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Bay region seeks more clout

Today is Day 3 of the 60-day session of the Florida Legislature.

By Times staff writer, Associated Press
Published March 9, 2006


The Tampa Bay region is trying to speak with a louder voice in the Florida Legislature.

Lawmakers representing eight counties - and 25 percent of the Legislature - agreed Wednesday evening to set and reach regional goals.

"We all represent a region that over time, day by day, is becoming less and less divided by county lines, and more and more united by issues," said Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

Galvano was elected chairman of the Bay Area delegation, which comprises 39 lawmakers from Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Citrus, Hernando, Manatee, Sarasota and Polk counties.

His initial priorities include bringing home funding for economic development and transportation projects.

"We can be strong. We can be very, very effective," said Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, who created the organization and chaired it for five years. He is leaving the Legislature due to term limits this fall.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, will serve as vice chairman. Leadership will rotate between the House and Senate and regional communities.

Tampa Bay lawmakers hope to replicate the lobbying force of South Florida lawmakers, whose coordinated efforts they envy. "This is what South Florida has done for years," said Rep. Ken Littlefield, R-Wesley Chapel. "They have a machine down there."

Lee girds for lobbyists' suit

Senate President Tom Lee has budgeted $175,000 to defend the Senate against a lawsuit by lobbyists challenging a new state law forcing them to disclose their fees.

Lee hired the firm of Conwell, Sukhia & Kirkpatrick, whose partners include Ken Sukhia, a former U.S. attorney in Florida. Lee said little Wednesday about why he hired Sukhia.

"I can't really talk about that too much because its gets into the legal strategy of the case," Lee said, "but you might be seeing one of the reasons why in the very near future. That's all I can say."

Sukhia was appointed a federal prosecutor by the first President George Bush. He was considered for a federal judgeship three years ago but was opposed as "too conservative" by Florida's two Democratic senators, Bob Graham and Bill Nelson.

Tart words carry pie debate

Should key lime pie be Florida's official state pie?

Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, thought a few mouthfuls of the tart but sweet treat would persuade members of the Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday to endorse making the pie the state's signature dessert.

But when the pies didn't arrive, Bullard had to argue their merits. First, she discredited the competition - such as the chicken pot pie.

"How do chickens relate to Florida?" Bullard said. As for pecan pie, "that's a Georgia pie," Bullard said. "That's a South Carolina pie."

Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, the panel's chairman, wouldn't let Bullard recite the history of the key lime in Florida. Without discussion, the committee approved the bill unanimously.

"Show that the key lime is on its way to becoming the official state pie," Smith said. "Who says this Legislature can't do some things that need to be done in this state?"

-LETITIA STEIN

"Antimurder' measure touted

Lawmakers, police and prosecutors touted a bill that would let judges keep violent criminals in jail if they are accused of violating probation, a measure inspired by the slayings of three Florida girls.

Attorney General Charlie Crist has made what he calls the "antimurder" bill his top legislative priority. The Republican candidate for governor held a news conference outside the Capitol to urge lawmakers to pass it.

It is a trimmed-down version of legislation that failed last year when lawmakers questioned the high cost of keeping thousands of additional suspects in county jails pending trial.

"The list of qualifying offenses is much more modest," said Rep. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, a candidate for attorney general, who is sponsoring the House version, House Bill 25. "I'm not interested in bar fights and things like that."

The bill would cover defendants accused of violating probation received for offenses of murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, sexual battery, robbery, burglary, lewd or lascivious battery or computer pornography.

The legislation is a response to the murders of Jessica Lunsford, 9, Carlie Brucia, 11, and Sarah Lunde, 13. The men charged in their deaths were violent offenders and probation violators, Crist said. "Yet they were still out free and able to commit those crimes."

One of Negron's opponents for attorney general, Rep. Everett Rice, R-Indian Shores, suggested his introduction of the bill was election-year politics.

"Making sure that kids in Florida don't get murdered is not a political issue," Negron replied.

-ASSOCIATED PRESS

For information about legislation, call 1-800-342-1827 toll-free or (850) 488-4371 during business hours.

The Legislature's official Web site: www.leg.state.fl.us

[Last modified March 9, 2006, 02:45:12]


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