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Law's backers not surprised by ruling

The Florida Supreme Court's decision to overturn the state law that has kept Terri Schiavo alive did not surprise opponents or supporters

Even its staunchest defenders in the Legislature knew that the hastily-approved, one-page bill passed last fall faced an uphill fight in court _ even on a court with two justices appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bush cast the Schiavo controversy in moral terms Thursday.

"I'm disappointed, not for political reasons or for the separation of power reasons. I respect the judgment of the court in that regard," Bush said. "I'm disappointed for the moral reasons of the taking of innocent life, and without having, I don't think, a full hearing on the facts of what her intents were."

Opponents said a full hearing on the facts is what the Legislature failed to hold last October. In less than a day, lawmakers passed House Bill 35E, which gave Bush the power to reverse a judge's decision and order Schiavo's feeding tube reconnected.

House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, said the decision was mostly about the judiciary safeguarding its independence.

"I think it's tragic for those of us who believe we should err on the side of life," Byrd said. "But I thought it was not unexpected."

The push for legislative action came largely from Byrd, who last fall was embarking on a U.S. Senate campaign. The case brought him a bounty of national TV exposure. As he told Fox's Sean Hannity last October: "I'll be in session every day if I can save someone's life, Sean."

Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, said again on Thursday that he regretted passing the law. But he said the pressure was so overwhelming, he did not heed the advice of senators who warned him it would be struck down by the courts.

"If we stayed away, we would have been accused of killing Terri Schiavo," King said. "We were pressured into it. Johnnie Byrd was running for the U.S. Senate . . . he made it a cause."

King, who has long championed living wills and "death with dignity" legislation, demanded a narrowly crafted law that applied only to the Schiavo case. He said the court's decision reinforces the need for the Senate to live up to its reputation as a deliberative body.

Passage of Terri's Law came amid a flood of more than 160,000 e-mails from people all over the country, many of whom framed the complex case in stark, life-or-death terms.

"This is a human life we are talking about here," Linda Crosby of Phoenix e-mailed Bush last Oct. 21. "Please don't let Terri's blood be on your hands."

Republican Rep. Randy Johnson of Celebration said he found it impossible to vote against Terri's Law.

"It's important to remember how the question was asked," Johnson said. "This lady had been removed from life support and was starving to death and oh, by the way, her parents are dedicated to giving their lives to take care of her. . . . It was a question you can't say no to."

Some did say no.

Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, one of 24 House members voting against the law, said he knew it was flawed after seeing language that created what he called an "uber-governor" with power to overrule the other branches.

"You should never let emotion overwhelm the rule of law," he said.

Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.