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Scrub jay's young friends rule the day

But the fight over the state bird isn't over, and the students who lobbied against the mockingbird got a taste of tough politics.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- While other kids lounged on Day Two of spring break Tuesday, about a dozen high school students put on ties and dresses and took a five-hour bus ride to the state Capitol for an unusual political quest:

To make the scrub jay -- not the mockingbird -- Florida's official state bird.

"The mockingbird is unoriginal," complained 15-year-old Jamie Kaplan, one of a crowd of students from Winter Springs High School near Orlando, who testified before a bemused House committee that is reviewing a scrub jay bill for the second year in a row. The bill was defeated last year.

Knowing they were in for a political battle, the students brought buttons and color pictures of scrub jays to build support. They also got a bird's-eye view of the rough side of Tallahassee politics.

"These children are being used shamelessly by adults who have an entirely different agenda," charged Marion Hammer, a National Rifle Association lobbyist who has taken on the mockingbird's cause as a personal campaign, not on behalf of the NRA. "If they get it on the endangered list, you can kiss your property rights goodbye."

Well, not exactly. The bill is symbolic. It doesn't give the scrub jay any more protection than it already has now. Scrub jays are officially listed as a species of special concern.

"Why would anyone want a state bird that is on the verge of going extinct?" Hammer asked.

Then, the veteran gun lobbyist zeroed in for the political kill:

"The mockingbird is in the district of everyone in this panel, and you can't say that about the scrub jay," she said.

The students' arguments -- which actually won the day -- were sunnier. Scrub jays exist only in Florida, they said. Scrub jays are family-friendly, living in groups that provide a great role model for humans. And -- most important for teens who long to break away from the pack -- four other states also have the mockingbird as their official state bird.

The House committee voted 9-3 in favor of the scrub jay. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Howard Futch, R-Melbourne Beach, must clear several more committees before heading to the full House and Senate.

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