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Bills are dying — is springs legislation next?

2-19-14 dolphins photo
By BRUCE RITCHIE

FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

I wrote a piece on the status of major environmental bills at the midpoint in the legislative session on April 4. But I didn’t get around to posting it. And that’s OK, because most of it had changed just seven days later.

1. SPRINGS LEGISLATION

Sen. Charlie Dean said on April 10 that SB 1576 isn’t dead and that it’s just a matter of getting funding aligned between the House and Senate. And he pointed out that the Senate and House leadership next year is committed to dealing with water issues. Huh? The bill has just one committee stop left but the House companion bill hasn’t budged. A deal will have to be worked out between leadership of the two chambers for this to go anywhere. Newspapers and prognosticators said this was the year of water in the Legislature. Will they say that again next year?  “I think the bottom line is it’s going to take the public to get angry about this before the Legislature will act,” former Florida Springs Task Force Chairman Jim Stevenson said in September 2013.

2. PATRONIS BILL

Rep. Jimmy Patronis half joked with me on Wednesday that I don’t have anything to write about now. His HB 703, a wide-ranging environmental permitting bill that faced environmental opposition, appears dead after the Senate version was temporarily passed by its sponsor in a Senate committee, according to The Florida Current. But elements of the bills could wind up in other legislation in the mad dash towards the end of session. If that happens, I certainly will have something to write about (in addition to the other legislation that I am covering — do you hear that Patronis?).

3. ENERGY

What Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam calls an “ambitious” agenda on energy is ambitious largely because the Legislature has been averse to doing almost anything since 2009, when the Senate passed a 15 percent renewable energy requirement. It didn’t pass the House. Now Putnam’s proposals to extend a renewable energy tax exemption for residential property to commercial property appears dead because of opposition from Rep. Ritch Workman, chairman of the House Finance & Tax Committee. Oh yeah, the hydraulic fracturing bills are dead too.

4. GROWTH MANAGEMENT

SB 372 would expand from eight to 15 the number of counties where large developments are exempt from review by the state as “developments of regional impact.” Environmentalists and the Florida Association of Counties have opposed the bill, which has passed three committees. But a House companion bill has not been heard and, as a result, SB 372 was temporarily passed in a committee this week. “Nothing is dead until the white handkerchief drops on the last day of session,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Shalimar and sponsor of HB 241, told The Florida Current. “But I’m starting to hear the echoes of the death rattle.” I admitted I didn’t know what “death rattle” meant.

5. ENVIRONMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS

All these compromised and dead bills are shifting my focus to spending issues in the proposed House and Senate versions of a $75 billion state budget. And I don’t think the news is good for groups supporting the Florida Forever land-buying program. The Senate and House are far apart on issues such as local water projects, Indian River Lagoon and petroleum contamination site cleanups. If the allocation for environmental spending increases, those programs likely will get the money first. The House now has proposed $30 million in new revenue split between Florida Forever and agricultural conservation easements. Both the House and Senate provide $40 million from the sale of nonconservation land. Any boost is going to fall far short of the $100 million in new revenue requested by the Florida Forever Coalition.

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