School bus stops could be moving
By Times staff writer, Associated Press
The House Education Committee on Monday unanimously approved a bill that would require local school boards to make sure they don't locate bus stops within 1,000 feet of where certain sex offenders live.
Current law prohibits repeat sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, day care center, park or other places where children congregate.
Rep. Dick Kravitz, R-Orange Park, sponsored the bill, saying parents would rather have school bus stops moved than to have their children waiting at a spot close to where a sex offender lives.
If the bill becomes law, school boards would have to move bus stops away from residences of sex offenders who have been released under state supervision. School officials would be required to send a list of bus stops to the state Department of Corrections for review before a residency is established by an offender leaving prison.
The state currently has about 3,248 offenders under active supervision. About 330 were sex offenders and about 30 were convicted of an offense involving a minor juvenile and would be among those prohibited from living near a school bus stop.
Some committee members suggested the requirement would create chaos in school systems where bus stops are frequently relocated. But no member voted against the bill.
A similar bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-Port Richey, is pending in the Senate but has not been heard in committee.
Anti-slots group rejoins fight
No Casinos, a group formed in 1978 to fight casinos in Florida, is coming back to life to wage war against slot machines at parimutuel facilities.
The Senate Finance and Taxation Committee today will consider a bill that would raise more than $1-billion a year by allowing video lottery terminals at horse and dog tracks and jai lai frontons. The terminals are similar to slot machines but offer vouchers for money instead of cash.
Bay County Sheriff Guy Tunnell on Monday joined No Casinos director John Sowinski and others to denounce any expansion of gambling. Tunnell said all 67 of the state's sheriffs oppose it because the cost of providing law enforcement always increases dramatically where gambling is allowed.
Senate President Jim King has suggested the additional money would help the state balance its budget in a year when it is considering drastic budget cuts. House Speaker Johnnie Byrd and Gov. Jeb Bush oppose the measure.
Sowinski noted that Floridians voted down casino gambling in 1978, 1986 and 1994. The last time, 66 of 67 counties opposed it. Only Broward supported it.
More tribal autonomy -- and less
A bill designed to give the Miccosukee Indians more control over their lives was approved Monday night by the House Judiciary Committee. But the bill was one no one could love.
The Miccosukees want the state to give up all civil and criminal jurisdiction on reservations, leaving all law enforcement and court decisions up to the tribe and federal courts. Committee members amended the bill to retain state jurisdiction over crimes and civil cases involving non-Indians in an effort to reach a compromise between law enforcement officials and prosecutors, who oppose the bill, and the tribe's 16 lobbyists.
"The Miccosukees deserve to be respected and you have done exactly the opposite," complained Michael Diaz, one of the lawyers for the tribe.
Rep. Ralph Arza, R-Hialeah, sponsor of the bill, said he will continue pushing to win approval of the original version. "We're still alive," he said. A similar bill has been approved in committee in the Senate and awaits floor action.
-- LUCY MORGAN
Nursing home pay hikes mandated
A measure requiring nursing homes to increase pay for their staff advanced in the Senate, over objections from the nursing home industry that it is unfair to mandate a pay hike without more money to pay for it.
Under the bill (SB 2096), part of the Medicaid money that goes to nursing homes would have to be dedicated to a $1-per-hour raise or increase in benefits for the staff. It was approved by the Senate Health, Aging and Long-Term Care Committee 5-3. It still needs approval from two Senate budget committees before going to the full chamber.
The federal-state Medicaid program pays for the majority of nursing home care statewide. Nursing home owners argue that they already lose money on Medicaid patients.
"No one can argue against wanting to raise wages," said Tony Marshall, a lobbyist for the Florida Health Care Association. But he said the measure would have "a devastating negative impact" on homes and may force them to cut back in other areas of care to pay for the increased pay.
A similar measure (HB 1529) is moving in the House.
-- ASSOCIATED PRESS
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire