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Senate jabs Handy on secrecy

Today is the 59th day of the 60-day session.

Last month, Florida Board of Education Chairman Phil Handy held a private conference call with the chairmen of the boards of the state's universities to discuss pending legislation. Reporters objected, but Handy said it was perfectly legal to meet in private.

That may not last.

The Florida Senate on Wednesday amended a major education bill to require that future meetings among Handy and the chairmen be public.

It was the second time the Senate has swatted at Handy, Gov. Jeb Bush's hand-picked choice to run the state's new K-20 education system.

Earlier this month a committee vote on Handy's nomination was delayed several times, partly due to fears he might not be approved.

The provision was part of the massive overhaul of the state's education laws now on its way to the House. It is unlikely the two chambers can iron out their differences on the education code, so the Senate also amended a bill to reinstate current laws governing higher education, which expire in January.


Bill closes utility customer lists

Open records advocates in Florida scored a major victory on Wednesday, only to see it snatched away.

The House voted 47-61 to reject a bill that would make information about customers of public utilities secret. Within hours, the House reconsidered, passing it 62-53.

"It's infuriating," said Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit watchdog for open government in Florida. "This is such bad public policy."

Legislators conducted two lively debates on the bill (HB 445) during which at least one member suggested the state remove the word "sunshine" from the state's welcome signs.

"Why are we pulling the shades on the public's right to know?" asked Rep. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

Rep. Mike Hogan, R-Jacksonville, said he sponsored the bill because he wanted customers of public utilities, such as city water departments, to be treated as those who buy from private utilities, which keep their records secret.

The Senate version of the bill (SB 378) has yet to be heard by the full Senate.


Heart attack fatal to lobbyist

Lobbyist Marvin Arrington died late Tuesday night after a massive heart attack on his way to work earlier in the day.

Arrington, 44, crashed his Toyota 4Runner into a parking garage wall in downtown Tallahassee shortly after 8 a.m. and was found slumped over the wheel.

Dr. Skip Beeler, in town to serve as "Doctor of the Day" in the House, ran to the scene and performed CPR on Arrington, who never regained consciousness.

He died at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital after dozens of friends gathered to say goodbye. Funeral services are today at 3 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church in Tallahassee.