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Pressure builds, time grows short

Protests and pressure on lawmakers appear to be backfiring as key legislative figures maintain their stance that Terri Schiavo gets her wish to go to "heaven."

By ALISA ULFERTS and CARRIE JOHNSON
Published March 23, 2005


TALLAHASSEE - The posters went up all over the Capitol first thing Tuesday morning: "Wanted: The Republican 9."

The fliers pictured the nine Republican senators who last week voted against legislation intended to prolong Terri Schiavo's life.

The fliers, which were quickly removed, underscored the pressure building up in Tallahassee as legal avenues to extend Schiavo's life narrow.

The state House last week passed a bill intended to keep Schiavo alive despite a judge's conclusion that she did not wish to be kept alive if she were incapacitated.

The pressure extends from U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who urged the Senate to act, to Gov. Jeb Bush, who said he has urged the same.

Security has increased at the Capitol to deal with protesters.

"I had a bunch of them in my office last week and they were very loud and wouldn't leave," said Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville, who wrote the state's death with dignity law and leads the bloc of Republican senators who don't want it changed.

King has had a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent posted outside his door since the Senate vote on the Schiavo matter.

An FDLE employee using his state e-mail account sent a message to legislators urging them to keep Schiavo alive. Scott Granger later said he regretted using his state computer to do it. FDLE is looking into the matter, according to a spokesman.

The protests appear to have backfired, strengthening the resolve of the so-called Republican Nine. Few senators appear to be wavering, according to Republican and Democratic leaders.

It could all come to a head this afternoon when the Senate convenes for the last time before a scheduled four-day Easter break. Compromise legislation was in the works, led by a Senate Democrat, but none seemed close at hand.

"With every day that passes, there is less likelihood that there's going to be a legislative or legal remedy that can save Terri's life," said Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon. "The support to do that is diminishing"

Emotions run strong

King had hoped to make it from the Commerce Committee he chairs to his office without incident Tuesday afternoon. Donna Kuntz of Lutz had other ideas. She joined a caravan earlier this week with several dozen other protesters and stood outside committee rooms with signs urging lawmakers to "Save Terri." Kuntz asked King to change his vote.

"I've done all I can do," King replied. "I've listened to you. I'm not changing my mind."

Kuntz continued to press.

"No. I'm done. I'm not changing," King said as he tried to walk toward his office.

Kuntz, sobbing, said, "I'm watching her dehydrate and die."

King said it is one of many encounters he's had with fervid Schiavo supporters.

"I'm really saddened by the fact people don't understand (that) for some of us, heaven is a place where we think Terri will go. And we think, as good ardent Christians, that heaven is a better thing than anything we have experienced here on earth," King said.

"We can't understand why anybody would try, particularly staunch Christian advocates, would try to deny Terri the opportunity to have what has always been described to us as the promised land, King added."

Besides King, the Republican 9 are Sens. Dennis Jones of Treasure Island; Nancy Argenziano of Dunnellon; JD Alexander of Frostproof; Michael Bennett of Bradenton; Lisa Carlton of Sarasota; Paula Dockery of Lakeland; Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach, and Burt Saunders of Naples.

After lunch, Alexander stepped away from a committee table momentarily only to be surrounded by a trio of people, including a man identifying himself as Dr. William Hammesfahr, a Clearwater neurologist who examined Schiavo for her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, and testified that Schiavo tried to follow simple commands and that her eyes fixed on her family. A judge called him "a self-promoter" in a court order.

Alexander told the group he had read some of the court documents.

"But they're full of misinformation," Hammesfahr said. "I've got the videotape. Can I show it to you?"

Alexander shook his head and said he wasn't interested. As he pushed his way into a senators-only side room, Hammesfahr tried to follow. "You can't come in here," Alexander said.

Later, Alexander said he wouldn't change his mind: "I hope people understand that we have made a very principled decision. Those of us who have voted this way believe an adult should be able to make their own decisions. I can't trade that."

For days, Argenziano's voice mailbox has been clogged with angry messages.

"One person told me they hoped I died from cancer, another said my family members should rot in hell," Argenziano said. "They are the most awful, venomous, un-Christian things you have ever heard."

But Argenziano said she won't change her position and had harsh words for Gov. Jeb Bush, whom she accused of inciting ill will against the Republican Nine.

"I feel like my political party has been hijacked," Argenziano said.

Bush has previously expressed deep disappointment with the Senate. On Tuesday evening, he said: "The House has been stellar in this, and Sen. (Tom) Lee has done what he can, so tomorrow's the day. If it doesn't happen then, I don't believe that there's any other legislative fix that's possible."

Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, has been working with Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, on a compromise bill that has a chance of passing the Senate. If they finish, they hope the Senate will pass it.

But as of Tuesday afternoon, Webster said: "I don't have the votes."

Times staff writers Lucy Morgan, Joni James and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

SENATE ON THE WEB

The Florida Senate will convene at 1 p.m. today to consider legislation related to Terri Schiavo. The bill SB 804 is sponsored by Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden. To see the Senate debate, go online at www.flsenate.gov You need a Windows media player to watch.