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    Week in review


    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2001

    Dog won't get call from the governor

    CLEARWATER -- Fans of a condemned pooch lost their appeal to Gov. Jeb Bush last week.

    The governor would not step in and grant clemency to Beethoven, the Great Dane that has been on doggy death row in Pinellas County for the past five years, a letter from assistant general counsel Gregory M. Munson states, because he does not have the authority.

    "Governor Bush realizes the strong feelings this case has generated," Munson wrote. "He respects the constitutional limitations on his authority, however, and cannot intervene in this dispute."

    Robert Merkle, one of Beethoven's lawyers, called the decision "nonsense" and said he hoped Bush would reconsider. In the meantime, Merkle has appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

    Beethoven was chained in a garage when he bit a girl, who may have tripped on the dog's chain after leaning up to hug him. She suffered bites to her face and neck.

    Beethoven has been in the custody of the county ever since, but his owner has repeatedly appealed the county's decision to humanely destroy him.

    Hernando board puts the brakes on scooter helmet law

    BROOKSVILLE -- Sure, those silver scooters zipping by can be annoying, and the head injuries that sometimes result can be downright scary, but Hernando County commissioners decided to mind their own business when asked to impose some rules for the trendy activity.

    "Government cannot be an effective mother," Commissioner Diane Rowden said, asserting her opposition to a request that the county make children wear helmets when on scooters.

    Rowden's colleagues unanimously agreed not to act on the proposal from Spring Hill activist Rachel Rodriguez, who collected 400 signatures backing the idea after 12-year-old Stewart Abramowicz died in an accident while scooting along middle Pinehurst Drive on Jan. 19.

    Instead, commissioners opted to support a community-based effort to teach parents and children about the safe use of the increasingly popular toy, which a consumer group has deemed more dangerous than skateboards and inline skates.

    Chairman Chris Kingsley urged the deeply disappointed Rodriguez to look at what she had accomplished rather than attack the board for what it would not do, noting the several news stories about scooter safety she inspired.

    Athletes, coaches will have to pay up if they act out

    LARGO -- Poor sportsmanship at school now has a price in Pinellas County.

    The School Board unanimously decided that athletes and coaches who are ejected from sporting events for unsportsmanlike conduct will pay fines.

    An athlete who is ejected from a game for "unsportsmanlike" conduct will have to pay $50. An athlete who is ejected for "gross unsportsmanlike" conduct will pay a $250 fine. The athlete won't be able to participate in events until all fines are paid.

    Coaches suspended from games will lose one day of supplemental pay per game suspended.

    Pinellas' guidelines mirror those of Hillsborough County, which instituted student fines at the start of the year.

    Pasco declares: All's not fair at test time

    DADE CITY -- Attendance usually drops significantly at Pasco County schools in mid February as students opt for the midway and livestock barns of the Pasco County Fair over class.

    Pasco High School teachers fear that tradition may hurt the school this year because the first part of the state's all-important Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test is scheduled for Wednesday -- smack in the middle of fair week, which kicks off Monday.

    School officials fear that the students, many of whom have fair exhibits to tend to, will blow off the exam and go to the fair instead. Schools that fail to test at least 90 percent of their students during exam week could be penalized when the state calculates school rankings, which are based primarily on the results of the FCAT.

    "Our kids will rise to the occasion, but (the state) knows that February is fair month," said agriculture teacher Gwynedolyn Ellis. "Why would they put such an all-important test smack in the middle of that?"

    Judge rules Tampa's lap dancing law is sound

    TAMPA -- Tampa's famous nude dancers are free to express themselves, but from a distance, county Judge James Dominguez decided in a ruling that upheld the ordinance that drew national attention during Super Bowl XXXV.

    In a Valentine's Day opinion -- the timing apparently the coincidence of scheduling -- Dominguez said the Tampa City Council was within its constitutional rights to prohibit lap dancing, in which a nude woman gyrates in a man's lap to music. The ordinance is even broader than that, requiring a 6-foot separation between customers and nude women inside a strip club.

    "The dancers are free to express their erotic message," Dominguez wrote in his ruling, "even though they must do so from a distance of at least 6 feet." A second county judge also upheld the ordinance on Friday.

    But the case is hardly over.

    Four other county judges -- who heard arguments as a panel with Dominguez last year -- must still rule. And club owners have vowed to appeal adverse rulings.

    Pesky pine beetles may be on the decline

    BROOKSVILLE -- Pine trees aren't turning the red color that signifies death by Southern pine beetle with much rapidity these days.

    On the surface, it looks as if Hernando County has battled back the bug that has cost taxpayers more than $70,000 in removal expenses and that caused former state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford to declare an agricultural emergency in October.

    But officials are not ready to declare victory. The current situation just as easily could be "the boding of something bad," said Jim Meeker, forest entomologist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

    Cool winter weather slows the rice-sized, brownish beetles, Meeker said. They disperse and hibernate in small groups of trees, often far from the swaths they already have killed.

    Southern pine beetles appeared in about 17 Florida counties last year, including Pasco, Citrus and Hillsborough. State officials have deemed the situation worst in Hernando, which became the site of Florida's first pine beetle emergency in October.

    And with continuing drought conditions and changing weather, the beetles are becoming increasingly harder to eradicate, officials said.

    Coming up this week

    The No. 2 pencil rules the day Wednesday throughout the state as the all-important FCATs are administered. The tests are the main yardstick Gov. Jeb Bush has relied on to judge schools on how well they teach students. Not only are the schools graded on the results, but if less than 90 percent of the student body takes the test, the school's grade suffers.

    Hearts will be aflutter as two of Hollywood's hunkiest leading men, Brad Pitt and George Clooney, arrive for three days of filming midweek at the Derby Lane greyhound track in St. Petersburg. They will film several scenes for the upcoming Warner Bros. film Ocean's 11. Some 6,000 people showed up at Pinellas ParkSide on Saturday for an open casting call for extras.

    - Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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