Bennett says he now wants to shift burden of proof to challengers

A provision that was stripped out of a House permit streamlining bill last week after environmentalists denounced it was back Wednesday as a proposed amendment to a Senate rulemaking bill.

The amendment to SB 1382 would place the burden of proof on those who challenge state environmental permits. The amendment by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, mirrors a provision that was taken out of HB 991 last week before it passed the House by a 95-16 vote without debate.

“It (the amendment) undoes all the good work we did last week on the (House) bill,” said Mary Jean Yon, a lobbyist for Audubon of Florida.

Environmentalists say that hiring an attorney and expert witnesses to file a legal challenge is difficult enough now without increasing the legal burden. But Bennett said Wednesday he doesn’t think it’s all that difficult.

“I think if somebody is going to challenge you, affect your economic life, the burden of proof should be on them that there really truly was a grounds for whatever their particular argument is,” he said.

The senator also said he is backing a stricter burden of proof requirement for his sweeping growth management bill, SB 1122. Both the growth bill and the SB 1382 rulemaking bill are on the Senate special order calendar for Wednesday.

Bennett said Monday he would stick with the position in his growth management bill that places the burden of proof on local governments when their decisions are challenged.

Budget negotiators agreed last week to stick the growth management legislation in a budget conforming bill with the stricter burden of proof requirement on challengers as contained in the House bill. “That’s out,” Bennett said Monday.

But he said Wednesday the bill taken up by the Senate will be identical to the conforming bill with the House position.

“Since [Monday], a lot of things have happened,” Bennett said.

Asked what had happened, he said, “Negotiations — trying to get a bill out of here that everybody agrees would create the most amount of jobs, and at the same time have a certain responsibility to protect as much of Florida as possible.”

(Photo and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission which can be obtained at .)