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Crist pulls down saggy-pants bill

Jon Wilson, 36, pulls up his pants as he helps an elderly blind neighbor (who did not wish to be identified) accross the street and to her south St. Petersburg home Thursday, March 20, 2008.   Recently the NAACP and Gov. Charlie Crist have come out against proposed baggy pants legislation. “To each his own,” says Wilson, “The problems we have are way bigger than baggy pants.”

JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times

Jon Wilson, 36, pulls up his pants as he helps an elderly blind neighbor (who did not wish to be identified) accross the street and to her south St. Petersburg home Thursday, March 20, 2008. Recently the NAACP and Gov. Charlie Crist have come out against proposed baggy pants legislation. “To each his own,” says Wilson, “The problems we have are way bigger than baggy pants.”

TAMPA — Blake High senior Sam Crumbly and junior Owen Kirlew both wore low-hanging dark blue jeans to school Thursday, as they do most days.

Their zippers were almost knee-level, but long T-shirts covered their underwear.

"I don't know why it matters," Crumbly said. "But I'd pull up my pants if someone told me to."

Two hundred fifty miles away, a bunch of lawmakers think it matters a lot.

They've been debating a bill that would force public schools to suspend students like Crumbly and Kirlew who wear their pants too low. The issue has been among the most-talked-about topics in a Legislature otherwise dominated by budget woes.

Now the measure appears doomed.

While the bill, SB 302, passed the Senate 28-11 last week, Gov. Charlie Crist said Thursday he opposes it. The governor's thumbs down came following a meeting with the president of the Florida NAACP, which also opposes the measure.

"I remember when I went to high school, people were worried about how long somebody's hair was," Crist said. "It really doesn't matter. What's important is what you learn, not what you wear."

When asked if he'd veto the measure, Crist said: "Let's see if it gets that far."

Its passage is unlikely, since a similar House bill got watered down. Under the Senate proposal, students would first get a verbal warning, then could be suspended for a second violation of showing their underwear.

The bill has created unusual alliances.

Members of the Senate Democratic Black Caucus support the measure alongside many probusiness Republicans, saying that it will help make youths more employable.

Opposing the measure are libertarian-leaning Republicans who tend to be more hands off when it comes to social issues, like Gov. Charlie Crist, along with Democrats who don't think the Legislature should micromanage schools.

NAACP Florida state president Adora obi Nweze said her group strongly opposes to the measure. It already is waging a campaign to highlight how schools' zero tolerance policies result in a disproportionate number of expulsions, suspensions and arrests of African-American and Latino students. It says this measure would only add to those problems.

"We're trying to keep students in school, not help keep them out," said Nweze, who plans to hold a press conference with the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday.

Bill sponsor Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, said the "pull-up-your-pants" bill isn't about race, because it targets all students. He argues that schools are supposed to educate students for life, and they need to give kids the tools they need for employment.

"Our obligation is to teach our kids. We teach them how to read, write, how to drive, how to type," said Siplin, a trim lawmaker who always wears pressed, tailored suits at the Capitol, even in summer. "We should also teach them how to dress, because that's a very integral part of getting an interview for a job."

Neither of the Blake students had heard of the bill banning droopy pants, and both said they thought it sounded ridiculous.

"Some days, I just forget to wear a belt," Kirlew said, who "houses" his jeans (wears them extremely low) on no-belt days. "But I usually like to wear them not too big, not too tight."

At the Skatepark in Tampa, several teens gathered after school, though few wore pants loose enough to expose their underwear. It's just not as cool as it used to be, Freedom High sophomore Brandon Baker said.

"I used to wear baggy pants, and no one ever said anything," said Baker who had heard of the bill in his America Government class. "People should be able to wear what they want to wear."

>>FAST FACTS

How they voted

Senators who voted against the Democrat-sponsored bill:

Democrats: Nan Rich of Weston, Charlie Justice of St. Petersburg, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Arthenia Joyner of Tampa

Republicans: Don Gaetz of Niceville, Dennis Jones of St. Petersburg, Victor Crist of Tampa, Charlie Dean of Inverness, Paula Dockery of Lakeland, Steve Oelrich of Gainesville and Alex Villalobos of Miami.

Crist pulls down saggy-pants bill 03/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 1:16pm]
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