Bill to return to public permit hearings is revised

A proposal to require again that water management district permits be voted on at public meetings has been revised.

Last year, SB 2080 was amended late in the legislative session to direct the districts to approve some permits without a public hearing. The Florida Home Builders Association said it supported the amended bill to help water management districts focus on other agency issues. Environmental groups asked Gov. Charlie Crist to veto the bill but he signed it.

This year, Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, introduced SB 142 in October to return to the status quo prior to SB 2080. Last year, Baker co-sponsored the bill but said he didn’t know the bill had been amended to exclude the public. Last week, the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee revised SB 142 — with Baker’s support — to require public votes only on water-pumping permits. Other “environmental resource” permits dealing with construction still would not be voted on under SB 142 and HB 7177.

Baker said the pumping permits were the biggest concern last year to opponents. But representatives of Audubon of Florida, the First Amendment Foundation and the Florida League of Cities said Friday they prefer that both permits be voted on in public. Baker said he remains hopeful SB 142 will pass this session.

Associated Industries of Florida prefers keeping the law as revised by SB 2080 to allow for expedited permitting, said Keyna Cory, the group’s senior lobbyist. Another water bill, SB 550, was amended in committee earlier this week to remove the SB 2080 rollback language and avoid opposition, said Sen. Lee Constantine, R-Altamonte Springs and sponsor of SB 550.

(Story content provided by the Current, produced by The Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)