Four Florida mayors, including Rick Baker of St. Petersburg, sought assurances Tuesday from Gov. Jeb Bush that the state won't pass on expensive state programs to financially strapped cities.
The mayors also urged the state not to drain an affordable-housing fund, as the House's proposed budget has done.
"I believe the governor is very receptive to the cities," said Baker, a Bush supporter last year. "He understands the difficulties in the urban centers."
Baker said St. Petersburg is facing increased employee pension costs to make up for heavy losses in the stock market. Former Democratic state Sen. Buddy Dyer, recently elected mayor of Orlando, said he was forced to impose $23-million in budget cuts, including unpaid furloughs for top-level employees.
The group also discussed annexation policy, water use and rising health care costs for cities.
Other mayors present included Manny Diaz of Miami and Jim Naugle of Fort Lauderdale.
- STEVE BOUSQUET
Regier grilled, gets a yes
The Senate Committee on Children and Families voted to confirm Department of Children and Families Secretary Jerry Regier, after peppering him with pointed questions.
Senators spent an hour grilling Regier on everything from his career history to whether he checked the proper box on his application for secretary.
Committee Chairwoman Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, had to call in Senate ethics staffers to determine whether Regier filled out his application correctly on a question of whether he was ever found guilty of an ethics violation.
Regier also was asked about a boy who died in the state of Oklahoma's care while Regier held a similar post there. Doctors failed to catch a medical condition and the boy died at a youth boot camp.
Regier, whom Gov. Jeb Bush reappointed in December, still needs approval from the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee and the full Senate.
- ALICIA ULFERTS
Phosphate firms for tax
In a year when state legislators are loath to raise taxes, the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday approved a tax increase sought by the people who would pay it.
Phosphate mining companies agreed to an increase in a special tax on their industry because of an environmental crisis that threatens Tampa Bay.
Mulberry Phosphate went bankrupt two years ago, leaving the Department of Environmental Protection grappling with a pair of abandoned plants full of polluted waste. One, the Piney Point plant just south of the Hillsborough County line, holds more than 1-billion gallons of waste that could spill into the bay if there is too much rain.
DEP officials are hoping federal officials will allow them to dump that waste into the Gulf of Mexico, starting 50 miles off St. Pete Beach. The cleanup is wiping out a state fund that's supposed to pay for cleaning up all Florida phosphate stacks. To replenish the fund, the committee voted 6-0 for a bill that would boost the tax on phosphate from $1.32 a ton to $1.62.
That will produce an additional $9-million a year, said state Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, sponsor of the bill.
- CRAIG PITTMAN
Seniors cheer King stand
Senate President Jim King spoke at a medical malpractice rally and got a much friendlier reception than he did last week.
When King addressed a crowd of about 3,000 doctors last week, the crowd booed and jeered, with some doctors suggesting he have a heart attack. That's because he and Senate colleagues oppose capping jury pain-and-suffering awards in malpractice cases, which doctors say is the only answer to rising insurance premiums.
On Tuesday King was cheered by senior citizens who oppose caps.
About 2,000 members of AARP gathered to support prescription drug programs, continued protection for nursing home patients and community-based care.
"Some say there can be no improvement to our medical malpractice problems without caps," King told the crowd, "but that is like saying there is only one way to get to New York City."
Capping noneconomic damages at $250,000 is supported by Gov. Jeb Bush and the House.
"If you believe in what we are trying to do, stand up to the House and the governor," King said.
Panel approves Hood
Former Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood was unanimously approved as secretary of state by a Senate committee after answering a series of tough questions by Democrats.
Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, questioned her handling of several projects while she was mayor and whether she discriminated against minorities in annexing land next to the city.
Noting that she received the support of more than 80 percent of Orlando's Hispanic and African-American communities, Hood said the city followed the law in annexations and could not annex people who didn't want to be in the city.
Other committee members, including Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs, praised Hood for her work as mayor. In a final vote, Lawson joined the vote for her confirmation.
Hood's appointment by Gov. Jeb Bush goes next to the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee and then to the Senate floor.
Lobbyist faces charge
A lobbyist visiting the Capitol Tuesday was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon after Capitol Police saw a .25-caliber semiautomatic Raven in his bag as he went through security.
Christopher G. Farmer told police he used the gun at a rifle and pistol club over the weekend and forgot it was in his bag.
Farmer was booked into jail and later released on $1,000 bail.
- LUCY MORGAN
[Last modified April 18, 2003, 13:17:22]
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