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Legislature 2001

By ALISA ULFERTS, Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 20, 2001

Today is the 46th day of the 60-day session.

Today is the 46th day of the 60-day session.

Bright Futures cost-cutting idea: Graduate in 3 years

House Speaker Tom Feeney announced a proposal Thursday to reduce Bright Futures college scholarship costs by requiring some students to try to test out of their freshman year and thus shorten their time as undergraduates and scholarship recipients to three years.

He said the proposal would save the state $32-million a year by requiring certain Bright Futures students to test in English, mathematics, humanities, natural science and social science. Students would get college credit for each test they pass. Those who complete advanced-placement programs, such as dual enrollment or International Baccalaureate, in those areas would not have to take the tests.

The scholarship program offers thousands of students a full ride to college or a break in tuition if they get good grades in high school. -- ALISA ULFERTS

Democrats rebel against campaign finance item

Republicans tacked a campaign finance measure onto a key piece of the election reform package Thursday, costing Democratic support.

The amendment would put a cap on the amount of matching money available to statewide candidates. Democrats charged that it was a direct shot aimed at handicapping their ability to compete.

The House Procedural Council voted nearly along party lines for a bill containing election reform measures that had enjoyed bipartisan support. But the addition of the proposal to change the public financing law sends the bill to the House floor with Democrats no longer on board.

The new language would cap the amount of matching public money available for all candidates at $6-million. It would also prevent any candidate who takes money from political action committees or unions from getting matching money and says that any contributions from out-of-state donors won't be matched.

If it passes, the measure would affect the next governor's race, which some have estimated will cost the challenger to Gov. Jeb Bush as much as $10-million, if Bush runs for re-election.

Democrats say whoever challenges Bush could be severely handicapped without matching dollars. In 1998, Bush didn't take matching money, saying it was wrong for taxpayers to fund campaigns. He isn't likely to take it if he runs again in 2002, so he probably won't be affected by the law. -- ASSOCIATED PRESS

Bill aiding slain teachers' families goes to governor

The families of teachers killed at school would get financial help from the state under a bill the Senate passed unanimously Thursday, sending it to Gov. Jeb Bush. The House passed it March 7.

The legislation guarantees a $75,000 payment for slain teachers' families and $1,000 toward funeral expenses when teachers or school administrators are killed on the job. 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. -- ASSOCIATED PRESS

Feeney, McKay remain far apart on tax cuts

House Speaker Tom Feeney said Thursday a tentative offer by the Senate of $49-million in tax cuts is "a long shot short" of what he wants and says real negotiations on the budget will not start until the Senate gives up more.

But Senate President John McKay reiterated in a letter to Feeney that he isn't prepared to go near the $355-million the House wants to give back taxpayers, and may not be able to spare the $49-million.

"I do not think that the elevated levels of tax cuts the House is proposing are affordable this year," McKay told his fellow Republican.

The Senate and House have passed budgets and with two weeks left in the legislative session now have to work out the differences.

The Senate doesn't have any tax relief in its budget. McKay has said the money is needed for education and health care programs in a tighter-than-normal budget year.

The House's $355-million in tax breaks consist mostly of a large cut in the intangibles tax on stocks and bonds and a nine-day break from the 6 percent sales tax on clothing and some back-to-school items.

McKay said this week that $49-million in new money available from the state's settlement with cigarette makers might be spent on health care programs, freeing up some for tax cuts. -- ASSOCIATED PRESS

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