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Listen: Late lawmaker and lobbyist Sam Bell looks back on his career

Sam Bell at the Florida House of Representatives podium in 1984
Deborah Thomas collection
Florida Memory
Sam Bell at the Florida House of Representatives podium in 1984.

Former lawmaker and lobbyist Sam Bell died on Tuesday. He had spent 14 years in the Florida Legislature, including four as House Appropriations chair. The list of his legislative successes is long and lasting.

Bell represented Volusia County from 1974 to 1988. He was passionate about public health, especially for children. He lobbied to create Florida’s first college of public health at the University of South Florida… and Florida Healthy Kids, the government-subsidized insurance plan that became the model for the national Children’s Health Insurance Program. After his time as a lawmaker, he became a lobbyist for children’s health and education programs and policies. These comments were recorded for The News Service of Florida in 2013, when Bell semi-retired:

“We spend a lot of money on juvenile justice and criminal justice and the welfare system and all of those expensive catch-up programs — when we wouldn’t need to spend that money, or not to that extent to spend it, if we put the money up front,” Bell said. “I mean real money! We have an early learning program and we have a VPK, but we’re paying the minimum.”

Bell would have been House Speaker in 1988, but lost a re-election bid in his local district.

“Well, it would have been wonderful. I think I would have been able to make a difference in those two years as Speaker,” he said. “And in fact, I lost when I was Speaker-designate. I think I could have made a difference, and I regret not having that opportunity.”

Bell’s work included the creation of regional neonatal intensive care units; requiring infant screening and child restraints in automobiles; and requiring hot water heater supply systems to be equipped with automatic temperature controls to eliminate the danger of severe burns.

Bell was married for 34 years to Betty Castor, a former USF president and state education commissioner. They had 6 children -- including Congresswoman Kathy Castor -- and 10 grandchildren.
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Margie Menzel