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Affirmative Action Ban Targeted

February 10, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Black college students and hundreds of other critics of Gov. Jeb Bush’s plan to get rid of affirmative action packed Capitol hearing rooms Thursday to denounce the effort as an attack on women and minorities.

Bush did not attend the third and final set of hearings on his ``One Florida″ proposal, which would eliminate race and gender as factors in university admissions and the awarding of state contracts.

``The One Florida plan will not work,″ said Anthony Viegbesie, president of the Tallahassee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. ``The One Florida plan is anti-minority, anti-women, anti-poverty and must be killed.″

The Republican governor has insisted the plan would improve diversity in education and contracting jobs by increasing outreach efforts to minorities historically shut out of opportunities.

Students who take a difficult enough course load and finish in the top 20 percent of their high school graduating class would be guaranteed admission to some state universities.

``The athletes that are needed to win football games will be included in that 20 percent whether they have the grades or not,″ said Brenda Holt, a high school teacher in Quincy. ``If the government in this state does not protect us from the good-old-boy system, then who does?″

The legislators hearing testimony were split into two groups to accommodate the crowd. About 450 people were initially allowed into the rooms while another 200 waited quietly for their opportunity to speak for three minutes.

``I think the governor has his heart in the right place, but has been misguided in his approach so far,″ said Kelvin Lawrence, a sophomore at predominantly black Florida A&M University.

For weeks, leaders in Florida’s black community have protested against the plan. In January, two black lawmakers staged a 25-hour sit-in inside Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan’s office, demanding that Bush rescind his executive order to put One Florida in place.

Bush refused, but he agreed to three public hearings on the plan. The previous two, in Tampa and Miami, also were dominated by critics.

Then this week, while 1,000 students protested in the Capitol rotunda, Bush met with four student representatives from Florida A&M and agreed to add a three-year ``accountability measure″ to make sure enough minorities are admitted into state universities.

Brogan said Thursday the plan would increase opportunities for minorities and streamline the application process for state business.

``People worked and labored long on the vineyards of civil rights,″ he said. ``What we’re asking for is people to take a small slice of that courage and create greater opportunity.″

Chris Chestnut, a Florida State University sophomore, said he has read the plan several times and found several problems.

For instance, the plan to guarantee college admission to the top 20 percent of high school students might encourage students to attend schools with lesser academic reputations to make it easier to get into college, he said.

``There’s simply not enough answers, but too many questions,″ Chestnut said.

The next action on One Florida is expected at the Feb. 17 Board of Regents meeting in Orlando. The panel is scheduled to vote on some portions of the plan, including the part guaranteeing college admission to the top 20 percent of students.

The regents’ decision must then be approved by the governor and independently elected Cabinet, which serves as the Board of Education.

The Legislature will also have significant say on parts of the One Florida plan, including procedural changes on how state contracts are awarded. Opponents plan to march on the Capitol on the opening day of the legislative session, March 7.