measure and the smoking ban.

    "I didn't like these amendments," King told the committee. "I campaigned against a lot of these amendments. But these amendments are now law."

    King urged the panel to be creative in recommending how the state could meet the requirements of the class size amendment.

    Under the measure, by 2010 a classroom can have no more than 18 pupils in prekindergarten through third grade, 22 pupils in fourth through eighth grades and 25 students in high school. Between now and then, lawmakers must provide the money to reduce the average class size by two students per year -- but lawmakers get to decide what "average" is.

    Another amendment discussed bans smoking in restaurants and most workplaces. It's expected to be one of the most heavily lobbied issues of the session, which begins March 4, warned Sen. Tom Lee, the Brandon Republican chairing the committee. The amendment directs the Legislature to pass a law to implement the ban by July 1.

    "What happens if we run into a train wreck here and can't get anything passed?" Lee asked staff.

    Staff is still researching that question. But Lee later said the Legislature would pass a law.

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