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Around the state

By Times staff and wire reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001

Foes of 'Choose Life' plate ask court to recall 13,000

TALLAHASSEE -- Abortion rights advocates asked a judge Thursday to recall a "Choose Life" auto tag, saying the state has issued a tag with a biblical message quoted by anti-abortion activists.

The bright yellow license plates went on sale in August, and 13,000 are on cars, making the plate the 22nd-best seller among the state's 51 specialty tags.

The National Organization for Women, a Palm Beach County synagogue and three other plaintiffs argued before Circuit Judge Nikki Ann Clark that the plate violates constitutional provisions to keep government and religion separate. They asked her to recall those plates that are already on cars.

The group that pushed the Legislature to pass the plate in 1999 argued that "Choose Life" is a message meant to encourage adoption.

Jim Dean, the lawyer for the D epartment of Highway Safety, said it's wrong to conclude that whatever ideas are espoused by specialty plates represent a state position. "It's the message of an individual motorist," Dean said. "No one is required to have 'Choose Life' on their car."

Clark didn't indicate when she would rule.

Arsonist sets 21 Brevard wildfires; reward offered

GRANT -- An arsonist set at least 21 fires in Brevard County Thursday, including a blaze near Interstate 95, fire officials said.

The fires, all set in a 10-mile radius, burned at least 100 acres.

Officials offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arsonist's arrest, Division of Forestry spokesman Mac Brown said.

"When you get somebody like this, they're jeopardizing my life, and the rest of the firefighters, and the homeowners," Brown said.

No roads were closed and no homes were in danger, fire officials said.

Man indicted in killing of cancer-stricken ex-wife

NAPLES -- A Fort Myers man accused of fatally shooting his cancer-stricken ex-wife outside a clinic was indicted on first-degree murder charges Wednesday.

Joseph Anthony Lasco Sr., 62, allegedly shot Sylvia Lasco, also 62, last month.

Assistant State Attorney Mike Provost said he has not decided whether to seek the death penalty. If he does not, Lasco faces life in prison without parole if convicted.

Police reports said Lasco hid a .38-caliber revolver in his trousers waistband before going into a meeting at the cancer clinic Feb. 1 with his ex-wife and her doctor.

After hearing expected bad news during the meeting, the Fort Myers Beach barber hugged his former wife in the hallway outside the office, told her not to worry and shot her, the report said.

Official rejects union's call for suspension of FCAT

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's teachers union wants the state to suspend use of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. Florida's top education official said that's not going to happen.

"Teachers, parents and students are extremely concerned about what this test has become," Maureen Dinnen, president of the Florida Education Association, told reporters. She said the state has repeatedly changed the rules on the FCAT, including a recent decision to disregard answers on the essay questions in grade schools.

Education Commissioner Charlie Crist said the FCAT would "absolutely" not be suspended. "We need to continue to improve it and we will, but suspending it would just be wrong," Crist said.

TV stations will carry legislative updates

Capitol Update, a half-hour television news program on highlights of each day's activities of the Florida Legislature, again will air on public television this year.

Capitol Update, distributed by the Sunshine Network, will premiere on Tuesday, after the first day of the 2001 Legislature, and will be presented on weekdays throughout the session, concluding on the last day, May 4.

Stations WUSF-Ch. 16 and WEDU-Ch. 3 in Tampa will carry the program, WUSF at 5:30 p.m. starting Tuesday and WEDU at 6 p.m. beginning April 2.

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