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Death-row inmate's sanity debated

Pedro Medina is getting closer to another execution date for the 1982 murder of an Orlando teacher, and lawyers again are debating his sanity.

On Monday, the debate was before the state Supreme Court.

Medina, a 39-year-old Cuban refugee who came to this country in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, is scheduled to go to the electric chair at 7:01 a.m. March 25.

"Does he know he's going to die when the juice hits him is the bottom line," Kenneth Nunnelley, an assistant attorney general, told Florida's high court Monday.

Medina knows the electric chair will kill him and he knows he's condemned to die for the murder of Dorothy James, Nunnelley said.

And since Medina understands those two issues, he's competent to be executed, Nunnelley argued.

But Martin McClain, Medina's lawyer, argued that Medina hasn't had a fair chance to prove to the courts' satisfaction that he is too crazy to be executed.

Several weeks ago, the state Supreme Court delayed a January execution date and ordered a trial judge in Orlando to hold a hearing on Medina's claim of insanity. The justices said McClain had to prove his claim by "clear and convincing evidence."

Medina had been scheduled to go to the electric chair in December, but his lawyers invoked a rarely used law that bans the execution of anyone who doesn't know they are being executed or why they are being executed.

A panel of three psychiatrists appointed by Gov. Lawton Chiles concluded Medina was acting crazy in an attempt to stay alive.

Medina's case has prompted appeals for clemency from Pope John Paul II and the First Presbyterian Church in Cape May, N.J.


Teachers vow fight over tenure

The battle over teacher job security has mushroomed into a full-scale political war.

Teacher unions held a news conference Monday to blast any attempts by the Legislature to treat teachers unfairly and vowed to meet individually with lawmakers about legislation they say will harm job security.

The FEA-United teachers union paid a Washington firm about $4,000 for a poll that found 64 percent of the 500 voters questioned said teachers who pass a three-year probation period should be protected from being unreasonably fired.

Meanwhile, Education Commissioner Frank Brogan defended efforts to eliminate "professional service contracts," which critics say amount to tenure for teachers who don't have to prove they are performing. Brogan said unions are distributing propaganda on the tenure issue and "using smear tactics against me personally."


Senate panel stamps out clean-air bill

TALLAHASSEE _ Tobacco lobbyists and restaurant owners appear to be winning a battle over changing the Florida Clean Air Act to let cities and counties pass stricter no-smoking laws.

Members of the Senate Community Affairs Committee voted 4-3 Monday to kill a bill by Sen. Don Sullivan, R-St. Petersburg, but will take the issue up when they meet again next week to see if there are enough votes to reconsider the decision.

The bill would leave the statewide law that lets most restaurants set aside smoking areas as a minimum standard, but allow cities and counties to pass more stringent laws.

Sullivan said the bill would promote public health and allow residents to gain more non-smoking space if that is what they want.

Under the law now, restaurant owners have to set aside 35 percent of the space for non-smoking customers, a situation that often forces non-smokers to wait for a table or accept a table in a smoking area.

Restaurant owners, tobacco lobbyists and hotel owners complained that the bill would damage tourism and businesses.

Meanwhile, in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, the vote was postponed on a bill that would prohibit inmates from smoking in any state prison or private prison which houses state inmates.

Sen. Locke Burt, R-Ormond Beach, sponsored the bill in an effort to save the state money for medical treatment that has to be provided to inmates for smoking-related illnesses.

Committee members wanted to know how the bill is working in the four other states where it has been passed and want to hear from prison guards who must handle security in all prisons.

Burt's bill would allow prison guards to smoke but prohibit inmates.