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Session tackled other issues

Lawmakers focused on terrorism, a building code and their own pay cut as well as the budget.

By ALISA ULFERTS and CRAIG PITTMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 8, 2001


Lawmakers focused on terrorism, a building code and their own pay cut as well as the budget.

TALLAHASSEE -- The $1-billion legislators cut out of the budget this week got all the attention, but it wasn't the only thing lawmakers did while in town for a two-week special session.

They delayed for several months the start of a new, statewide building code. They trimmed their own salaries. And they passed several bills to help law enforcement deal with the new threat of terrorism.

Revoking lawmakers' latest pay raise was Rep. Mike Fasano's idea.

"Legislators should take the lead and show . . . that they are willing to participate in the belt-tightening we will be requiring of state agencies," said Fasano, R-New Port Richey.

Fasano's bill saved the state about $80,000.

Through other legislation, Florida will legally define what terrorism is and how the state can punish it. The lawmakers declared confidential the security plans of private and public agencies, hospital emergency plans and police agencies' requests for public records.

In addition, lawmakers voted to keep secret the amount and locations of Florida's pharmaceutical stockpiles of antiterrorism vaccines. But they shelved a bill that would have allowed police and a single judge to close court and police records on a case-by-case basis in the name of fighting terrorism.

Lawmakers also passed a bill that eliminated a requirement that counties match their state contribution for the Healthy Kids program, which has been the subject of a legal challenge by Gov. Jeb Bush. Advocates of the program have said the local match requirement forced some counties out of Healthy Kids.

Healthy Kids provides health coverage to more than 200,000 children in Florida up to age 18 who don't otherwise qualify for Medicaid or other services.

Bush said Friday he still supports the idea of counties contributing to the program, even if the new law renders his court case moot.

"I'm confident we'll be able to create a policy that's equitable," Bush said.

Lawmakers didn't get to the new building code bill until Thursday, the last day of the session.

The code was supposed to go into effect Jan. 1. Now much of it won't go on the books until March 1.

In voting to delay the new code, the lawmakers ignored the pleas of the Florida Building Commission, which twice voted unanimously to oppose any delay.

After the Legislature passed the bill Thursday, commission Chairman Raul L. Rodriguez fired off an e-mail to Bush urging him to veto the measure.

Rodriguez, a Coral Gables architect, called it "disappointing" that the Legislature would ignore the commission's advice, because commission members represent a cross-section of the construction industry. Architects, designers and plumbing and heating contractors were all opposed to the delay, he said.

"This code was ready to go into effect," said Nick D'Andrea, a building commission member who is the manager of commercial services for Tampa's municipal building inspections department. "Designers had committed major money to the new code because a lot of people were already designing under the new code."

Leading the call for the delay was the Florida Home Builders Association. The association's members were concerned that too many coastal cities and counties had not yet set their wind-line restrictions, which also were supposed to go into effect Jan. 1, said spokesman Ian Smith.

"What do you design for if you don't know what the standards are?" asked Smith. As a result, he said, "We felt it was important to set legislation in motion to give everyone more time."

Bush has said he'll probably sign the bill.

- Times staff writer Julie Hauserman and researchers Stephanie Scruggs and Deirdre Morrow contributed to this report.

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