By Times staff, wire reports
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2000
The Senate wants to revamp the state retirement system that serves more than 600,000 state, county and city employees.
A proposal unveiled by President Toni Jennings, R-Orlando, Thursday would increase benefits to all members of the system by allowing them to be vested in five years and draw a pension based on their best three years' salary.
Budget Chairman Locke Burt said the revised system will use part of a $5.8-billion pension surplus. The surplus can be expected to continue for years before it would require any additional contributions from employers.
Jennings and Burt said the changes are needed to help government employers keep good workers who are now leaving to take jobs in the private sector and other states after five to eight years of service.
Under the pilot program, the Department of Children and Families would have to notify an administrator when it takes a child into custody. The administrator would then appoint an attorney to represent the child.
The intent of the measure is to provide "competent legal representation" to children who enter the foster care system.
If the Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush approve, the program would be tried in Broward, Sarasota and Escambia counties.
After Health Care Services, the measure has one committee, Criminal Justice Appropriations, to get through before reaching the House floor. A companion Senate bill has cleared the Judiciary Committee and is ready for action by the full chamber.
The Legislature passed a law banning the abortion procedure three years ago, but a federal judge blocked enforcement. The judge concluded the law was unconstitutional because it interfered with a woman's right to have an abortion early in a pregnancy and didn't make an exception for her health late in the pregnancy.
Last year, a similar bill was defeated by one vote in a Senate committee.
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a similar Nebraska law. Oral arguments are set for next month.
The bill limits campaign contributions to political parties in the two months before an election to $5,000.
House Speaker John Thrasher, R-Orange Park, is dead set against limiting contributions, so the measure will have a tough time in the House.
The Senate also passed a bill to close loopholes in government officials' annual reporting of personal finances and require elected and appointed officials take a three-hour course in public meetings and records laws.
The bill would allow the bipartisan Ethics Commission to initiate its own investigations when it has credible, public information that corruption has taken place.
Medicare, the federal health care insurance for the elderly, doesn't cover outpatient prescription drugs, and senior citizens say that is one of their biggest expenses.
The Health, Aging and Long-Term Care Committee unanimously approved a bill that would make more seniors eligible for Medicaid, the federal program for the poor, which does pay for prescription drugs.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, would also put in some cost controls, limiting what Medicaid-reimbursed pharmacies can charge seniors who are not on Medicaid.
For information about legislation, call (800) 342-1827 during business hours. Online Sunshine, a computer users' guide to the Florida Legislature, is available at http://www.leg.state.fl.us