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Scientology program may fall to budget ax

The sponsor gets word that Bush plans to veto $500,000 for the prison program.

By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Staff Writer
Published May 26, 2005

TALLAHASSEE - A $500,000 program that uses some teachings of Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard to help prison inmates likely will be vetoed by the governor today, the bill's sponsor says.

The program, known as Criminon, was quietly added to the state budget by one powerful legislator: Rep. Gus Barreiro, a Miami Beach Republican. He heads the House subcommittee overseeing billions of dollars in criminal justice spending.

Barreiro said he supported a pilot project using Criminon as a faith-based program that has worked in other states. He said he did not know whether Scientology's teachings were part of the program, and the Legislature's staff did not analyze whether Criminon was effective at rehabilitating prisoners.

"If a guy can become a Christian and stay off drugs and not be a detriment to himself and his family, I could care less what religion they pursue," Barreiro said. "I don't care if they become Jewish or Baptist or Scientologist or whatever. I only hope that person, when they come out of prison, won't commit crimes that will hurt society."

But Barreiro apparently could not persuade Gov. Jeb Bush to support Criminon. The lawmaker voiced disappointment Wednesday after learning that Bush will veto the $500,000 appropriation, ending, for now, any chance of Criminon coming to the Florida prison system.

Bush will sign the $63-billion budget today and will disclose which projects he has vetoed. Spokeswoman Alia Faraj declined to say whether the Criminon money would be vetoed.

Barreiro was not alone. Lawmakers all over the state were disappointed after learning that some of their prized budget causes would be vetoed.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, expressed dismay after learning Bush planned to reject $50,000 for a Pasco camp for disadvantaged children that has been funded in past years. Fasano said emergency shelters for people with special needs in Pasco and Hernando counties also were on the chopping block.

Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, bemoaned Bush's expected veto of $500,000 to finish the design of an interchange in a fast-growing area of northwest Hillsborough County, at Lutz-Lake Fern Road and Suncoast Parkway. The interchange is close to the site of a new high school, Ambler said, making it an example of the kind of growth management Bush has advocated.

To get into the budget in the first place, a program needs only one powerful patron with access to the public purse, and Criminon had Barreiro.

At Barreiro's request, the director of Criminon International in Los Angeles, Greg Capazorio, spoke at a workshop meeting of Barreiro's committee in February.

"We're secular. We're nonreligious," Capazorio said Wednesday. "The church gives us a lot of support, and obviously we use L. Ron Hubbard's secular works."

He said Criminon teaches life skills to hard-core inmates to restore their self-esteem, deal with anger management and prepare them for life on the outside, as it does in New York and Rhode Island.

As Criminon's Web site notes, the core of the prison program is The Way to Happiness, Hubbard's 1981 book that has been widely distributed around the world. Critics of Scientology have argued that the book is a recruiting tool for the church by using words and phrases that are part of Scientology's religious texts.

Barreiro and Criminon's director said Corrections Secretary James Crosby supported the project. Crosby, a Bush appointee, declined to say whether he did.

"I won't address budget issues until after the governor has taken a position," Crosby said.

Barreiro is the same lawmaker who sponsored a bill in the recently ended session that would have required schools to include any mental health treatment in a student's permanent record.

Prominent Scientologists such as actors Kirstie Alley and Kelly Preston, the wife of actor John Travolta, lobbied for the bill, as did a Scientology affiliated group, but it was watered down. The church opposes psychiatry and other mental health treatments.

Barreiro criticized the news media's coverage of the Church of Scientology.

"There's more emphasis put on discrediting the Church of Scientology than helping kids or empowering parents," Barreiro said. "The emphasis is on helping."

[Last modified May 26, 2005, 01:16:07]

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