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Environmental Bills

03/27/2014 at 2:24pm

Audubon GroupBills Opposing Home Rule
Pass Two Committees

Two bills currently making their way through the Florida State House and Senate have drawn the ire of local lawmakers and environmentalists alike. House Bill 703 and its companion in the Senate - Senate Bill 1464 - the bills are called the 'Environmental Regulations Bill' in both sides of the state capitol and have been panned statewide as they strip local governments' of their abilities to enact ordinances regarding wetlands - along with retroactively prohibiting the enforcement of any local ordinance regarding springs, wetlands and storm water that were approved after July of 2003 - and makes it illegal for them to rescind comprehensive plan amendments that permit more development. It also strips them of much of the growth management powers given to them in 2011 when Governor Rick Scott dismantled the Department of Community Affairs.

 

The House version of the bill, which was filed by Representative Jimmy Patronis, a Republican from Panama City, passed its first committee - the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee - on March 3rd by a 10-2 vote (among the 'yea' votes was Lee County Representative Matt Caldwell). This is the fourth year in a row that Patronis has pushed for bills that would roll back environmental regulations.

According to the Florida Current, Environmental groups opposing the bill - which was filed in the Senate as SB 1464 on Feb. 28 - include Sierra Club Florida, Audubon Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida and Clean Water Action along with representatives of Lee, Martin and Alachua counties, the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities.

Groups supporting the bill included the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Farm Bureau Federation and the National Waste and Recycling Association. It also has the support of ‘Big Sugar.’

The Ocala Star-Banner calls it a horrible bill that is an assault on water supply and local decision-making. The group '1000 Friends of Florida' calls it "appalling.”

 

At a meeting held with 23 lobbyists and three reporters on Monday, Patronis defended his bill to Mary Jean Yon of Audubon Florida, saying he has made modifications that would drop language providing for 50-year permits for landowners who participate in water storage programs along with a section prohibiting local governments from rescinding development approval, but threatened to eliminate the changes in the face of her groups' continued opposition.

 

"...If you want me to leave the bill as is, I will be happy to and not take any of your considerations in place," he said.

The Senate version of the bill went before the Senate Environmental Preservation Committee (none of our local senators are on this committee) on Wednesday, where members voted to approve an amended version that would remove one of the most controversial provisions - the prohibition against enforcing any local wetlands ordinances enacted since 2003. Another section that excluded certain drainage districts from regulation by local government was also taken out.

Our local leaders are vehemently opposed to both versions of the bill, and Lee County is one of three Florida counties that have sent representatives to Tallahassee to voice that opposition.

"I have consistently been an advocate for home rule, and the Lee County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) has taken a formal position to support home rule,” said BoCC Chairman Larry Kiker. This seems to be one of those bills that comes out every year, and every year we have to fight it,” "I don't know why they keep getting sponsored.”

When Kiker first heard that the bills were introduced, he sent out a letter to all Lee County mayors advising them of the county's position, and then-Fort Myers Beach Mayor Alan Mandel asked for and received permission from the rest of council to join the county in opposition, something the new Mayor, Anita Cereceda, agrees with.

"We need to have local control over our local environment,” she said. "This is extremely important. You don't have to be an environmentalist to see why this is wrong - we are Floridians, and all Floridians are by nature environmentalists simply because this is what we live and breathe every day. I would have to have faith that cooler heads will prevail and these bills will fail.”

Both bills need to clear several more committees before they go before the full House and Senate for a floor vote.

Keri Hendry Weeg

Contact information for our local Representatives and Senators:

State House

Representative Ray Rodrigues, 239-433-6501

Representative Dane Eagle, 239-772-1291

Representative Heather Fitzenhagen, 239-533-2440

Representative Matthew Caldwell, 239-694-0161

State Senate

Senator Garrett Richter, 239-338-2777

Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, 239-338-2570

(contact information supplied by the Lee County Board of Elections)