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Gambling bills clear House panel


TALLAHASSEE (FBW)—Pro-family interests were handed a mixed bag last week as members of the Florida Legislature considered card room legislation, video lotteries, stem cell research and a tightening of parental notification laws.

In the final weeks of its two-month annual session, which ends May 4, pro-family advocates were disappointed when a bill allowing pari-mutuels to open 265 days a year and 24 hours a day on Saturday and Sunday passed handily out of a committee in the typically more conservative Florida House of Representatives.

Florida Baptist legislative consultant Bill Bunkley told Florida Baptist Witness another anticipated bill also would authorize large poker tournaments and increase the number of terminals allowed at each location to 1,500.

“This is an unacceptable expansion of gambling in my view,” Bunkley said. “In these final three weeks we will gauge the House’s ability to halt final passage of many of these bills as the Senate will be more than willing to accommodate these initiatives.”

Another gambling-related bill, which Bunkley warns forestalls social interaction by allowing individuals to purchase pull-tab bingo games, is also on the horizon, he said.

“Currently, the House will generally allow these bills to move forward, but not pass the total package in the final analysis,” Bunkley said.

On ethical stem cell research, Bunkley said a proposal successfully moved through two House committees while the Senate companion also was reheard and passed by the panel which had previously postponed action.

The Senate Commerce Committee was also considering stem cell research. SB 2496, sponsored by Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Indialantic, takes a more conservative approach by prohibiting the use of embryonic stem cells in state-funded research. SB 750, sponsored by Sen. Steve Geller, D- Cooper City, does not have such a prohibition.

“Notwithstanding action in the United States Congress, I am cautiously optimistic that if any bill makes it to Gov. Crist’s desk, it will be the ethical one,” Bunkley said.

Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, has also “found good sailing” with legislation tightening definitions and procedures for the existing Florida parental notification of abortion for minors statute, according to Bunkley. Though Storms’ bill lacks the 24-hour waiting period sought by the House, Bunkley said other senators have supported the legislation in committee.