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Farm workers' legislation seeks safety measures

Today is the 11th day

of the 60-day session.

Farm workers on Thursday urged passage of bills to protect them from health risks due to pesticides, and from slavery rings that exploit migrant workers by not paying minimum wages. Their legislative advocates include African-American Democrats and Cuban-American Republicans who cited the "shame" of a legacy of mistreatment of Florida farm workers.

Sponsors of the bills include Rep. Frank Peterman, D-St. Petersburg. He filed a bill that would re-enact the Florida Agricultural Worker Safety Act, which expired in 1998. It requires employers to notify workers of the risks of chemicals.

"It's a humanity issue," said Peterman, surrounded by workers, many dressed in jeans, boots and work shirts. "If we don't stand tall and fight for folks who don't have a voice . . . then shame on us."

Peterman's pesticide awareness bill (HB 1253) has been referred to three major committees by House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City.

_ STEVE BOUSQUET

House panel advances bill

to outlaw "cyberstalking'

A measure adding harassment by computer to the state's stalking law was approved unanimously by the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee.

The bill (HB 479), sponsored by Rep. John Stargel, R-Lakeland, creates the crime of "cyberstalking," or threatening or harassing someone over the Internet, by instant messaging system or e-mail.

People who send threatening e-mails "exact the same fear . . . and harassment that physical stalking does," said Stargel.

The bill next goes to the House Judiciary Committee. A similar measure (SB 82) is filed in the Senate.

Stiffer penalties sought

for some sex offenders

Some sex offenders would have to be sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison under a measure approved by the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee.

Under the bill (HB 77) sex offenders who seriously injure their victim, use or threaten to use a deadly weapon during the crime, are repeat offenders, or victimize children or more than one person, would have to be sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Currently, there are 10-year minimum mandatory sentences for some sex offenders.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Carole Green, R-Fort Myers, was approved unanimously. It now goes to the budget subcommittee that deals with public safety measures. There's no Senate companion to the bill.

Class size measure zooms

through Senate panel

A plan to reduce the number of students in crowded public classrooms zipped through the Senate Education Appropriations Committee with no discussion or debate.

The House has not yet produced legislation to implement the class size reduction amendment voters approved in November, and just two weeks ago Gov. Jeb Bush urged lawmakers to put the issue back on the ballot.

Under the class size amendment, by 2010 a classroom can have no more than 18 pupils in prekindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grades and 25 in high school. Between now and then, lawmakers must provide the money to reduce the average class size by two students per year.

Sen. Lee Constantine, one of the sponsors of CS-SB 1436 said he knew the legislation still had a long way to go.

"This is our best first shot," the Altamonte Springs Republican said.

_ ASSOCIATED PRESS

+ For information about legislation, call 1-800-342-1827 or 1-850-488-4371 toll-free during business hours.

+ The Legislature's official Web site: www.leg.state.fl.us

+ Capitol Update, a half-hour TV program on the day's legislative highlights, airs at 11 p.m. weekdays on public stations. Some government access channels offer live daytime coverage of some floor sessions and committee meetings. Check TV Times for schedules.

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