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    Utilities could hide personal data

    Today is the 18th day of the 60-day session.

    Compiled from Times wires
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 21, 2003

    Legislation that would exempt names and other information about residential and business customers of public utilities from being public record passed a Florida Senate committee Thursday.

    The Communication and Public Utilities Committee chaired by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, forwarded the bill by a 6-1 vote to the Governmental Oversight and Productivity Committee.

    The bill (SB 304), sponsored by Sen. Nancy Argenziano, R-Crystal River, would exempt from public disclosure under the Sunshine Law the name, address, telephone number, corporate taxpayer identification number and other data on customers held by several public utilities. It would apply to water, wastewater, solid waste, natural gas, electric, cable TV or telecommunications utilities owned or operated by a public agency. Bennett said such an exemption already exists for private utilities.

    The bill has been criticized by newspaper editors and the First Amendment Foundation, which believe the press and public have a right to the information.

    Former Sen. Curt Kiser, a lobbyist for the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, said the information has helped reporters track down officials who have violated their own water bans and said a private citizen has used utility records to find properties that were missing from tax rolls.

    A similar bill (HB 451) is moving through the House.

    Lawmaker fights for switchblades

    A bill approved by a House committee Thursday would allow firefighters and hunters to carry switchblade knives, which spring open at the push of a button.

    Rep. Greg Evers, R-Milton, said the bill (HB 1227) was needed because a judge recently interpreted a 1985 law that bans self-propelled knives to include switchblades.

    "What this bill would do is allow ... an automatic knife, where you push a button and a blade would come open," Evers said. "These knives are used by your fireman, by your policemen, by your hunters and collectors all across Florida."

    The House Criminal Justice Committee unanimously approved the bill. An identical bill (SB 2256) is pending in the Senate.

    Misuse of fertilizer targeted

    Rep. Dwight Stansel wants stiffer penalties for people who steal a common fertilizer and use it to make drugs.

    Stansel, D-Live Oak, said people steal anhydrous ammonia from farms and use it to make methamphetamines, but they don't now face a heavy penalty if caught.

    "You steal a 20-pound cylinder of anhydrous ammonia, it's maybe worth $2," said Stansel, who is a farmer.

    The House Criminal Justice Committee unanimously passed his bill (HB 785) that would make it a third-degree felony to steal the product. An identical bill (SB 785) is in the Senate.

    * * *

    For information about legislation, call 1-800-342-1827 or 1-850-488-4371 toll-free during business hours.

    The Legislature's official Web site:

    Capitol Update, a half-hour TV program on the day's legislative highlights, airs at 11 p.m. weekdays on many public stations. Check TV Times for schedules.

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