By Times staff writers, Associated Press
Published April 27, 2004
With bipartisan support, the Senate passed a tax on off-brand cigarettes Monday and sent it to an uncertain fate in the House.
The Senate voted 28-8 to impose a tax of 20 cents a pack of off-brand cigarettes beginning July 1. The tax would increase to 40 cents a year later.
The bill targets cigarette companies that have grown statewide because they don't make payments to Florida under the landmark tobacco settlement agreement.
The tax would raise about $20-million the first year, said Senate President Jim King.
The Senate voted Monday that cigarette tax dollars should go into the Tobacco Settlement Clearing Trust, instead of general revenue.
The off-brand taxes would be combined with Big Tobacco settlement payments, which lawmakers have largely directed toward funding health care for elderly and children.
About $16-million a year would replenish programs to help stop teen smoking and $2-million would go to minority health care programs.
House Speaker Johnnie Byrd has said the House would consider the cigarette tax.
But several lobbyists for smaller cigarette companies opposed to the tax said the bill was in trouble in the House, because many members, including Byrd, have pledged to oppose any new taxes this year.
- JENNIFER LIBERTO
Condo owners would regain right to rent out
Condominium boards could no longer strip owners of the right to rent out their property under a bill that passed the Florida Senate 25-10 Monday.
The bill (SB 1184), which is expected to be approved by the House as soon as today, also creates a governor-appointed condominium ombudsman to mediate disputes between owners and condo association boards.
A $4 annual fee condo owners already pay would fund the ombudsman's office. The money now goes to a general fund for all state services.
The bill is in response to a heavy lobbying campaign by several condominium owners, in particular Steve Comley of Amelia Island, who told lawmakers his retirement security was threatened when his condo board barred owners from renting their units. When Comley bought the unit rentals were allowed.
Comley, watching the Senate vote Monday, was enthusiastic. "It's certainly an indication the system is trying to work for the people," he said.
- JONI JAMES
Canker search warrants extension goes to Bush
Search warrants allowing state agents fighting citrus canker to enter yards to remove infected and exposed trees would be valid for 60 days instead of 10 under a bill the House passed 76-41 Monday and sent to Gov. Jeb Bush.
The measure was approved over objections of a number of South Florida lawmakers who said constituents are angry about the tactics Department of Agriculture officials are using in the canker eradication effort.
It was supported, however, by lawmakers from Central Florida, where citrus growers are nervously watching the canker situation. Canker has so far been confined to South Florida, but if it reaches the grovelands of the middle of the state, the state's $60-billion agriculture industry could be decimated.
"This is the AIDS of the citrus industry," said Rep. Baxter Troutman, R-Winter Haven, a citrus grower.
Bush hasn't said whether he'll sign the measure.
Proponents say it would help state officials unclog court processes bogged down as officials seek new warrants.
Citrus canker is a contagious bacteria, typically spread by wind or animals and causing trees to drop their leaves and fruit prematurely.
Sex offenders' home sites further restricted
Sex offenders under supervision following release from prison won't be able to live within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop under a bill passed unanimously by the House Monday and sent to Gov. Jeb Bush.
People convicted of sexually abusing minors are already banned from living within 1,000 feet of playgrounds and other places where children congregate. The bill (SB 120) expands the list to school bus stops.
The bill also requires school districts to be notified about sex offenders' residences, so officials could avoid adding bus stops around those locations.
"The tide is finally turning for victims of crimes. They're finally getting their due recognition," said Rep. Dick Kravitz, R-Jacksonville.
Foreign students' aid would go to Floridians
Money that goes to help foreign students afford college in Florida would instead go to boost the number of Florida students who can get financial aid under a bill passed 103-10 Monday by the House. It now goes to the Senate.
A small number of students from foreign countries each year now get the out-of-state portion of their tuition waived by Florida universities as an enticement to choose this state's schools over others.
Bill sponsor Rep. Dick Kravitz, R-Jacksonville, said the bill "puts Florida residents and their families first."
"Last year, $5.7-million of your money and your constituents' money were given to foreign students," Kravitz said.
Under the measure (HB 341), foreign students still could be paid to work as teaching or research assistants or in other campus jobs. And they would still be eligible for fellowships, but basic grants would be prohibited.
House to drivers: Don't park in passing lane
Drivers would not be able to use passing lanes unless they were actually passing another vehicle under a bill the House passed Monday on a 116-1 vote.
Drivers who don't move back to the right after passing would face a $60 fine, $30 in court costs and four points on their license under the bill (HB 1341) sponsored by Rep. Ken Sorensen, R-Key Largo.
Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, voted against the bill.
- ASSOCIATED PRESS
For information about legislation, call 1-800-342-1827 or 1-850-488-4371 toll-free during business hours. The Legislature's official Web site: www.leg.state.fl.us