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Senate panel okays revived civil rights bill

By Associated Press
Published May 16, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - A civil rights bill that failed to pass in the final moments of the regular legislative session cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday and headed to the floor for a possible vote.

The bill would give the state attorney general the power to sue people or groups engaging in a pattern of discrimination.

A similar bill died May 2 when senators said they did not have time to evaluate changes that were made in the House.

Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, the sponsor of the new Senate bill, said he thought differences with the House were close to resolution.

The House voted Thursday to take up a similar bill in the special session, which ends May 27.

The Senate bill (SB 46A) drops a provision that was in the earlier Senate bill that would have included pregnant women among those protected against discrimination.

It retains a provision that the House did not adopt in the regular session that would require the attorney general to get a judge's approval to proceed with a suit within five days of filing it.

Carole Griffin, representing the conservative Eagle Forum, complained that the language in the bill was so vague it could open the door to harassment of religious groups or organizations such as the Boy Scouts.

"The legislation is alarming," Griffin said.

But Sen. Rod Smith, D-Gainesville, insisted there were safeguards against an attorney general's misusing the power.

"There's nothing for the churches to be scared about in this bill," Smith said.

Board of governors

The Senate Education Committee approved a bill (SB 36A) to establish the board of governors to supervise the state's 11 public universities to comply with a constitutional amendment voters passed in November. An identical bill in the House (HB 51A) is scheduled for a final floor vote today. The measure sets staggered terms for the board members as well as those serving as trustees for the various universities. It also caps the state's responsibility for university presidential salaries at $225,000, although individual schools can - and already do - pay added amounts from private sources. It excludes health insurance and retirement benefits.

[Last modified May 16, 2003, 02:01:19]

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