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First Bills for 2010 Filed in State House

Twelve bills have been filed in the House for the 2010 session, including the latest attempt to legalize adoption by gay couples, a measure that would eliminate the statute of limitations for civil wrongful death actions and a bill to add homeless people to the state hate crimes statute.

All three of those bills have been filed before, with the most high profile being the measure that would make it clear that gay couples are allowed to adopt children in Florida. The measure (HB 3) was filed by Rep. Mary Brandenburg, who has carried similar legislation for eight years to no avail. The bill has never even been approved by a House committee.

A Miami-Dade judge last year struck down the state law that bars homosexuals from adopting, but the case is on appeal, and Brandenburg said the decision for now won't be applied in other judicial circuits. That case involved 47-year-old Martin Gill, who wanted to adopt two young brothers for whom he had been a foster parent. Judge Cindy Lederman ruled in favor of Gill, but around the same time, the proposed measure to undo the ban in the statutes was languishing in the Legislature, as it has for nearly a decade.

Brandenburg, D-West Palm Beach, acknowledged Monday that based on its historical performance, the bill is a long shot, but said it was important to file to keep the issue under discussion.

“Every child has the right to at least have the opportunity for a 'forever family' – that's what this bill is about,” Brandenburg said. “All the evidence is that gay or lesbian people are as good at raising children as anyone else.”

Brandenburg said, however, that the “gay rights issue” has overshadowed a simple matter – that there are lots of children that need to be adopted.

“This is really a children's rights bill,” Brandenburg said. “Foster care isn't good for children.” She also noted that judges make case-by-case decisions on adoptions so if a potential parent was unsuitable, they could be rejected.

The measure has been opposed in the past by the conservative legal aide and interest group Liberty Counsel, and will be again, said the group's chairman, Matthew Staver.

“Gay adoption creates fatherless or motherless homes, gay adoption is harmful to children and therefore not good for Floridians,” Staver said Monday. He noted that Florida's ban on gay adoption has been upheld in a federal appeals court as well as in state courts.

The first bill filed in the House this year was HB 1 by Rep. Ari Porth, which seeks to eliminate the statute of limiations on wrongful death claims. The push comes out of the Jeffrey Klee case in Broward County. Klee's body was found last year after being submerged in a canal for 31 years. His family and law enforcement officials believe he was killed by a punch and then put in a van that was then submerged in the canal. No one was ever charged, but law enforcement officials say they believe they know who the killer is.

The statute of limitations on manslaughter had run even though the state law on that was changed a few years ago. But the Klee family also has no recourse in civil court because there's a two year deadline for filing wrongful death suits.

The measure, which passed the House last year but failed in the Senate, wouldn't provide relief for the Klee family because it wouldn't be retroactive – but it could help families in similar situations in the future. The Klee family helped push for the legislation last year, said Porth, D-Coral Springs.

Another measure filed by Porth would add crimes against homeless people to those that could be classified as hate crimes. The measure (HB 11) doesn't inlcude minimum mandatory sentences this year, as similar legislation has in the past, and doesn't require any additional law enforcement training requirements that had been problematic in the past, Porth said.

That bill was sought by law enforcement officials in reaction in part to a high profile case in which three teens attacked homeless men and killed one. Porth said that made it appropriate that a Broward County legislator file the bill.

Other bills that have already been filed include:
-HB 5 by Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Lake Placid, which designates a state Purple Heart Highway.
-HB 7 by Rep. Ed Homan, which changes requirements for state insurance coverage of mental and nervous disorders.
-HB 9 by Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, a claims bill for Stephen Hall, who was badly injured when a state Department of Transportation truck pulled out in front of Hall's father.
-HB 13 by Rep. Kevin Ambler, dealing with the state's ability to use “senior” or retired judges.
-HJR 15 by Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, which would ask voters to change the Department of Elder Affairs to the Department of Elderly Affairs.
-HJR 17, a memorial to Congress by Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, calling for 12 year term limits for Congress.
-HM 19, a memorial on limiting the scope of federal power.
-HB 21 by Rep. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, prohibiting certain firearms restrictions and
-HB 23 by Rep. Mike Weinstein, R-Jacksonville, dealing with parole for adolescent offenders.

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