State Politics

A car accident took her life. The bill her death inspired won’t be named for her.

In this picture from 1999, Mayra Capote holds a picture of her daughter, also named Mayra, who was killed in September of that year. Hialeah Republican Sen. René García this year wanted to name a proposed state law after the younger Mayra, but the 15-year-old’s name was taken out of his bill at Senate President Joe Negron’s request.
In this picture from 1999, Mayra Capote holds a picture of her daughter, also named Mayra, who was killed in September of that year. Hialeah Republican Sen. René García this year wanted to name a proposed state law after the younger Mayra, but the 15-year-old’s name was taken out of his bill at Senate President Joe Negron’s request. Herald file photo

Mayra Capote was a 15-year-old freshman at Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High School when she and two other students were killed in a car accident in September 1999 as they rushed back to school from an open-campus lunch break.

In the weeks afterward, Miami-Dade public schools changed district policy to prevent students from leaving school grounds during the lunch hour. And in the nearly 18 years since, Hialeah Republican Sen. René García has tried several times to prevent future tragedies statewide by seeking a Florida law affecting all public high schools.

With his most recent attempt this year, García sought to name the proposed law directly in honor of Mayra.

But her name was abruptly deleted from the bill last week — at the request of Senate President Joe Negron.

I’ll make sure I keep my eye open that that happens on every bill and they don’t allow someone else’s name through.

Sen. René García, R-Hialeah

Naming laws after people isn’t uncommon in the Legislature, but Negron told the Herald/Times he just doesn’t want new laws this year to be named for people because it puts lawmakers in an awkward spot if they want to oppose such a bill on its merits.

“If someone were to vote ‘no’ on a particular bill that’s named after someone who lost a family member or sustained a grievous loss, it could appear that that person was being callous toward the suffering of a fellow citizen — and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Negron, R-Stuart.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, also “doesn’t allow” naming bills after people, his spokesman Fred Piccolo said in an email.

García’s proposal for Mayra appears to be the first casualty of the new chamber leaders’ unofficial protocol this session.

García’s bill (SB 148) was to be named the “Mayra Capote Act.” It proposes to restrict public high school students in the state’s eight largest school districts — including Miami-Dade and Broward counties — from leaving school during lunch unless they have written permission from a parent.

Only two districts in the top eight — Palm Beach and Duval — don’t already have such policies. The remaining 59 county school districts aren’t affected by the bill. (“I wish it would be across the board, but we’ll start somewhere,” García said.)

When the Senate Education Committee considered the measure last week, senators — without discussion or advance public notice — stripped Mayra’s name from García’s bill prior to approving the rest of it.

Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, submitted a handwritten amendment as the bill was being heard seeking simply to “delete line 13” — the single line that mentioned Mayra, although Mayfield didn’t say that explicitly. No senator objected, and it was done within seconds.

García told the Herald/Times afterward that Negron’s office asked for Mayra’s name to be removed.

“It’s true that it’s not just about one individual; it’s about the global policy — so that’s why we went along with it for now,” García said. “But I’ll make sure I keep my eye open that that happens on every bill and they don’t allow someone else’s name through.”

The House companion of García’s bill — HB 85 by Rep. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton — hasn’t been heard yet, so it still includes Mayra’s name.

But while there won’t be new names codified in law to honor those, like Mayra, whose lives sparked a call for change in public policy, other “named” proposals are still allowable this year.

I would have no objection to naming a particular program. ... I think that’s a very different situation.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart

As happens annually, several roads are in line to be renamed in honor of politicians, veterans, law enforcement officers, celebrities or other notable Floridians — like the proposed “Arnold Palmer Expressway” in Orange County or the proposed “Robert L. Shevin Memorial Highway” in Miami-Dade County after the former state attorney general and Miami native.

And existing state programs could potentially be renamed after lawmakers who championed that policy. That happened at least twice in 2016 when titles of two education programs were changed to honor then-Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and current Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers.

Negron said naming roads or programs in honor of people is different than naming proposed laws.

“I would have no objection to naming a particular program, such as a scholarship,” he said. “We have a number of those where someone came up with an idea or we’re honoring them. … I think that’s a very different situation.”

He added: “To name an actual bill that would be in our statute books and to have a proliferation of names in them, I think it’s better for our statute books to be based on statutes passed and enacted by the Legislature.”

Last spring, Negron himself offered the amendment that successfully renamed the National Merit Scholar program in Florida after Benacquisto, a top ally of his. The “Benacquisto Scholarship Program” is now the official name in state law.

In the case of García’s bill honoring Mayra, Negron said: “Obviously, my heart goes out to the family in this particular situation. Nonetheless, I think it’s best, when the Legislature considers bills, that that process is done in a deliberative manner.”

García’s bill is among at least a few introduced this year that seek to name proposed policy changes after specific people.

For example: Weston Democratic Rep. Richard Stark has proposed “Max’s Helmet Law” (HB 147), and Lantana Democratic Rep. Lori Berman and House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, of Tampa, have proposed the “Helen Gordon Davis Fair Pay Protection Act” (SB 319) after the former Tampa lawmaker.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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