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Lucy Morgan

A passionate lawmaker who made a difference

It was 3 a.m. on the final night of yet another legislative session that had descended into chaos.

Some lawmakers debated the wrong bill and others became part of an all-night party fueled by bourbon and rum and other beverages. Empty pizza boxes were everywhere as the clock ticked toward a 5 a.m. adjournment on that night in 1987.

Sen. Jeanne Malchon, D-St. Petersburg, was wearing bright blue bedroom slippers that didn't quite match her purple and white dress. She was dead serious and cold sober in the midst of a crowd that was anything but. And practical. She put the slippers on about 8 p.m. while running back and forth between the House and Senate in a frantic fight on the last night of session.

She was trying to save a bill that would make it tougher for businesses that did not enforce the state's smoking laws. She lost the fight in all the chaos but vowed to be back again the next year. She was.

Filled with passion, Malchon waged a crusade against smoking in public places that put Florida ahead of the nation in eliminating smoke-filled rooms.

It took a few years but Malchon also helped pass a bill that makes it a crime to leave loaded guns around the house within reach of children. She took up the cause after a student in Pinellas County brought a gun to school and killed an assistant principal while wounding another school official. And when the bill finally passed, she took note of the seven deaths during a two-week period that preceded the vote.

They could have been saved if her fellow lawmakers had voted for it in the first place.

When news of her death at age 86 spread this week, one friend recalled the day Malchon loaded all of her papers, charts and things in the back seat of her car as she headed out to yet another meeting. She threw the car in reverse and charged out of the garage, not realizing she had forgotten to close the back door of the car, which was wrenched backward. She got out, ripped the door off of its hanging hinges and tossed it in the back seat and drove on to the meeting.

It was classic Malchon. Serious, dedicated and always in motion.

It was a miracle that she could make a difference in an era when white males dominated state government. Sometimes she found unexpected allies, like the day Senate Dean Dempsey Barron joined her in voting for the bill that outlawed smoking in public places.

Another lawmaker who made a difference is gone. They're not making them like Jeanne Malchon any more.

A passionate lawmaker who made a difference 08/28/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 28, 2009 9:19pm]

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