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High-profile issues move through the Florida Legislature

Crotzer compensation

House unanimously supports $1.25M payment

TALLAHASSEE — Alan Crotzer, the former St. Petersburg man wrongfully imprisoned for more than 24 years, should receive a restitution payment of $1.25-million, the Florida House agreed unanimously Wednesday.

Crotzer, exonerated in 2006 as a result of DNA evidence, has been working since then with the help of a team of volunteer advocates to gain compensation. The payment equates to about $50,000 for each year the 47-year-old Crotzer spent behind bars for a rape he did not commit.

"I know what you've been through. No, I don't know what you've been through," said Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, told Crotzer, facing him as he watched from a visitors' gallery overlooking the chamber, "Whatever little bit we can do in the Florida House hopefully will make your life a little bit better."

After the bill (HB 7037) passed by a vote of 116-0, Crotzer stood and expressed his gratitude. Both Gov. Charlie Crist and Senate President Ken Pruitt have said they support the measure, though a floor vote has not yet been scheduled in the Senate.

An employee of a Tallahassee nursery, Crotzer said he hopes to get a college degree and work with at-risk youth.

"Money's just a tool. It can't give me my life back," Crotzer said after the vote. "But it will help me start rebuilding another life. I want to represent those who can't speak for themselves."

Science standards

Storms' 'academic freedom' bill passes through committee

The debate over school science standards moved to the Legislature officially Wednesday when a Senate education panel voted 4-1 for "protections" for students and teachers who offer alternative theories to evolution — despite a report saying there's never been a case alleging such discrimination in Florida.

Sen. Ronda Storms' "academic freedom" bill says teachers cannot be punished or denied tenure if they "objectively" present scientific information, even if it questions evolution. Students receive the same shield in their coursework.

She drafted the measure after the State Board of Education voted 4-3 last month to adopt science standards that embrace evolution, but refer to it as a "scientific theory."

"It's interesting for me to note that the only folks who have brought up religion today have been those in opposition," said Storms, R-Valrico, who suggested the bill helps foster critical thinking, not faith-based teaching.

The bill (SB 2692/HB 1483) has prompted stiff defense by cultural conservatives, and equally stiff objections from scientists and the American Civil Liberties Union.

A Senate staff analysis of the bill noted there is no record of teachers or students complaining they were discriminated against because of science-based teaching or coursework. And it warned that it could expose teachers and districts to lawsuits because of ambiguity over key terms. For example, the bill does not define who determines the objectivity of scientific information presented to students.

Storms, a former teacher, said victims of such discrimination are were afraid to come forward.

The measure has one more committee stop before it can be scheduled for the Senate floor. The House bill, sponsored by Alan Hayes, R-Umatilla, hasn't been scheduled for a hearing.

(For a full story on the "academic freedom" bill, go to blogs.tampabay.com/schools.)

Guns at work

Measure to permit concealed weapons moves on to the Senate

Three years of persistence by the National Rifle Association produced a victory Wednesday as the House voted 72-42 for a "guns at work" law that allows employees to keep weapons locked in their cars.

Senate passage also is likely, but Gov. Charlie Crist has not said if he will sign it, citing "competing issues" between rights of gun owners and property owners.

Under the bill (HB 503), employees with concealed weapons permits can keep their weapons locked in their cars at work, and visitors can bring their guns whether they have permits or not. Employers would not be allowed to ask workers or visitors whether they have such weapons, and employees could not be fired for exercising their right to bear arms.

"Law-abiding people have a right to have a firearm in their vehicle to protect themselves and their families no matter where they park their cars," NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said.

Similar legislation stalled a year ago when it came up for a key vote two days after the massacre on the campus of Virginia Tech. A watered-down version languished in the 2006 session.

Opponents — including retailers, restaurants, the Florida Chamber and Associated Industries of Florida — are expected to now focus their lobbying on moderate senators and Crist. Two of five House Republicans who voted against the bill are Pinellas Reps. Jim Frishe of St. Petersburg and Ed Hooper of Clearwater. Four Democrats also voted yes, including veteran Rep. Ron Saunders of Key West.

Steve Bousquet and David DeCamp,
Times Staff Writers

High-profile issues move through the Florida Legislature 03/26/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2008 7:31pm]
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