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    Negotiators agree on election reform package


    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2001

    TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's lieutenant governor said the state could be an election model for the country as a result of a reform package approved Wednesday night by House and Senate negotiators.

    "It's outstanding," said Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan as he watched legislative negotiators approve an agreement to spend some $32-million on new voting equipment and voter education designed to eliminate the problems that embarrassed the state during last year's presidential recount.

    "It's come a long way," Brogan added. "It's a great piece of legislation that will make us a model for the nation."

    The bill, slated to reach the House and Senate floor for a final vote before legislators go home Friday, also eliminates the runoff primary -- a longstanding tradition in Florida -- for the 2002 election.

    Approval of a final deal hashed out in several days of meetings also drew criticism from Sen. Rod Smith, D-Gainesville, who denounced the campaign finance portion of the deal that was included in the final bill at the request of the House.

    The agreement would make contributions from out-of-state donors ineligible for state matching funds for candidates who use public financing.

    "We have included language that had nothing to do with fixing the last election, but everything to do with gaining a partisan edge in the next election," Smith complained.

    Senate Minority Leader Tom Rossin immediately labeled the bill "the Jeb Bush re-election act."

    The restrictions on out-of-state contributions would limit any Democrat who chooses to use public financing in a race against Bush from seeking out-of-state help, which is likely to be available from supporters of Vice President Al Gore aiming to avenge his election loss.

    "This wasn't part of the problem that brought us here," Smith said. "I think the stories written tomorrow will not be about the progress we made in fixing the last election, but about the steps we are taking to fix the next election."

    Although the bill will eliminate the runoff primary in 2002, it would return in 2004 unless legislators pass a law in 2003 to eliminate it for good.

    Lawmakers decided Wednesday on the temporary demise of the runoff after House negotiators suggested leaving it intact.

    In addition to buying voting equipment for the 41 Florida counties that used punch cards or other outdated equipment, the bill requires a uniform ballot and improves the rules for a recount.

    It also extends the deadline for filing returns from seven to 11 days and moves the remaining primary to the second Tuesday in September to avoid the Labor Day holiday.

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