FCC Legislative Update March 11- 15, 2013

Note: These are the Bills the FCC are following according to the FCC priorities of Water Policy and Management, and Public Lands.  Please see many of our charter member's sites for details on other important pieces of legislation.

HB 33 (Rep. Smith) / SB 466 (Sen. Altman) – Allows individual and corporate private land owners to exchange state owned land for conservation easements over their private land holdings. This bill removes the state lands from public management, placing them back into the hands of private land owners for farming, grazing, timber and other private uses. Since the alteration of the original state lands for these new agricultural uses would be relatively irreversible, and since there is no requirement in the bills for the conservation easements to be permanent, this does not seem fair to Florida’s taxpayers. This bill is opposed by the United Water Fowlers of Florida, Audubon Florida, and other conservation groups. The FCC will keep you updated on HB 33 and SB 466 as they come before Committees in the House and Senate.

HB 901 (Rep. Stone) / SB 584 (Sen. Hays) – Prohibits the purchase of public conservation lands by any governmental entity unless an equal amount of public property is returned to private ownership, effectively killing the acquisition of conservation land in Florida. (In fact, since much of the public lands have been purchased with bonds requiring the land to remain in conservation, it could be interpreted that the bill is really a prohibition against acquiring new public conservation lands) This bill is opposed by the FCC. See the previous  FCC ACTION ALERT. The House and Senate versions have been referred to 4 Committees in each chamber. The FCC will keep you updated on these bills as and if they are heard by the Committees.

HB 1063 (Rep. Hutson) / SB 948 (Sen. Grimsley) - Sets the stage for granting new water rights to agricultural users during periods of drought, thereby promoting irrigation over other uses during water shortages; increases the likelihood that water flowing to springs and pooling in lakes and wetlands will be used for industrial level irrigation; increases the power of other “self-suppliers” in water supply planning process; and does nothing to advance the cause of conservation and efficient water use or help our springs. On March 7th this bill received a favorable vote by the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee. The bill has yet to be heard by any House Committees. This bill, in current form, is opposed by the FCC. See the original FCC ACTION ALERT on SB 948.  The outlook for this bill has changed as you will see, below.

On Monday, March 11th representatives from the FCC and other environmental groups, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Department of Environmental Protection, and lobbyists from agribusiness, developers, and industry met with Sen. Grimsley to discuss our problems with this bill.  On Friday, Senator Grimsley indicated that she will be introducing amendments herself to the bill, all of which move the bill towards a fairer approach which would include conservation planning and emphasize alternative water supply. This would still allow for the agricultural community to participate in the water planning process more robustly.  The FCC would like to see further amendments to limit those Chapter 373 changes which appear to favor private interests over the publics', while at the same time supporting an increased role for DACS in the water planning process. The FCC has drafted further amendments to this bill which have been submitted by Senator Bullard.  In the meantime, Senator Grimsley has temporarily passed her bill, which means that she will postpone it until there is another opportunity to for us work with her on further amendments.  Obviously, we are very pleased at being given this opportunity.  The next stop will be a later meeting of the Senate Agricultural Committee.  If there is a need for a further alert, we will let you know.

HB 7065 (Rep. Caldwell) – Jeopardizes the health and recovery of America’s Everglades and places the cost of Everglades restoration largely on Florida’s taxpayers instead of polluters. This bill capriciously caps the amount large polluters must pay to restore the Everglades, despite the Constitutional requirement that those causing the pollution pay their fair share. It also restricts enforcement of pollution discharge permits in the Everglades Agricultural Area. This bill is opposed by the FCC. See the previous FCC ACTION ALERT on HB 7065.

On March 7th HB 7075 was unanimously recommended by the House State Affairs Committee. On March 14th it passed the House Appropriations Committee by a vote of 23-1. The FCC commends Representative Mark Pafford for standing with the Everglades and concerned Floridians. (The Appropriations Committee did add the requisite funding for the water quality improvements, setting the stage for a 12 million dollar annual general revenue appropriation and a 28 million dollar appropriation from the South Florida Water Management District Trust Fund, but it still is a bad bill).   The bill will soon go before the House Floor for a vote. Contact your legislator today and ask them to oppose HB 7065.  The Senate Bill by Senator Simpson, SB 0768, supported by the Governor, will soon be the focus.  The FCC supports the bill as is, as it merely brings the terminology in line with the recent Florida/Federal agreement on Everglades Restoration.

HB 789 (Rep. Stewart) / SB 978 (Sen. Soto) – Requires each Water Management District to identify first and second magnitude springs with declining flow levels and create a 5 year plan to restore these impaired water bodies. The FCC supports the efforts of Rep. Stewart and Sen. Soto to restore Florida’s springs.

The House version has been referred to the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, Rulemaking Oversight and Repeal Subcommittee, and State Affairs Committee. The Senate version has been referred to the Environmental Preservation and Conservation, Community Affairs, and Rules Committees. The FCC will keep you updated on these bills as they are heard by the Committees.

HB 109 (Rep. Young) / SB 364 (Sen. Hays) – Extends the duration of Consumptive Use Permits for Development of Alternative Water Supplies from 20 to 30 years and prevents the quantity of alternative water allocated to be reduced, unless the reduction is needed to address harm to water resources or to existing legal users. The FCC opposed similar language during recent Department of Environmental Protection Rulemaking, but with the recent change by Representative Young addressing environmental harm, we are not opposing this bill.

HB 109 passed unanimously in both the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and State Affairs Committee, and will soon come before the House Floor for a vote. SB 364 passed in the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, Community Affairs Committee, and Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.

HB 999 (Rep. Patronis) / SB 1684 (Sen. Altman) - This bill creates, amendments and revises provisions relating to: development permit applications; marinas, boatyards, & marine retailers; general permits for special events; well permits; exemptions from permits, fees & related environmental requirements & regulation; regional water supply planning; agricultural water supply demand projections; major sources of air pollution; water quality testing, sampling, collection, & analysis; & restoration of seawalls. Audubon has expressed opposition to this bill to the House Sponsor and will be working to amend the bill to remove the most egregious provisions. On Tuesday, March 12 a stakeholders meeting was held to discuss the problems with the bill. Amendments have been drafted and will be offered in the Ag & Natural Resources Subcommittee when the bill is agenda’d for a vote.

Florida Forever and Everglades restoration Appropriations – The Speaker of the House and President of the Senate are scheduled to release their allocations for each of the major budget committees on Monday, March 18th. The FCC will keep you updated on budget allocations for Florida Forever, Everglades restoration, and other important environmental concerns.

Ryan Smart