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    Condos could get to vote on sprinklers

    A bill heading toward approval would let owners of older high-rise units sidestep a law requiring sprinklers.

    By MICHAEL SANDLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 29, 2003

    TALLAHASSEE - A House bill allowing condominium owners to vote not to install costly sprinklers in older high-rise buildings received preliminary approval Monday, but not without some debate.

    Nearly a dozen House members questioned Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Lauderdale, on HB 165, which would relax a 1998 state law that requires sprinklers to be installed by 2014 in such buildings taller than 75 feet that were built without them. Condominium associations could sidestep the requirement with a two-thirds vote of members.

    Mack said it should be the property owners' decision. A similar bill (SB 592) has already passed the Florida Senate.

    "What this does is allow us to go home and look into the eyes of condo owners and say, "We trust you,"' Mack told his colleagues on the House floor.

    Firefighter associations have strongly opposed the bill, citing studies that show there has never been a multiple fatality in buildings with sprinklers. Without them, residents and firefighters face greater risk.

    Several members raised that point, and questioned Mack on how his bill might affect property insurance policies. One member said fire chiefs predicted a "towering inferno" because of this legislation.

    "What we've been concerned about is life safety issues with your bill," said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Dania.

    At one point Mack was asked if the bill was supported by police and fire chiefs. Mack said he has not heard any complaint beyond one from a state fire marshals association.

    "The fire marshal did not (support the bill)," said Mack, adding that the lobbyists also had an interest in sprinkler retrofitting industry.

    The bill will be debated today on the House floor, but is expected to pass.

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