Capitol Watch End of 2012 Session Wrap Up

Date 03/14/2012

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End of 2012 Session Wrap Up                   Jay Liles and Preston Robertson

This is a preliminary wrap-up of what happened this session. Typically, it takes several days to track down what happened to bills in the closing hours of session. There will be legislation we will ask the Governor to sign and likely bills we will ask him to veto. As this becomes apparent we will update this report.

On behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation and its board and members we want to thank you for taking action on conservation issues this year. Your voice is critical to our ability to impact the legislative process.


Bills That Passed
 

State Budget: $8.3 million to Florida Forever. From this appropriation, a conservation easement must be purchased over 721 acres in northern Jefferson County. In addition, the legislature directed the purchase of two lots near the Governor’s Mansion, near what is known as “the Grove.”  The remainder of the appropriation will go to fund conservation easements or “partnerships where the state pays no more that 50% of the cost.” Thus, there will be several million to spend on land protection. While not the $15 million requested by the Governor, it is a start toward returning Florida Forever to consistent annual appropriations.

Also included in the final budget was $3 million in funding from the Military Base Task Force that could potentially be used base buffering.

Reclaimed Water SB 1086/HB 639: Prohibits water management districts from requiring a permit for the use of reclaimed water unless the use also involves surface or ground waters, and limits the ability of the districts to allocate reclaimed water without a request from a utility during a water shortage or emergency. This legislation as originally introduced was highly problematic. Thanks to the good work of our environmental allies the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dana Young, agreed to amendments which narrowed the focus of the bill and stopped efforts to redefine state waters. A redefinition could have meant reclaimed water would have been considered a privately-held resource.

Numeric Nutrients HB 7051: In order to facilitate the EPA’s review of DEP’s numeric nutrient criteria rules, this bill exempts DEP’s proposed rules from legislative ratification and requires DEP to submit its proposed numeric nutrient criteria rules to the EPA for review under the Clean Water Act. This was done to preempt implementation of federal standards which our opponents have incorrectly labeled as “too expensive” for state implementation. We have judged the proposed DEP rules to be too weak and unenforceable as to actually protecting our state waterbodies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decided 14 years ago that limits on the pollutants that feed algal outbreaks on lakes and streams were necessary. Three years ago, EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection agreed that specific pollution limits must be quickly implemented - but efforts to establish limits were met by a massive campaign by polluting industries to stop or delay the new rules.

This issue remains the subject of a state administrative hearing involving FWF. A recent National Academy of Sciences report chastised the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for confusing the difference between the incremental implementation costs that might be incurred with the EPA numeric nutrient criteria and the total long-term costs of restoring all of Florida’s impaired waters.

Governor Scott signed HB 7051 into law four days after final passage and our litigation continues. 


Trail signage SB 268:
Allows private entities to put up advertisement signs on greenways and trails. A carefully crafted agreement had been reached to limit signage to a relative few trail heads, parking lots and access points. However, a floor amendment by Senator Alan Hays deleted these provisions thus opening our greenways and trails to the potential for commercial exploitation.

Please ask Governor Scott to veto this bill. People who use Florida’s greenways and trails go to look at and enjoy nature, not to be bombarded with advertisements!

Water Management Districts SB 1986: As finally adopted,  this bill removes the revenue caps instituted in 2011 and gives the Legislature the authority to review and comment on Water Management District (WMD) budgets. The Legislature may set millage rates for WMD’s if they are dissatisfied with the preliminary budgets (as allowed under current law). 

The Legislative Budget Commission (LBC) is authorized to reject: (1) single land purchases over $10 million; (2) accumulative land purchases of over $50 million in one year; (3) issuance of debt; (4) expenditures for outreach or management and administration in excess of 15% of total budget; and (5) individual variances in WMD’s tentative budgets in excess of 25% from the preliminary budgets.


In summary, SB 1986 will largely place WMD oversight and management back under the model that existed prior to passage of 2011 legislation which so hampered the Districts’ ability to carry out their mission.


Landowner Liability HB 313:
Attempts to reduce liability and duty of care to private landowners who make their land available for the purpose of hunting, fishing or wildlife viewing. To benefit from this limitation of liability, the landowner must provide notice of the liability limits to the person or persons using the land in addition to the current requirement that the landowner make no profit from nor charge a fee for using the land.

Renewable Energy HB 7117: As proposed by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, this bill restores millions in expired renewable energy tax credits, and puts Florida "somewhere between a baby step and a modest step" toward energy independence, according to Committee Chair Rep. Scott Plakon.

The bill would direct the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, in consultation with the Public Service Commission, to conduct a statewide forest inventory to determine the appropriate level of plantings to sustain biomass energy in Florida. This has been a high priority of the forestry industry in Florida and a recommendation of the Biomass Energy Taskforce in 2010.

Septic Tank Pre-Emption HB 1263: Adopted as an amendment to the omnibus Department of Health (DOH) reorganization bill, this measure eliminates the statewide septic tank inspection program and would restrict all local governments, except Jacksonville-Duval, from having septic tank programs that exceed state standards. Counties with first magnitude springs and others may opt out of the prescribed 5-year inspection standards for septic tanks. The bill retains a prohibition on land disposal of septage, beginning January of 2016; prohibits any local government from requiring high performance systems until completion of a DOH study in 2015; and prohibits any point of sale inspection program (except for Jacksonville-Duval).


Legislation which failed in 2012

Despite the best efforts of a broad ranging coalition of business, environment and non-profit organizations, policymakers decided to punt the issue of property insurance reform to a future legislature. Disregarding dire warnings from Citizens and Catastrophic fund managers that the two entities are undercapitalized and that a major storm could wreak havoc on Florida’s economy, legislators chose to, once again, rely on luck and the kindness of Mother Nature to avoid economic calamity in the face of the next hurricane season.

According to FWF President Manley Fuller, “The Florida Legislature has once again missed an opportunity to protect the state’s fragile ecosystems that offer important environmental benefits and weather related safeguards to our hurricane-prone state.  Their failure to reduce the risk associated with the state-run Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund leaves low-lying Florida vulnerable from the inevitable storms we will experience in the future.  For years the Florida Wildlife Federation has stressed the need for change before it is too late.  Now we are left to hope Florida is spared for the seventh year in a row from a major storm or series of storms making landfall on our coast.” 

Senate Bill 1362/House Bill 1033 (Sovereignty submerged lands bill
) would have drastically changed who owns the lands along our lakes and rivers, died on the Calendar.  This bill was the subject of massive public outcry, so thank you for voicing your position.

SB 1158/HB 695 (Oil Drilling on State Lands) which would have opened up public lands to oil and gas exploration and extraction died on the Calendar.


Our thanks go to all who took the time to call, write and meet with your representatives about these and other important issues during the 2012 Session.




Tags: Capitol Watch, 2012 Legislative Session, Florida



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