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Legislative briefs

By Compiled from staff, wire reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2000

Officials pass tepid ethics bill

After months of talking about the need to do something about the state's public corruption and ethics laws, legislators approved a watered-down bill that does little more than require outgoing public officials to disclose income they received during their last year in office.

The disclosure provision was proposed by House Speaker John Thrasher last year after former Speaker Bo Johnson was sent to federal prison for failing to pay income taxes on more than $500,000 he received during his last year in office.

Gov. Jeb Bush appointed a task force that drafted proposed bills that would have made it easier to charge corrupt public officials with crimes. Although the Senate passed a bill including the commission's suggestions, the House rejected most all recommendations. -- LUCY MORGAN

Disabled students' vouchers pass

The state's tuition voucher program, now limited to pupils in failing schools, would be offered to disabled students under a bill lawmakers sent to Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday.

The House voted 71-46 for the measure before the Senate passed it 35-0. Bush is a strong proponent of vouchers that allow children to attend private schools at taxpayer expense.

House Democrats opposed the legislation, contending that it would take money away from special education programs and allow disabled children to attend unaccredited private schools. They also complained that the voucher provision never received a public hearing in committee before it was attached to another piece of legislation by the Senate and argued that the program should not be expanded while it is being challenged in court.

Friday's passage came only a day after the House declined to attach the voucher issue to another education bill dealing with school technology.

"We seem now to be the cowardly lions and have lost our courage," said Rep. Bob Henriquez, D-Tampa.

A Tallahassee judge has found that vouchers violate a provision in the Florida Constitution that guarantees children a free education in a system of public schools. The program is being allowed to continue while the state appeals the decision. -- ASSOCIATED PRESS

FSU to take over Ringling museum

Florida State University will be in charge of Sarasota's John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, following Friday's near-unanimous passage of an amendment promoted by state Sen. John McKay of Bradenton.

The amendment also creates a university center for the arts in Sarasota by combining the Ringling property with the adjacent FSU Center for the Performing Arts, and calls for academic programs in theater, dance, art, art history and museum management.

The Sarasota Ballet is not mentioned by name, but ballet president Bill Jacobs and museum director David Ebitz say the Sarasota Ballet is a participant.

The House approved a bill containing the Ringling transfer, 114-1. The Senate passed it unanimously earlier this week. The governor is expected to sign the bill. -- SARASOTA HERALD-TRIBUNE

Bill dismantles labor agency

Legislation that would dismantle most of the Department of Labor and Employment Security passed in the House. Another bill that would have completely dissolved the department failed.

The House voted 89-29 to send to Gov. Jeb Bush a bill that would divide about 80 percent of the department among other agencies and a non-profit corporation, Workforce Florida, that also would be created by the measure.

A second bill that would have moved blind services and unemployment compensation to other agencies failed in a procedural vote and thus could not be taken up Friday, the last day of the session.

Democrats offered an amendment to the Workforce Florida bill that would have prohibited lawmakers from serving as an officer, director, employee or consultant with the corporation until at least two years after they have left the Legislature. The amendment was defeated 71-49. -- ASSOCIATED PRESS

Bill advances transportation work

A plan to get commuters home quicker, goods to market sooner and evacuees out of the path of hurricanes with greater ease is traveling to the governor's desk in a bill to speed up transportation projects.

The Senate unanimously passed a bill providing the money to speed up $6-billion worth of work over the next decade.

The measure actually gained Senate approval in the first week of the two-month session. But the Senate had to wait for the House to pass a version.

The money is available because of the strong economy and an expected increase in federal dollars. It is meant to move up projects that otherwise wouldn't have been started for years. Among those are reconstruction of the Interstate 275 interchange in Tampa. -- ASSOCIATED PRESS

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