Legislature Week Two: Everglades at warp speed

By Bruce Ritchie


What a difference a week makes — when it comes to Everglades legislation.

Rep. Matt Caldwell, chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.
Rep. Matt Caldwell, chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.

On March 7, after an Everglades bill was rolled out in a House committee, Rep. Matt Caldwell said there was no “go-fast” approach.

Environmentalists who opposed HB 7065 said they had only seen the bill language less than two days before the vote. (See “House committee rejects environmental opposite, votes to file Everglades bill,” by the Florida Current.)

On March 14, HB 7065 was approved in its final committee stop and was headed for the House floor. (See “Everglades bill headed to House floor amid talks between sugar farmers, environments,” by The Florida Current).

“In the House, it’s a done deal,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said.

If that’s not fast, then what is?

One issue that wasn’t going anywhere fast was fertilizer legislation. There wasn’t even a bill filed by the March 5 deadline for filing legislation.

The issue has been a hot topic for the past three years since Pinellas County adopted a lawn fertilizer ban during the rainy summer months.

Business groups and lawn care companies say local ordinances can create a patchwork of regulations across the state and they want the Legislature to step in. Cities, counties and environmental groups say local regulations are needed to protect waterways and meet state and federal water quality standards.

Rep. Steve Crisafulli, the House speaker designate in 2014, this week said he is working with both sides to come up with a compromise that would involve studying the issue while there is a local ban on new ordinances.

If the opposing groups can’t agree on legislation this year, Crisafulli said, “There just won’t be a bill.” (See “Crisafulli says he’s working on legislation to address controversial local fertilizer regulations,” by The Florida Current.)

Also this week coalition of business and environmental groups were pushing for legislation to reduce the coverage of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. (See “Groups rally behind Cat Fund bill, but progress hard to come by,” by The Florida Current, March 13)

“The aesthetics and quality of our coastal ecosystem in Florida is diminishing,” said David Godfrey, executive director of the Sea Turtle Conservancy. “Why let it diminish further with public subsidies that also put taxpayers at risk?

Another issue that never seems to go away is the prospect of offshore oil drilling .

A reminder this week came during a policy briefing at the Capitol during which the Consumer Energy Alliance reminded legislators that Florida is missing revenue sharing from offshore drilling. (See “Consumer Energy Alliance nudges legislators on oil drilling, energy issues,” by The Florida Current.)

On the growth management side, a bill that would require that cities and counties allow developers to pay only their proportionate share for transportation projects passed its first House stop. (See “Bill seeking to rein in local transportation fee systems passes House subcommittee,” The Florida Current, March 13)

Opponents of HB 319, including 1000 Friends of Florida, reminded the House Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee that those sweeping law changes in 2011 that practically did away with state oversight were supposed to allow local governments to be innovative in their approach to growth management.

The issue also recalls former Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, who in 2011 warned the developers and business groups supporting the growth law overhaul not to come back asking the state to step in when they don’t like the results at the local level.

He isn’t there to remind them this year. Randolph left the Legislature in 2012 to become Orange County Tax Collector.

Likewise, some legislators aren’t so happy when counties allow development near military bases, risking base closures and jobs. (See “Committees introduce bills to allow land-buying to buffer military bases,” the Florida Current March 14.)

Maybe those legislators think it’s time for the state to step in — again?

Welcome back, growth management.

Away from the Capitol, the Tampa Bay Times reported on the high number of manatee deaths resulting from red tide along the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast. (See “Record-breaking number of manatees killed by red tide”).

Money for red tide research has been on the chopping block in recent years. Gov. Rick Scott’s 2013-14 budget request includes just $640,993 for red tide research.

Also away from the Capitol, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, on a media tour to promote a new book, called political reporters “crack addicts” because of their obsession with the question of whether he will run for president in 2016. (See March 14 Miami Herald.)

Bush is right.

And the fact that big media outlets make their political reporters into stars while they eliminate their environmental beats shows why we need new news outlets.

We need all media outlets to cover serious issues facing our communities rather than speculating on a presidential election that is more than 3-1/2  years away.

Quote of the week:

“Every couple of years, some dude screws me out a job,” said Chris Brennan, a former Broward County park ranger who recently was fired from his job working on the Fort Laudrdale Water Taxi. (See “Water Taxi Employee Fired for Video Defending Rain Tree,” by the Broward-Palm Beach New Times.)

(Photos and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy, publish or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)