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Guards, troopers may get raise

Lawmakers' top priority this year has been to make criminals the losers. On Thursday, legislators crafting a new budget moved toward making prison guards and state troopers the winners.

The state House added an amendment to the proposed state budget increasing correctional officers' pay by 6 percent, a cost of $3-million a year. Legislators took the money from medical services for inmates.

In the Senate, lawmakers voted to increase salaries and benefits for Highway Patrol troopers and correctional officers by $2,000 each, but said the exact figure is likely to change in later negotiations.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Ken Jenne, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the pay increases sound good, but might be a big mistake.

The state needs to pay its law enforcement officers better, he said. But it also needs to negotiate through the collective bargaining process.

By simply voting to increase the pay and ignoring labor negotiations, senators are inviting similar pleas from other law enforcement groups, Jenne said.

Tim Moore, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said his officers need pay increases, too.

No one proposed a similar pay increase for FDLE agents, but he said he will work with legislators to raise the pay of agents and forensic specialists.

The pay raises were among the changes the House made before completing work on its $38-billion spending plan.

The Senate also finished crafting its version Thursday.

Both are expected to pass next week.

Then the differences will be worked out in a conference committee made up of House and Senate members.

Rep. George Crady, whose North Florida district includes six prisons, made an impassioned speech on the House floor for the pay raise.

He displayed ugly weapons made by inmates and told hushed legislators that the guards are in danger every day from the violence behind bars.

A crowd of correctional officers filled both the House and Senate galleries.

In the Senate, Malcolm Beard, R-Seffner, suggested paying for higher troopers' salaries by cutting the scheduled 8 percent increases for judges, state attorneys and public defenders.

Senators eventually voted for both sets of pay increases.

During House debate, Rep. Peter Wallace of St. Petersburg and Democratic leaders used a series of procedural maneuvers to resist a Republican effort to wipe out $4.5-million for public financing of campaigns.

The money, collected from candidates, would go to statewide campaigns of politicians who agree to voluntary fund-raising limits.

Wallace and his allies employed parliamentary moves to prevent a straight up or down vote on public financing.

Republicans tried to shift the money to the "safe schools" program or prisons.

Wallace pointed out the money comes from filing fees paid by candidates for state office.

He said it can't be used for other purposes without changing the public finance law.

The Senate already had killed the $4.5-million. Sen. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, led the effort. He plans to run for governor, and hopes to unseat Gov. Lawton Chiles, who has indicated he would use the campaign money.

House and Senate leaders will haggle over the issue during meetings of the conference committee.