© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001
Today is the 18th day of the 60-day session.
House passes civil service changes
Some 16,000 supervisors and managers now in Florida's civil service system would be removed from it under a bill the House passed Thursday.
The 74-43 vote moved the bill to the Senate, which has not acted on Gov. Jeb Bush's proposal to revamp the "career service" system that covers the bulk of Florida's state workers.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, who sponsored the measure, called the career service system a "dinosaur."
The 16,000 employees moved out of "career service" could be reassigned, demoted or fired without recourse. The bill also makes it easier for managers to fire or reward the 100,000-plus employees left in career service.
"Why should state employees be untouchable?" asked Rep. Rob Wallace, R-Tampa.
The legislation would put the burden of proof on employees, rather than agency heads, if they think they have been fired, suspended or otherwise punished for political or personal vengeance.
Supporters say basing job actions on the "sound discretion" of agency heads, rather than requiring them to show "just cause" for firings or other discipline, would move Florida government more in line with the private sector.
Democrats warned the changes would subject state workers to political retribution.
Vote backs judicial clout for governor
Besides picking Florida's trial and appeals judges, the governor would pick all the people who screen judicial candidates under a bill the House passed, 65-50.
The legislation goes to the Senate, which has not acted on its companion bill.
For the past 30 years, judicial nominating commissions have screened applicants for judicial appointments in all 20 of Florida's judicial circuits, the state's five district courts of appeal and the state Supreme Court. The governor makes appointments from the candidates chosen by those 26 commissions.
Now, each commission is made up of nine volunteers: three appointed by the governor, three named by the Florida Bar and three chosen by those six.
The bill the House passed would let the governor appoint all nine members, as well as make the final appointment to the judicial opening.
Supporters argue that the bill would increase accountability by putting all the decisions in the hands of the state's top elected executive official and removing the Florida Bar from the process.
Democrats warn that the change would put too much power in the hands of the governor, increase politics in the system of judicial appointments and undercut the independence of the judiciary.
DNA testing for condemned advances
A measure giving death row inmates the opportunity to petition to have their DNA tested before being executed is headed to the House floor.
Rep. Randy Ball, R-Mims, sponsor, wanted to give prisoners two years after being sentenced to death to ask for the analysis.
The measure was filed in response to the case of inmate Frank Lee Smith, who died last year after spending 14 years on death row. DNA tests completed after his death proved him innocent.
But advocates for capital offenders said Smith wouldn't have benefited from the bill because the two-year time limit would have prevented him from being exonerated.
The House Council for Healthy Communities unanimously approved the measure after the two-year limit was taken out.
Generic drug bill out of committee
A bill that would remove restrictions on some generic prescription drugs received the final go-ahead from a House committee and is headed to the floor for debate.
Seniors across the state have been clamoring for years to eliminate a list of drugs for which pharmacists aren't allowed to substitute generics. They say the brand-name drugs are too expensive.
But brand-name drug makers, including DuPont Merck, which makes the blood thinner Coumadin, say the generics aren't safe.
Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he has wanted to junk the list for years. But last year, Fasano said, the House leadership made it clear he was not to bother sponsoring such a measure because it wouldn't be heard. Then-House Speaker John Thrasher is now a DuPont consultant.
The House Council for Healthy Communities unanimously passed the measure. DuPont representatives were not at the meeting.
-- ASSOCIATED PRESS
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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: http://www.leg.state.fl.us
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From the Times state desk
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