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    Legislature

    House debate: Do organ donors' rights supersede families'?

    Today is the 58th day of the 60-day session.

    By Compiled from Times wires
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 30, 2003

    The wishes of organ donors would trump the objections of their family members under a measure debated by the House Tuesday.

    The little-noticed bill exposed a rare rift in the Republican-controlled House, with members split between those who said donors' wishes are sacrosanct and those who argued that family members are often astonished to learn that much of their loved one's organs and tissue might be harvested.

    The measure (SB 530), clarifying that an anatomical donation is nonrevocable except by the donor, could get a final vote this week, which would send it to Gov. Jeb Bush.

    Tuesday's debate primarily focused on whether donors' wishes supersede the rights of their families. A staff analysis of the bill found that it is common for organ teams to bow to the wishes of the family regardless of the deceased's wishes, out of compassion and respect for the family at a stressful, emotional time.

    But the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, said the donation wishes of donors should override their families' considerations, just as their wishes expressed in a will would.

    Fellow Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley tried, but failed, to derail the proposal, saying it "totally annihilates the next of kin's consensus."

    Baxley, a funeral director, said he often deals with family members wrestling with the effects of traumatic death - and the prospect of organ donation.

    Most organ donors hadn't discussed with their families, Baxley said. "It's all a big surprise." And he said many survivors are distraught when they cannot have an open-casket funeral because so little remains of a body after complete tissue donation.

    House okays murder charge in killing of unborn child

    Prosecutors would be able to charge accused slayers with two counts of first-degree murder in deaths of pregnant women under a bill that passed the House Tuesday.

    Abortion rights advocates oppose the bill, but supporters say it has more to do with punishing someone who kills a wanted child than it does about a woman choosing to end her pregnancy.

    The bill (HB 707) 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 - to the death of her fetus, provided the woman was far enough along in her pregnancy to feel the baby.

    Under current law, a person who kills a pregnant woman can only be charged with manslaughter for the death of her fetus at the same level of pregnancy.

    "This is not about trying to take a woman's rights away ... this is about a woman who chooses to have her baby, who is eight months pregnant, who somehow some perpetrator stalks her and kills her unborn child. Why should that person get manslaughter? Why shouldn't that person get first-degree murder?" said Rep. Gus Barreiro, R-Miami Beach.

    The bill passed 70-44. A similar bill (SB 2072) is stalled in the Senate.

    Sales tax would be applied to mail, Internet purchase

    The state would be able to collect nearly $1-billion a year in sales taxes on items purchased by mail or the Internet under a bill that advanced in the Senate.

    "This is not a new tax," Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, D-Tamarac, said. "This is not a tax increase."

    Campbell said the bill would merely collect money the state is already owed and is supported by businesses in Florida, which are at a disadvantage because they must collect the 6 percent state sales tax while companies outside the state do not.

    He said state law now requires people ordering merchandise via the Internet to file a form and send the tax to the state, but shoppers rarely do it.

    The bill (SB 1776) would require the seller to collect the tax and send it to the state. There is no similar House bill.

    Preschool rule would help keep track of foster kids

    A bill approved 38-0 by the Senate Monday is designed to prevent children in Department of Children and Families care from disappearing.

    The bill (SB 1318) would require any child age 3 and older who is under DCF supervision and already in a preschool program to remain enrolled. It would also require preschools to tell DCF about any consecutive unexcused absences.

    Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, the measure's sponsor, contends the bill would have prevented a case like that of Rilya Wilson of Miami, who was 5 when DCF learned she had been missing for 15 months from foster care. She was enrolled in a preschool program, but her caretaker removed her.

    There are about 9,500 3- and 4-year-olds in DCF care, and about 5,600 of them are in preschool programs.

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