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Legislative briefs

By SHELBY OPPEL, JULIE HAUSERMAN, LUCY MORGAN, Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2001


Today is the third day of the 60-day session.

Crist backs performance audits

TALLAHASSEE -- Public school districts would be required to undergo performance audits at least once every five years under a bill backed by state Education Commissioner Charlie Crist and to which the House gave preliminary approval Wednesday.

Florida's 67 school districts already submit to financial audits that monitor whether they operate according to state and federal law. Eleven districts, including Hillsborough, have volunteered in the past for optional state-administered performance audits. Crist and the bill's Republican sponsors, Rep. Sandra Murman of Tampa and Sen. Jim Horne of Orange Park, would mandate such audits in order to identify potential savings. The audits, conducted by private firms, would cost the state $4.1-million over a five-year period. School boards and superintendents who do not adopt auditors' recommendations may be required to appear before the Legislature to explain their decisions. Any resident of a school district where recommendations are not adopted can appeal that decision to the state Board of Education.

Growth issues narrowed to two

A controversial set of changes to the state's growth laws may be too much for the Legislature to swallow this year. So Gov. Jeb Bush and and some key legislative leaders are trying to narrow it to two key issues: linking new building approvals to school capacity, and coming up with a formula to assess the cost of new development.

Bush's top growth official, Department of Community Affairs Secretary Steve Seibert, laid out the administration's agenda at a Senate committee meeting Wednesday. A former DCA secretary, Tom Pelham, urged the committee to keep growth controls intact.

The big topic was the new plan to link schools and planning.

"We're talking about tying our community's ability to grow to its ability to provide classroom space," said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

The Legislature is expected to try to come up with a formula for "full-cost accounting" -- a sort of balance sheet to find out how much new development will cost a community.

Said Lee: "If growth was paying for itself, we'd be rolling in the dough in Florida.'

Bills seek end to gas price law

With petitions signed by 150,000 Florida consumers, Wal-Mart and Murphy Oil Co. are fighting for bills that would repeal a 1985 law forbidding the sale of below-cost gasoline.

Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, and Rep. Randy Ball, R-Mims, have filed bills that would allow service stations to sell discounted gas.

The bills are the latest steps in a fight between the big discount chain and other service station owners who say it will force independent owners out of business and ultimately lead to higher gas prices.

Ball said he signed on to help repeal the old law in an effort to lower consumer gas prices.

Asthma sidelines Brown-Waite

State Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, was missing from the Capitol on Wednesday after doctors checked her at a Tallahassee emergency room.

Aide Paul Sullivan said Brown-Waite went to the hospital early in the morning after cold weather, heavy spring pollen and a busy work schedule caused an asthma attack.

Brown-Waite rested at home but expected to be back in the Senate today to handle an important nursing home bill, Sullivan said.

Bill aids slain teachers' families

The House on Wednesday passed a bill to provide help to families of teachers killed at school, naming it for a murdered Palm Beach County teacher.

The Barry Grunow Act passed unanimously. It still needs Senate approval.

The bill guarantees a $75,000 payment to the families of teachers or school administrators killed on the job and $1,000 toward funeral expenses. It also provides for continuing the teacher's health insurance for a surviving spouse and children and waives tuition for the teacher's children at state colleges.

Grunow was shot and killed outside his classroom at Lake Worth Community Middle School on May 26 last year, the final day of classes. A seventh-grade student, 14-year-old Nathaniel Brazill, is charged with first-degree murder and awaits trial.

Grunow's two children will not have to pay for their college educations. The Florida Education Foundation bought scholarships for 5-year-old Samuel and 1-year-old Lee-Anne Grunow.

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- For information about legislation, call this number toll-free during business hours: 1-800-342-1827. For Internet users, Online Sunshine is the official site for the Legislature: www.leg.state.fl.us.

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