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Net ban's bite called weak

Commercial fishers who violate the Florida net ban have pocketed $1.5-million from the state and paid little in fines, according to a group that campaigned for the ban.

The Coastal Conservation Association of Florida says its review of net ban arrests show that many violators previously took part in a state program that bought nets from licensed commercial fishermen.

By comparing arrest records to payments in the buyout program, the association says it found violators received more than $1.5-million for selling their nets, then paid only $12,983 in penalties for continuing to fish with illegal nets.

"We knew that many of these outlaw netters got money from the buyout program," said Ted Forsgren, the group's executive director, "but we were astounded by the total dollar amount."

The net ban, approved in a 1994 referendum, banished large commercial nets from waters close to Florida shores. The association is backing legislation to increase penalties for violations.


Schools' control of funds may grow

A measure that would give individual schools more say over how Lottery money is spent unanimously passed a Senate committee Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ken Jenne, D-Fort Lauderdale, would distribute education money raised by the Lottery to the schools based on how many students attend.

The Lottery still would be required to send 38 percent of its revenues to education. Fifty percent is used for prizes, and about 12 percent goes to the agency's operations.

But current law does not define how the money should be spent for "educational enhancement."

Either a school advisory council or a parent council would decide how to use the money, under the bill. The school's principal would not be able to override the committee's decision.

Jenne's bill, which passed the Senate Regulatory Services committee, has at least two more committee stops before reaching the floor.


Senate to get body-piercing measure

Parents whose teens yearn for holes in their bodies can rest a little easier.

Without debate, House members unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that would license body piercing establishments. The bill would require parental approval for the piercing of minors and mandate sterilization of piercing equipment. The bill now heads for the Senate.


Senate president not nuts about food

The peanuts were so tempting.

On each senator's desk Wednesday sat a fat jar of the salty snack.

As debate droned on, someone asked Senate President Toni Jennings if they could be eaten. The Senate has a rule that prohibits members from accepting food or drink from lobbyists except at large gatherings.

Jennings said she'd get a ruling from "the food police," otherwise known as Steve Kahn, attorney for the Senate.

As debate went past noon, some jars were half-consumed. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, nervously popped peanuts into his mouth as fellow senators tried to amend his election reform bill.

"The food police say the peanuts are legal," Jennings said later. They were delivered by the Florida Credit Union League and not a lobbyist. But don't look for more. Jennings said she doesn't believe such items should be allowed on chamber desks so she has banned future distributions.


Tobacco industry has treats for House

Over in the House, the treats came from tobacco industry lobbyists.

Representatives of the Florida Tobacco & Candy association gave House members canvas bags including Marlboro and Winston T-shirts, Reese's peanut butter cups, animal crackers and something called Dr. Seltzer's Ginseng Elixir. "I'm assured it's under $25," quipped Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, referring to state rules that limit how much legislators can accept for meals.


Father's prayer pleases lawmaker

This month, Rep. Barry Silver sharply criticized a pre-session prayer that identified Jesus Christ as the "true God."

But on Wednesday, Silver was all smiles after the prayer. That's because it came from his own father, Rabbi Samuel Silver, who delivered the invocation in the form of a 12-stanza poem.

"Let's end the insanity and protect all endangered creatures, like the panther, the manatee and our public school teachers," the elder Silver said to a near-empty House chamber.

Later, Rep. Silver said his father's prayer was much better than the one delivered by the head of the Orlando-based Campus Crusade for Christ. That prayer prompted much complaining from some Jewish and Christian legislators, who said it was exclusionary.


Looser cleanup measure moves ahead

TALLAHASSEE _ A law that would loosen cleanup standards for some contaminated urban lands, including a site in Clearwater, won unanimous approval in a Senate committee Wednesday.

The "brown fields" legislation is designed to spur redevelopment in blighted urban areas. Landowners would have to clean up lands only to a certain level, as long as the land goes back to commercial or industrial use. The measure, which has a companion in the House, now goes to the Senate Ways & Means Committee.