Thursday, April 21, 2011

Urban fertilizer legislation takes a step in the right direction

An intense grassroots and grasstops campaign to defeat an attempt in the Florida House of Representatives to preempt any local city and county fertilizer management ordinances stronger than Florida's very weak "model" fertilizer ordinance led to a welcome "end" last Friday.  

The bill, HB 457, in its original form, would have negated the successful efforts of Sierra Club staff and volunteers in the Florida Red Tide Campaign over the past five years to secure the adoption of strong ordinances restricting the use and sale of fertilizer products containing nitrogen and phosphorus by over 40 local governments.

However, the bill was stripped of preemption language in time for the final vote in the House.  A few days before the final vote, Representative Clay Ingram (R-Pensacola) shook hands with Sierra Club lobbyist Dave Cullen and our allies on the agreement to remove preemption from his bill. When Ingram took to the floor of the House last Friday to announce his substitute bill, he declared "This amendment has the support of the Florida Association of Counties, the League of Cities and - believe it or not (long pause) - the Sierra Club!"  Soon thereafter, HB 457 passed the House by a vote of 113 to 0.  

HB 457 preserves all aspects of every current ordinance and provides local governments the ability to adopt stronger standards than the FDEP Model Ordinance in the future.  As of July 1, 2011 (the effective date of the bill) local governments will be preempted from adopting new sales restrictions.

The House’s unanimous vote to protect home rule for the adoption of strong urban fertilizer management codes is a historic victory and a sign that both sides of the aisle understand that effective low-cost methods of protecting water resources must remain available to local governments.

HB 457 is done in the House, but now more preemption langauge has popped up in another House bill - HB 7215.

HB 7215 is a companion to SB 2076, the big Ag bill, and now both have language that would preempt fertilizer sales restrictions by local governments as of January 1, 2011 (rather than the July 1, 2011 date found in HB 457). 

HB 7215 is on the agenda today in the Economic Affairs committee.

The other Senate bill to watch is SB 606.  SB 606 by Sen. Evers is the Senate companion to the original HB 457. It passed its first committee (Agriculture) but has yet to pass through its remaining committees (Community Affairs, Rules, and Budget).  However, it could be withdrawn from its remaining committees and sent to the floor to match up with HB 457.  

This week the Senate is in holiday recess and we will not know what is on the agenda until Friday (4/22) afternoon when next week’s schedule is released.  It is unclear how these bills will proceed through the last weeks of the legislative session but we are hopeful that the House bill will pave the way to a final victory against preemption.

Cris Costello
Sierra Club Regional Organizer