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Bus bill wins preliminary approval

A bill that would increase the penalty for illegally passing a stopped school bus won preliminary approval in the Senate on Wednesday.

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, introduced the bill that doubles the $100 penalty for a first offense and forces anyone who passes a bus on the right side to attend a mandatory hearing. A second offense within five years would result in the suspension of an offender's driver's license.

Lee said the state issues an average of 1.9-million tickets a year for people who passed school buses illegally.

In keeping with legislative tradition, Lee took a lot of ribbing from his fellow senators as he defended the school bus bill, his first.

But Lee was ready for it.

When Sen. Jim Scott, R-Fort Lauderdale, asked him to tell the Senate how many school buses are operating in Florida, Lee held up a packet marked "top secret."

"There is photographic evidence of certain elected officials who were ticketed for this offense," Lee said as the Senate collapsed in laughter.

"Do you want to roll the bill to third reading, or should I toss it up" to reporters in the press gallery?

After considerably more ribbing, the Senate gave preliminary approval to the bill, which will be up for a final vote today.


Senators advance "tough love' bill

Problem teenagers who get kicked out of their homes could be sent to a 24-hour shelter by a judge under a "tough love" bill the Senate advanced Wednesday.

The legislation was based on a study done by four Senate committees, which found the number of runaway teenagers in Florida has jumped 36 percent since 1990. By 1995, nearly 53,000 children were reported as runaways.

The bill lets parents turn to the Department of Juvenile Justice for help in dealing with disruptive children, who are called "lockouts" when parents refuse to care for them because of their behavior.

"I think it's going to make a very significant positive difference in the lives of a lot of families," said Senate Majority Leader Locke Burt, who sponsored the bill.

Other bills the Senate prepared for a floor vote Thursday would increase the penalties for stalking teenagers and exploiting elderly people, strengthen oversight of inmates who leave prison early because of recent court decisions and let victims sue drug dealers.


Statistics link smoking, drug addiction

Speaking in Tallahassee, the nation's drug-policy director Wednesday predicted that scientists soon will prove a physical connection between using tobacco and drugs.

Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, in an appearance before the Florida Alcohol & Drug Abuse Association, noted a statistical link between smoking and drug addiction already has been established.

"I'll bet that by the turn of the century, we're going to demonstrate that nicotine, marijuana and cocaine are largely the same neuro-chemical, dopamine, reward-pathway, chemical process," McCaffrey said.

"We have data from Columbia University indicating that tobacco and alcohol are clearly gateway behaviors to addictive problems in life."

McCaffrey's view coincides with that of Gov. Lawton Chiles, who in his crusade against tobacco companies has labeled tobacco a "gateway drug."


Need recognition? Visit the Senate

When the folks from home come to Tallahassee, legislators want to introduce them on the floor. The practice was getting out of hand Wednesday as one senator after another stood to introduce visiting county commissioners who were in town for a meeting.

That is when Sen. Rick Dantzler, D-Winter Haven, stood up.

"I would like to recognize everyone who hasn't been recognized," Dantzler joked.

Then he introduced the county commissioners from his home county, Polk.