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New incentive could bring stronger seat belt law

Today is the 24th day of the 60-day session.

By Times staff and wire reports
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 27, 2003

Rep. Irv Slosberg's campaign for a tougher seat belt law may have its best chance at passage in four years of trying.

It's personal for Slosberg, a Democrat from Boca Raton. His 14-year-old daughter Dori wasn't wearing a seat belt when she was killed in a car crash in 1996.

Drivers, front seat passengers and anyone under 18 must wear a seat belt already under Florida law. But police can issue a citation only if they pull a motorist over for some other reason and notice a seat belt violation. Slosberg's bill would allow police to pull over drivers when they see them not buckled up.

The measure (HB 125) cleared its first committee Wednesday, on an 8-1 vote in the Subcommittee on Transportation Safety. It has five more House committee stops before it can come up for a floor vote.

One of those who voted for it in committee had voted against it before. Asked why she changed her mind, Rep. Susan Bucher, D-Lantana, spoke for a number of converts. "Federal money," she said.

A new federal grant program allows states that increase seat belt use to get extra transportation money, critical in tight budget times. If usage goes up, Florida could get an extra $9-million a year. In addition, draft legislation in Congress could provide Florida with $50-million in transportation money just for passing the bill.

Money also is driving the bill in the Senate.

"It's never had a better shot," said Senate sponsor Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston.

Haridopolos now senator; Altman elected to House

Voters in four east-central Florida counties Tuesday overwhelmingly chose Republicans in two legislative races prompted by the Jan. 23 death of Sen. Howard Futch.

In Senate District 26, which Futch had represented, former state Rep. Mike Haridopolos, 33, of Melbourne won with 63 percent of the vote to Democratic candidate Donna Hart's 37 percent.

Running for Haridopolos' old House District 30 seat, former Brevard County Commissioner Thad Altman, 47, of Melbourne won with 72 percent to Libertarian Bruce Wechsler's 28 percent.

They will be sworn in today.

Bush calls revived ERA drive 'a retro subject'

Gov. Jeb Bush called a campaign to resurrect efforts to ratify the national Equal Rights Amendment "a retro subject" Wednesday and compared it to wearing bell-bottom trousers.

"Look around this office at the women who have most important positions of responsibility," Bush said. "I don't see the need. I don't believe women should be discriminated against, but this would generate a lot of heat and not a lot of light."

Bush said he puts the movement in the same category as the campaign against affirmative action that Californian Ward Connerly tried to wage in Florida several years ago.

A plaudit for Lennard

Hillsborough County Schools superintendent Earl Lennard was honored Wednesday by the Florida Senate for being named State School Superintendent of the Year by the Florida Association of School Superintendents.

Senators approved a resolution thanking Lennard Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa, noted that Lennard "has proven that with teamwork anything is possible." Lennard started as superintendent in 1996.

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