Capitol Watch Week 4

Date 02/09/2012

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Capitol Watch Week 4       
By Jay Liles and Preston Robertson 

Week of January 30, 2012

No funding for Florida Forever in House Budget Proposal

Though Governor Rick Scott called for a state budget that would include $15 million for the Florida Forever land acquisition program in his 2012-13 budget request to the legislature, the proposed House of Representatives Budget, released this week, zeroed out this expenditure and struck $7.5 million dollars in budget authority to purchase much-needed buffer zones around some of our state’s most critical military installations, including Eglin Air Force Base and Camp Blanding.  Such buffer zones serve the dual purposes of providing water recharge and wildlife habitats as well as serving the military’s need for secure zones in which to conduct operations.

The House move to halt funding of Florida Forever puts the onus on securing support in the Senate which has yet to produce a budget document. FWF’s team of advocates spent the week visiting with key state senators seeking their support for the Governor’s proposed $15 million dollar appropriation.  While we understand the need to cut state budgets in these hard economic times, we will continue to argue that environmental programs have absorbed a disproportionate share of the cuts and that land acquisition should be accomplished while prices are reasonable and development has slowed.
Please call your state senator and ask them to support renewed funding for Florida Forever.

You can find your senator by going to and simply entering your zip code.

Help reform Florida’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund  

The Florida Wildlife Federation supports reform of both the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (Cat Fund) and Citizens’ Property Insurance Corporation (Citizens) because it will lead to fewer taxpayer subsidies in high risk areas.  By returning the government-run Cat Fund and Citizens to their original mission, we can move towards ending the practice of subsidizing reckless coastal development in low lying coastal areas of the state, thus better protecting Florida’s fish and wildlife habitats. 

Important reform legislation has been filed in the 2012 Legislative Session. House Bill 833 by Rep. Bill Hager (R-Boca Raton) and  Senate Bill 1372 (Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales) are a step in the right direction toward “right sizing” the Cat Fund, and better protecting our environment, property owners and you, the taxpayer.  

Florida’s insurance markets cannot be restored without including reform of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (Cat Fund). The Cat Fund has the ability to tax any resident with a homeowners or auto insurance policy in Florida to pay for bonds it issues to pay its claims. The Cat Fund was intended to supplement, not replace, private reinsurance. In recent years it has grown unduly large, leaving Florida’s insurance consumers subject to potential assessments. HB 833 /S 1372 would begin to correct that imbalance by reducing these assessments.

A video explaining why the Cat Fund should be reformed can be found at  Florida insured property owners, regardless of who writes the homeowners and auto insurance policies, are “assessed” a tax that goes toward capitalizing the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund. In fact, you continue to pay into the fund for storms that occurred in 2004-05! This video illustrates how and why the Cat Fund was created and describes the current risk all Floridians face because of the Fund’s $3.2 billion shortfall. It urges Floridians to support important Cat Fund reform legislation.

Please call your state senator and state representative and let them know you support reform of the Cat Fund. 
Contact information for your members of the Florida Legislature can be found by following this link –
Simply enter your zip code and you will be directed to the contact information for your representatives.

RESTORE Act passage hits a critical stage in Congress

FWF is part of a strong coalition of environmental, business and local government entities that are working toward achieving passage of the RESTORE Act (S 1400). This measure would return the fines BP will pay, as a result of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil disaster, to the impacted states, including Florida. The trial to establish the exact penalties, estimated at between $5-22 billion, is set to begin the last week of February. In fact, legal observers believe that the trial to assess guilt and levy fines, under provisions of the Clean Water Act, may be over before it starts. Negotiators for BP and for the federal and impacted state governments have been meeting to see if an out-of-court settlement can be reached before the trial opens.

Thus, the need to pass the RESTORE Act is urgent. Without this bill, the funds will go directly into the federal treasury for use in any potentially unrelated federal expenditure. The impacted states will likely never see a dime of the money!

An editorial from the Panama City News Herald sums up the debate well and makes the case that Congress needs to act now to ensure justice is properly administered.

Act now on RESTORE

Panama City News Herald
February 07, 2012

Legal hearings on Justice Department charges against BP for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster are scheduled to begin Feb. 27 in New Orleans. However, there are multiple reports that the company and the government are close to negotiating a settlement that would avoid court and result in BP agreeing to pay between $5 billion and $25 billion in damages.

That means that Congress must hurry to pass legislation that will ensure that most of that money goes to those who suffered the most from the oil spill: the Gulf Coast states.

The House and Senate currently are considering separate versions of the RESTORE Act, although each would guarantee that 80 percent of the penalties that BP and others will pay will go to Gulf restoration at the five affected states: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas (the remaining 20 percent would go to the oil spill liability trust fund).

The legislation would establish a Gulf Restoration Trust Fund that would permit the money to be spent on numerous uses, such as coastal conservation and flood protection projects, mitigating damage to fish and wildlife and promoting tourism and seafood consumption.

The Senate version differs from its House counterpart in at least one major way: It allows BP money to be spent on federal land acquisition (the House prohibits this). That could have a local impact, as there are several acres surrounding Tyndall Air Force Base that could be purchased and used as a buffer zone for military operations. Establishing those buffers can be beneficial when base-closure commissions weigh various installations’ merits.

Supporters of the House version argue that it gives state and local governments greater control over how the money is spent.

Without the RESTORE legislation, the BP money will go into the federal Treasury. That means that states with absolutely no connection to the oil spill would benefit from BP’s recompense.

Yes, the thought of states — especially in these times of shrinking budgets — competing for a pot of federal money like a pack of wild dogs eyeing a soup bone can be crass. But the harsh reality is, somebody’s going to get that money, and it might as well be the states that actually had oil blacken their shores and damage their economies.

That’s why the RESTORE Act has so much bipartisan support. How many other issues will you find Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and Rep. Steve Southerland all on the same side?

It would be interesting and informative to see the case go to court. BP would be forced to recount all the mistakes it made in designing and operating the Deepwater Horizon rig, while the Obama administration would see the spotlight focused on its lax response to the spill. Both sides would be made to squirm and held to account, at least in the public eye.

That prospect, of course, is why an out-of-court settlement is likely — and why the urgency for passing the RESTORE Act is growing. Congress must act now to ensure the Gulf region receives what it is due for the damage BP did.

Tags: Capitol Watch, 2012 Legislative Session, Florida

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