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Penalty in pregnancy deaths could increase

Today is the 25th day of the 60-day session.

By Times wires and staff reports
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 28, 2003

A bill opposed by abortion rights advocates would allow the state to charge killers with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of pregnant women.

The bill (HB 707) approved 5-3 by the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice Thursday would allow prosecutors to apply the same charge in a crime against a pregnant woman -- such as first- or second-degree murder, manslaughter or vehicular homicide -- provided that the woman is far enough along in her pregnancy to feel the baby or if it could survive on its own.

Florida law already allows the prosecution of vehicular homicide for unborn babies killed in an accident if the fetus would have been able to survive on its own.

"The highest degree that you can be charged with in the death of that unborn child is manslaughter and it raises that to murder one, murder two -- whatever the death of the mother is," said bill sponsor Rep. Juan-Carlos Planas, R-Miami. "It ups the elevation of the crime."

Opponents were concerned that the measure would be used by foes of abortion rights.

"I know your intentions are good and you're trying to take care of the families of those victims . . . however, I think it also allows the door to be opened on the abortion debate and I don't want to do anything to open that door up for someone that doesn't have the same good intentions you have," said Rep. Heather Fiorentino, R-New Port Richey.

King eyes revival of fundraising tool

Senate President Jim King may try to revive leadership funds used by legislative leaders in the past to funnel campaign contributions to loyal candidates.

King said he has not decided whether he will seek a change in a 1989 law that prohibited the funds, but believes citizens could get a better accounting of what is collected and spent if the funds are re-established.

The law forbidding leadership funds was passed in 1989 as part of an elections reform measure. It was aimed at eliminating a system that allowed unlimited contributions to leadership funds, designed to ensure the election of a House speaker or Senate president.

King said he raised more than $8-million for candidates last year but had to funnel it all through the Florida Republican Party.

Changing the law would make it easier to see who is donating to leaders and how they are spending the money, King said.

State's attorney general second in succession plan

Should Gov. Jeb Bush be unable to fulfill his role as state leader, a succession plan is in place.

Legislators on Thursday approved the plan, made necessary by the new streamlined restructuring of the Cabinet.

Should the governor become incapacitated, the lieutenant governor would take over, followed by the attorney general, the chief financial officer; the commissioner of agriculture; the president of the Senate; the speaker of the House; the president pro tempore of the Senate; the speaker pro tempore of the House; and the secretary of state.

Bush must sign off on the plan before it becomes law.

Auto insurance break for military advances

The Senate unanimously approved a bill to require insurance companies to refund 100 percent of the unused portion of car insurance premiums when members of the U.S. Armed Forces cancel the policy because they are called to duty.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, sponsored the bill, which goes to the House. Under current law, insurance companies can keep 10 percent of the unused portion of a premium when a policy holder cancels.

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: www.leg.state.fl.us

Capitol Update, a half-hour TV program on the day's legislative highlights, airs nightly on public stations. Check TV Times for schedules.

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