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200 offer their 2 cents for state quarter plan

Manatees, panthers, dolphins, sea turtles, pelicans, flamingos and Mickey Mouse. There are blazing sunrises, bobbing cruise ships and flowering orange blossoms. There are space shuttles. Lots of space shuttles.

About 200 suggested designs for Florida's official state quarter are stacking up in Gov. Jeb Bush's office as next year's deadline looms for their submission to the U.S. Mint.

Part of the federal government's wildly popular 50 State Quarters Program, the designs will be winnowed to between three and five by Bush next year and forwarded to Washington. The quarters will be released in 2004.

Bush hasn't decided how he will make his choice, although there is talk about letting Floridians put in their 2 cents' worth through an Internet vote.

"Right now, he's in the process of accepting the designs and putting the word out," said spokeswoman Liz Hirst.

States get their turn for a quarter based on the order in which they entered the union. Florida joined in 1845, making it the 27th state.

Some states have relied on special commissions to choose quarter designs. West Virginia is considering letting high school art students make a final recommendation.

Elementary school students' designs dominate the submissions Bush has received so far.

Anyone can submit a design for Florida's quarter, but there are ground rules set by the U.S. government.

Historical buildings, symbols of state resources or industries and outlines of the state are in.

Controversial or frivolous subjects, state flags or portraits of people, living or dead, are out _ the mint won't circulate a two-headed coin.

The federal law signed by President Clinton in 1997 gives the treasury secretary the final say. The Fine Arts Commission and the Citizens Commemorative Coin Advisory Committee, two federal panels, also vet the designs.

Mint officials and coin-collecting experts are awed at the program's success. They estimate that the 10-year program, begun in 1999, has attracted 210-million collectors in the United States.

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