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Lawmakers' conferences

Published Oct. 10, 2005

Last summer's national conference of state legislators in Orlando featured the spectacle of lawmakers being wined, dined and entertained at the expense of industry and the public. House Speaker T.K. Wetherell and Senate President Gwen Margolis agreed Monday to try to avoid at least some of those public relations pitfalls when southern state lawmakers gather for a conference in Miami Beach next August. At a meeting Monday afternoon, the two leaders concurred with plans that call for lawmakers to pay more of their own expenses, including child care. Was there a lesson learned from Orlando? "Not to do it again," one staffer said.

Drunken driving

It would take fewer drinks for a driver to be legally drunk in Florida under legislation that unanimously cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee Monday. The bill (SB 2236), being pushed by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, would reduce the legal limit for blood-alcohol level from 0.1 percent to .08 percent. The average person would have to consume four drinks in an hour to reach the .08 percent blood-alcohol level, one less than for 0.1 percent. Two other bills would apply even tougher standards to drivers under 21, the legal drinking age. An under-21 driver with any measurable blood alcohol level would be considered guilty of driving under the influence (SB 2238) and police could immediately suspend his driver license (SB 1456). Other bills would eliminate time limits between convictions for mandatory jail terms (SB 1959) and allow authorities to confiscate drunken drivers' vehicles upon a third conviction (CS-SB 428). The House Criminal Justice Committee is scheduled to consider a similar package tonight.

Grand juries

A bill that would allow witnesses to take lawyers with them into grand jury rooms won approval Monday from the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The panel voted 5-2 for the bill (CS-SB 66), similar to one vetoed last year by Gov. Lawton Chiles, after rejecting amendments that would have weakened or gutted the measure. Prosecutors, law enforcement officials and the Florida Grand Jury Association opposed the legislation on grounds it would weaken grand juries as a crime-fighting tool at a time when crime continues at a high rate. State Sens. Quillian Yancy, D-Lakeland, and Malcolm Beard, R-Seffner, voted against the bill. Yancy is a former state attorney and Beard a former sheriff.

School dropouts

The Senate Education Committee voted Monday to give schools financial rewards and penalties based on their dropout rates. The rewards and penalties from general state revenue and lottery proceeds also would be based on how much schools improve their dropout rates. "The biggest thing is parents will see .


. whether or not they are winning or losing the battle of dropouts," said the sponsor, Winston "Bud" Gardner, D-Titusville. The rewards and penalties would be set by the Legislature every year beginning in 1994-95. Gardner denied the legislation would discriminate against schools in low socioeconomic areas. Some schools in wealthy areas have high dropout rates, he said.