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  • At one couple's table, much disquiet
  • Exam exemption lures kids to school
  • State may escalate war on beetles
  • Storm-wary stock up
  • Gifts-for-guns campaign thrives

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    State may escalate war on beetles

    By Compiled by SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000


    BROOKSVILLE -- State agricultural officials are considering declaring an emergency in Hernando County's beetle battle.

    Southern pine beetles have chewed through more than 200,000 pine trees and show no sign of stopping. The beetles may prove enough of a threat tothe state's forests and logging industryto warrant such a declaration, said state Agriculture Department spokesman Terry McElroy.

    Such an action would free money and technical assistance for the county's pine beetle suppression effort.

    It also would empower the county to force landowners who have not removed infested trees to do so before the beetles spread to surrounding areas.

    In the meantime, Hernando's state lawmakers said they would seek reimbursement for a local tree removal program that has cost the county more than $28,000.

    Wal-Mart opening next to a school won't sell guns

    TAMPA -- Score one against gun sales. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. gave in to mounting community pressure Thursday and agreed not to sell guns at a new store opening next month near a high school.

    It was an about-face for the company, which had said it would sell guns because they were a "product that customers in this area wanted."

    The community's voice emerged during months of meetings, petitions, appeals to city officials for legal help, planned pickets and even talk of a national Wal-Mart boycott.

    Recently, the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and the Tampa Bay chapter of the Million Mom March, a national gun-control group, joined the opposition.

    On Thursday, the company announced its store next to Wharton High School in New Tampa will be one of the few in the nation not to display, stock or sell rifles or shotguns. The company, which stopped selling handguns in 1993, will offer the rifles and shotguns for mail-order purchase only when the store opens Oct. 11.

    Cathy Wilson of the Million Mom March said Wharton students told her they "felt safer if guns were not going to be sold there," she said. "As moms, we have to do what we have to do."

    Hillsborough district gets charter school status

    TAMPA -- Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet on Tuesday agreed to the transformation of Hillsborough County into a charter district, a move that frees the school district from more than a dozen state rules and regulations.

    "We are going to make history with this," said School Board Chairman Carolyn Bricklemyer.

    Hillsborough now ranks as the largest charter district in the country. Volusia, the first Florida county to become a charter district, had held the distinction until Tuesday's vote.

    As a charter district, Hillsborough will have greater freedom in reducing kindergarten and first-grade class sizes, determining teacher placement, developing remediation programs for students who have fallen behind, determining class credits, choosing instructional materials and spending state money.

    In return, the district has vowed to improve reading and SAT scores, ensure that the district has 10 percent more qualified applicants for vacancies in every academic category, increase graduation and attendance rates and improve the public's view of the district, among other promises.

    One of the first changes will be the district's new flexibility in hiring qualified teachers who lack certification.

    River task force stalled by fears and skepticism

    BROOKSVILLE -- Supporters of the fledgling Weeki Wachee River Task Force say the time has come to get serious about dangerous conditions they have witnessed on the water: speeding motorboats, excessive litter, alcohol consumption and manatee harassment.

    Seeking consensus on a list of environmental issues,they had planned to band together andreach an agreement to protect the riverwith local enforcement agencies.

    But when word of the group's plan spread to the community at large, critics saw an effort to tighten restrictions.

    "The meetings have been politically charged," said Dawn Durham, an environmental planner with the county Planning Department. "We really haven't made much progress."

    Many people had heard there was a plan afoot to ban motorized boats on the river, a suggestion the task force denies.

    "Unfortunately, what happened was that this worthwhile group of people were tainted as a group of extremists who were going to take away motor engines off the Weeki Wachee River, which was never the case," said County commissioner and task force member Paul Sullivan.

    Pinellas ready to pitch in $10-million for 2 stadiums

    CLEARWATER -- Pinellas County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to spend $10-million to help keep the Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays from moving their spring-training programs elsewhere.

    The county will give $7-million to Clearwater to build the Phillies a new stadium, and $3-million to Dunedin to renovate the Jays' facility.

    Now the cities must ask for additional money from the state to pull off the deals. Specifically, Clearwater wants $7-million and Dunedin wants $6-million.

    Coming up this week

    The city of Tampa will take public comments on Thursday and vote on requiring nude clubs to post signs warning patrons about Tampa's controversial anti-lap dance law. Nude club owners vociferously oppose the city's law against lap dancing and have said it is devastating to their business.

    Steven Moschella, 17, intends to plead no contest to manslaughter charges in the shooting death of 16-year-old Teddy Niziol in the Ridgewood High School parking lot in Pasco County. The plea will be entered at a hearing Friday, his lawyer has said. Moschella, accused in what he said was an accidental shooting of his best friend, essentially will be throwing himself at the mercy of Circuit Judge Craig C. Villanti because the teen's family can't bear the strain of a trial, the teen's attorney said.

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