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In House, comments about women and weight don't end well

The fire safety legislation seems benign on its face. But debate Monday on proposed language turned into a bit of a dustup between a veteran, female Republican and a freshman -- emphasis on "man" -- Democrat.

It all started when Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, attempted to tack on language to HB 1410 that set new fitness standards for firefighters. Several House members stepped up to argue against her amendment, which would have required firefighters to keep their body mass index below 25 to remain certified. (BMI is calculated by comparing height to weight.) Some said it would penalize people with muscular builds and others who had higher BMIs but were still perfectly capable of doing the job.

It got awkward when retired firefighter Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, stood up to make his argument. Adkins' amendment penalized women, he said, who "notoriously" had higher BMIs. Some House members chuckled, but Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, who was in the speaker's chair at the moment, encouraged Clelland to clean up his statement.

But it wasn't enough for Adkins, who fired off a letter to Clelland, which she copied to House Speaker Will Weatherford, asking for a public apology. Biz Pac Review first reported on the letter, penned Tuesday.

"His remarks were made publicly on the floor and that's why I think it's appropriate that he apologize for what I consider disparaging remarks to the women of Florida in a public way," Adkins told the Times/Herald today.

Clelland responded with a letter of his own today, and he's not backing down. He said women having higher BMI than men, generally speaking, is "not a fact that is really up for debate." His comments were not disparaging, he wrote, and he was simply pointing out the flaws in an amendment he felt would harm firefighters.

"I feel no need to apologize for any comments made during debate, as they were factual, and intended to protect the men and women in fire service who would have been harmed by the language in your amendment," Clelland wrote.

Adkins' amendment failed, by the way. The bill, HB 1410, passed unanimously. No word if any more letters will be written.

Click here to Download Adkins Letter to Clelland

Click here to Download Clelland Letter to Adkins