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Bush panel to ponder further election reforms

Gov. Jeb Bush appointed a panel Monday to review the changes Florida made in its election system and recommend what further improvements are needed.

The Select Task Force on Election Procedures, Standards and Technology will examine how changes made following the contested 2000 presidential election worked during this year's primary and general elections.

Lawmakers in 2001 outlawed punch card ballots, created new standards for recounts and provided a definition for what a vote is. Most Floridians now vote on touch screen systems; the rest use optical scan ballots.

A recent survey by the Collins Center for Public Policy and the James Madison Institute showed most Florida voters are satisfied with the state's election reform measures.

"We will not rest on our laurels," Bush said. "We must remain eternally vigilant in safeguarding the voting rights of every Floridian by continuing to strive for perfect elections."

Secretary of State Jim Smith, who co-chaired an election reform task force in 2001, will co-chair the new group along with former University of Miami president Edward "Tad" Foote II.

Betty Castor takes role with education consultant

Betty Castor, former president of the University of South Florida and former state education commissioner, is returning to Tallahassee to work with a national education research and consulting firm, MGT.

Castor recently resigned as president of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. She joins MGT with the title of national education director.

MGT consults with school districts, colleges, universities and local governments on education issues around the country. It has headquarters in Tallahassee and regional offices in Austin, Texas; Olympia, Wash.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Columbia, S.C.

Searchers find body of boy involved in jet ski crash

LAKELAND _ Police found the body of a 15-year-old Lakeland boy Monday, a day after he disappeared in Lake Gibson after his personal watercraft collided with a friend's.

Brad Hicks disappeared about 2 p.m. Sunday after apparently turning into the path of the watercraft operated by David Norwood, 13, of Plant City.

Norwood hit the side of Hicks' watercraft, and both boys fell into the water. Norwood swam ashore.

Investigators searched throughout the night for Hicks' body, which was found about 9:20 a.m. Monday in about 10 feet of water about 300 yards from shore.

Hicks' father, Daryl Hicks, had brought the boys to the lake minutes earlier and was standing nearby when the accident occurred. Daryl Hicks dove into the water but was unable to find his son.

Neither boy wore a life vest, Polk County sheriff's spokesman Scott Wilder said.

Cruise line sued over

virus afflicting passengers

FORT LAUDERDALE _ A lawsuit has been filed against Holland America on behalf of passengers who contracted a stomach virus during a Caribbean cruise.

The suit, seeking class action status, was filed Friday in Seattle, where the cruise line is based.

The ship's 1,900 passengers and crew disembarked from the Amsterdam in Fort Lauderdale on Nov. 10 following a 10-day cruise. About 160 passengers had become sick from a Norwalk-like virus, which can cause diarrhea and vomiting for 24 to 48 hours.

The virus is spread through food and water and close contact with infected people or things they have touched.

Workers scrubbed the Amsterdam with a chlorine solution for 10 hours on Nov. 11, before the ship set sail on another Caribbean cruise that night. At least 47 people got sick in the first four days of that voyage, which is scheduled to return to Port Everglades on Wednesday.

There have been 494 confirmed cases of the Norwalk-like virus on the Amsterdam's last four sails.

In July, another Holland America vessel, the Ryndam, had 395 reported cases of the Norwalk-like virus on an Alaskan cruise. The vessel was temporarily pulled from service to be disinfected. A lawsuit was filed in August on behalf of Ryndam passengers.

_ Staff, wire reports

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