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Police merger bill clears Senate panel

Legislation to merge state police agencies cleared a Senate panel Tuesday after it was amended in reaction to opposition from sheriffs and state troopers.

Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay and Attorney General Bob Butterworth appeared before the Criminal Justice Committee to urge support for the merger that is part of Gov. Lawton Chiles' government reorganization package.

The panel voted 5-2 for the bill by state Sen. Kenneth Jenne, D-Fort Lauderdale.It goes to the Governmental Operations Committee.

The major change in the police bill would move the Florida Highway Patrol from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Capitol security officers and Florida Marine Patrol investigators also would move to FDLE, but uniformed Marine Patrol officers would remain in the Department of Natural Resources.

Columbia County Sheriff Tom Tramel complained the merger would create a police agency of unbridled power, and he disputed claims of greater efficiency.

The committee amended the bill to set up an advisory board of sheriffs, police chiefs and the FDLE director to give local law enforcement officials a say.

Two organizations representing state troopers are at odds over the legislation. The Police Benevolent Association, a union that represents troopers and other state law enforcement officers in collective bargaining, supports the merger.

The Florida Association of State Troopers opposed the bill, but that opposition may fade because the committee accepted an amendment sought by the group to conduct a study of whether troopers should have their own bargaining unit.