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TORT REFORM DEAL REACHED: House and Senate negotiators reached agreement Tuesday night on a business-friendly bill that makes substantial changes in the state's civil justice system. The bill, which must still be approved by the full House and Senate, would make it harder to sue and collect big damage awards from businesses. Legislators say the bill improves the state's economic climate without compromising the rights of citizens. But the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers says the bill is "mean-spirited, one-sided and extremist." Scott Carruthers, spokesman for the Academy, said the bill shows legislators are more willing to protect businesses that manufacture defective products than Floridians who are harmed by the products.

KODAK DIVISIONS MERGED: Eastman Kodak Co. has merged its photo-copier manufacturing and microfilm divisions after the head of its copier unit opted for early retirement. Kenneth O. Hoffman said he wanted to spend more time with his family. His division shrunk after Kodak sold its copier sales and service business to St. Petersburg-based Danka Business Systems PLC last year. Kodak still manufacturers high-volume copiers for Danka. Separately, Kodak said it is exploring the sale of its chain of photography stores called Fox Photo.

TIRE BUSINESS RECYCLED: A defunct tire recycling business in Tampa is being recycled itself _ into the industry of computer systems integration. Houston-based Millennium Integration Technologies Inc. is using its reverse merger with Southeast Tire Recycling Inc. to become a publicly traded company, fueling its national expansion plans. In the deal, Southeast Tire, which has been inactive since early 1997, has acquired 100 percent of Millennium's stock in exchange for 6.25-million shares of Southeast Tire stock. All Southeast officers and directors have been replaced by Millennium president and CEO Michael McClere and other Millennium officers. Shares in Southeast rose 37{ cents Tuesday to close at $3.25.

COLUMBIA DEFENDANTS FILE MOTION: Attorneys for three indicted Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. executives have asked the court to unseal all whistleblower lawsuits against the company. In a motion filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, lawyers said their clients, who were charged with health care fraud in June, are entitled to see the complaints filed by former and current Columbia employees because they are critical to their defense. All three men have pleaded not guilty to the charges. A whistleblower's lawsuit can be kept secret for 60 days while the government decides whether to join the case. Though the government can ask for an extension, the defendants say the government has abused this privilege, with some lawsuits under seal for more than 515 days.

_ Compiled from Times staff reports.