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Bill alters law on autopsy photos

Today is the eighth day of the 60-day session.

By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 11, 2003

A bill limiting access to autopsy photos was amended Monday in an effort to spare surviving family members from having to view photos to acquire them.

The bill to make autopsy photos exempt from Florida's public records law was originally passed two years ago after NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt was killed in a crash at the Daytona Beach Speedway.

Earnhardt's widow, Teresa, requested passage of the law after the Orlando Sentinel requested copies of her late husband's autopsy photos.

The 2001 bill, rushed through the Legislature after thousands of NASCAR fans wrote to support Mrs. Earnhardt, said only surviving family members would have access to autopsy photos.

Rod Smith, D-Alachua, is the sponsor of a bill that would allow survivors such as Mrs. Earnhardt to designate someone else to view or obtain the photographs and other autopsy records.

Smith said the language in the original bill placed a hardship on family members who didn't want to see autopsy photos. The constitutionality of the original bill has been challenged by a number of news organizations. Lower courts upheld the law but those decisions have been appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which has yet to rule.

Crist seeks more authority

A bill that would expand the civil rights authority of Attorney General Charlie Crist was approved Monday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Crist said the extra authority is needed for situations such as one that developed in Perry when a bar owner refused to serve a black member of the Maryland Assembly.

Federal law would allow a civil rights lawsuit to be filed, but the state has no similar authority, Crist told committee members.

"It's important to me," said Allison Bethel, head of the civil rights division for Crist and former attorney general Bob Butterworth. "We should be able to handle these cases with our own laws without the need for federal intervention."

The bill passed unanimously. It goes next to the Senate Appropriations Committee. A similar bill filed in the House is scheduled for a committee hearing Wednesday.

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