Bennett says DCA won’t be eliminated “on my watch”

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, today said elimination of the Florida Department of Community Affairs “is not going to happen on my watch.”

Bennett, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs, could play a key role in maintaining DCA as the chief state agency responsible for enforcing Florida’s growth management laws. The agency this year is undergoing a “sunset” review under state law to determine if the need for the agency.

Amid criticism of DCA last year, the House Military and Local Affairs Committee introduced a bill that would abolish the department and shift its planning oversight to the Florida Department of State. DCA Secretary Tom Pelham faces criticism from developers for questioning the need for new projects.

Although Bennett doesn’t serve on the Joint Legislative Sunset Committee, his Committee on Community Affairs will take up whatever legislation the Sunset panel proposes. Speaking today to the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association Public Policy Workshop, Bennett said abolishing the department “is never going to happen on my watch.”

“We need oversight,” he said. “We need a central planning agency to keep us all in line.”

Other speakers at the FAPA annual Public Policy Workshop said the Legislature, during an election year, may seek to avoid controversy by extending the DCA sunset review until next year.

The controversial proposed Amendment 4, known as “Florida Hometown Democracy,” may persuade legislators to do little on growth management issues, some capital observers said.

Amendment 4 would require voter approval of changes to local comprehensive growth plans. Business groups and some local governments oppose the measure while a few environmental groups support it.

Several speakers said they don’t expect significant growth legislation this year because lawmakers don’t want to provide ammunition for Amendment 4 supporters.

“We are very concerned about Amendment 4,” Bennett said. “We don’t want to do anything to fire that up.”

When he’s asked what the Legislature will do this session, Bennett said he responds, “Not very much.”

“On growth management,” he said, “right now we don’t have much growth to manage.”

He said SB 360, which revamped some aspects of growth law last year, still is being implemented.

Bennett said he would like to see some permitting duplication eliminated.

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)