Bill would presume permit applications are OK

A Senate committee Tuesday is scheduled to consider a proposal to shift the burden of proof for environmental permits from the applicants to agencies and individuals who are filing challenges.

A proposed committee substitute for Senate Bill 364 would include the provision that presumes applications submitted by licensed professionals are correct. Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, introduced the bill as chairman of the Senate Committee on Community Affairs, which is scheduled to consider SB 364 on Tuesday.

The bill faces opposition from environmental groups. House Bill 1349, by Rep. Jimmy Patronis, was amended in committee to include the requirement.

“I believe if you are going to challenge a professionally licensed individual who’s named in statute just because you have a personal concern with it (a permit application) I believe you should be prepared to foot the expense of fighting this,” said Patronis, R-Panama City.

But Audubon of Florida representative Julie Wraithmell said the bill is transferring from agencies to private individuals the authority to determine whether a permit application is in the public interest. And those licensed engineers or others who submit applications may not be trained to assess the impacts to water quality, endangered species, archaeological sites or other public resources.

“At worst it’s a recipe for fraud,” Wraithmell said. “At best, it puts some of these individuals in the position of making a determination they are not in a position to make.”

Bennett was not immediately available for comment late this afternoon.