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    Around the Legislature

    By ALISA ULFERTS, DIANE RADO, SHELBY OPPEL, Associated Press

    Revised March 23, 2001

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2001


    Felons testify for rights restoration

    A measure to automatically restore voting rights to felons one year after they complete all prison and probation sentences unanimously passed the House Committee on Rules, Ethics and Elections on Wednesday.

    A companion bill, which would place the required constitutional amendment before voters in 2002, also passed unanimously.

    Both have several more committee stops before reaching the House floor.

    Several felons testified in support of the bills, saying they had turned their lives around in all other respects but still could not vote. The current process to restore rights, appealing to the governor and the Cabinet, is too cumbersome, they testified.

    Coral Gables resident Arthur Levey testified against the bill, suggesting ex-convicts shouldn't help select a community's school board.

    Rep. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said it's unclear how many people would have their rights restored under his bill. The bill and the constitutional amendment have the support of the legislative black caucus, which turned out in force at Wednesday's committee hearing. -- ALISA ULFERTS

    Just call it the dirt bike titling tax grab

    Senate Majority Leader Jim King, R-Jacksonville, took some razzing from colleagues Wednesday over his legislation to require people who buy "off-highway" recreational vehicles, such as dirt bikes, after Oct. 1 to get titles and registrations.

    The fee for a title would be $29. The registration would cost $25. The Senate Transportation Committee approved the bill after King sold it as a way to better identify the vehicles in case of theft, as well as pay for safety and recreation programs.

    But senators couldn't help kidding King about trying to raise taxes. Committee Chairman Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, dubbed the legislation "Sen. King's tax increase." -- DIANE RADO

    Adoption change nears Senate vote

    The Senate debated and amended a bill by Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Tamarac, to change Florida's adoption law, preparing it for a floor vote today. Under the bill, women would have up to three days to change their minds about giving up their children for adoption. Campbell, an attorney who handles adoptions, said the changes would increase finality in adoptions.

    The House has passed similar legislation. -- Associated Press

    Lawmakers' ovation moves Dr. Ruth

    Well-known sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer made a cameo appearance Wednesday in the public gallery of the state House, prompting rounds of applause from lawmakers that nearly brought her to tears.

    "Coming out of Nazi Germany, I was very moved by everybody getting up and applauding twice. It's very emotional for me," said Westheimer, 72, in Tallahassee to give a speech at Florida State University.

    At age 10, Westheimer fled Germany to escape Nazi persecution. Her parents were killed in extermination camps. Her history has given her great respect for the government of her adopted country, she said.

    "If somebody would have told me one day I would get recognized by these very important people, because we live in a democracy . . ." said Westheimer, smiling and gesturing toward the lawmakers.

    "I have to kind of inhale this."

    Westheimer, who lives in New York, attended the House session as a guest of state Rep. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise. Rich is a former president of the National Council of Jewish Women, and Westheimer served on that group's board of directors, Westheimer said.

    After Westheimer's introduction, House Speaker Tom Feeney, R-Oveido, had his own advice for lawmakers.

    "Members, this is not the appropriate time if you've got questions of Dr. Ruth," Feeney said. -- SHELBY OPPEL

    * * *

    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.

    Capitol Update, a half-hour program on the day's legislative highlights distributed by the Sunshine Network, airs weekday evenings on a number of public TV stations. Check TV Times for schedules.

    Coverage of the legislative session can be heard by radio on Capitol Report weekdays throughout the 60-day session at 6:30 p.m. on WUSF-FM 89.7.

    * * *

    Florida Legislature Session 2001

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