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Bill targets fringe groups

Fringe organizations that don't recognize the law became the target of a proposed law Thursday.

A House committee unanimously approved a bill by Rep. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, that would toughen sanctions against so-called "constitutional courts" _ groups that don't recognize the legitimacy of the U.S. Constitution and the court system.

The groups, which are frequently linked with militia organizations, tax protesters and other extremist movements, often form their own "republics," issuing liens and other official documents that can clog courts.

Members of the groups consider themselves sovereign and refuse to recognize the authority of the constitution.

Michael Ramage, general counsel for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said that local groups are most active in the Interstate 4 corridor between Orlando and Tampa.

In Tampa, 11 people were arrested last year on charges of sending threatening communications. Members of one group issued "arrest warrants" for Hillsborough County judges, including Chief Judge Dennis Alvarez. In Orlando, Ramage said, the Clerk of Courts had a lien put on her own home by a member of one of the groups.

Jones' legislation "addresses a very real problem," said Art Teitelbaum, southern area director of the Anti-Defamation League. "It does one very important thing: It says that constitutional laws of the U.S. need to be obeyed."