Tuesday, June 4, 2013

2013 Legislative Session Wrap-Up Report


This was an interesting session (as all of them are…).  Sierra Club was able to play defense pretty effectively, and we even got to make a few plays on offense.  As in previous years, we worked with our allies in Tallahassee’s environmental lobby, with you - the grass roots, and with local government officials who are accountable for their jurisdictions.


This is a session “wrap-up” report, but the fun doesn’t stop here.  The 2014 session is right around the corner.  Now is the perfect time to connect with legislators.  Visit their district offices and invite them to your events.  Meeting you personally and learning your stories will make a big difference next year. 

District office and contact information for Representatives is here: http://myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Representatives/myrepresentative.aspx


One of the big changes this year was the number of bills we were able to improve through the amendment process.  In some cases when a bill that started out as one that we opposed, we were able to work with the sponsor and stakeholders to get it amended to a bill that we could support.  SB 948 by Sen. Grimsley was a clear example of this.  Sometimes when we couldn’t get to “yes” on a bill, we could at least get to “neutral.”

House Speaker Weatherford and Senate President Gaetz directed most of their focus to addressing some of the embarrassing 2012 election problems, ethics, an attempt to change state workers’ pensions, and of course, the budget.  But there was still plenty of legislation dealing with the environment.    Much of it had to do with water issues, state lands, and permitting, though there were also bills on growth management issues.  Renewable energy issues continue to be very difficult to get traction on.  Two energy bills passed this year, but many good ones died. 

Elections make a difference.  Democrats had over a third of the seats in each chamber this year which allowed them to block majority attempts to suspend the rules (which takes a two-thirds vote).  At the end of session in the House they also required a word for word reading of each bill which slowed things down a lot.  Delay can prevent bad bills from being heard.  This may have played into the final result on the fertilizer issue.  Yes, fertilizer was an issue – again – and is likely to be one next year as well.

In the Senate, President Gaetz gave chairmanships to five Democrats while Speaker Weatherford named all Republicans to chair House committees.

One of the big changes from the last election was that the Speaker designate for the 2015-16 term, Rep. Chris Dorworth, was defeated at the polls in the 2012 elections.  This meant the majority party had to choose a new successor to current Speaker Weatherford, and they chose Rep. Steve Crisafulli who represents part of Brevard County.  Barring a major shake-up in the next election, he will become Speaker in two years.

This wrap-up report covers our most important wins and losses on both bills and issues, and provides information on some of the bills we tracked throughout session.

Please go to the jump page (click "Read more >>" below) to see the full report which covers many bills of interest during the past session:

Report Topics

The 2013 Session In Microcosm  CS/CS/CS/HB 999 - Environmental Regulation by Rep. Patronis – Some issues in bill:

·       Fertilizer

·       Ordinary High Water Mark

·       Local Government – Development Permitting

·       Docks, Marinas, Mooring Fields, and Boat Shows

·       Pollution Discharge Exemption

·       Desalination exemption from modification of Consumptive Use Permits (CUPs)

·       Wetland Permitting Exemptions/Preemption

·       Expedited Permitting for Natural Gas Pipelines and Imposition of Summary Hearing Process on Challengers

·       Ratification of the Everglades Agricultural Area no-bid 30 year sugar leases


ENVIRONMENTAL VICTORIES

GOOD BILLS THAT PASSED:

  • HB 0277 Assessment Of Residential & Nonhomestead Real Property by Rep. Rehwinkel-Vasilinda
  • S 1770 Property Insurance by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee

·       S 0948 Water Supply by Sen. Grimsley

·       H 0007 Water Management Districts by Rep. Porter / S 0244 by Sen. Dean

·       S 0050 Public Meetings by Sen. Negron / H 0023 by Rep. Rodrigues


BAD BILLS THAT DIED:


·     CS/CS/HB 743 Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act by Rep.             Rodrigues / CS/CS/SB 1028 by Sen. Clemens

·     CS/HB 745 - Pub. Rec./Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act by             Rep. Rodrigues / SB 1776 by Sen. Clemens

  • S 0584 - Purchase of Land by a Governmental Entity by Sen. Hays / H 0901 by Rep. Stone


FIRST STEPS

  • Recycling  S 0722  Disposable and Reusable Bags by Sen. Bullard / H 0957 Recyclable Paper Bags and Reusable Bags by Rep. McGhee
  • S 1154 Chemicals of High Concern by Sen. Sobel / H 0773 by Rep. Danish
  • H 1233 Genetically Engineered Foods by Rep. Rehwinkel-Vasilinda / S 1728 by Sen. Sachs


Bills Improved By Amendment

  • H 0203 Agricultural Lands by Rep. Beshears / S 1190 by Sen. Brandes
  • H 4007 Powers of the Department of Environmental Protection by Rep. Nelson / S 0326 by Sen. Hays
  • S 0528 Growth Management by Sen. Simpson (Sen. Thrasher amendment re St. Johns County Agricultural Enclave) / H 0537 by Rep. Moraitis



ENVIRONMENTAL LOSSES

Bad bills that passed for which Sierra Club Florida has requested a veto:


Coal Ash bill - S 0682 Fossil Fuel Combustion Products by Sen. Simpson / H 0659 by Rep. Goodson 

S 1808 Numeric Nutrient Criteria by Sen. Simpson / H 7115 by Rep. Raburn

H 0319 Community Transportation Projects by Rep. Ray  / S 0972 Transportation Development by Sen. Hukill

H 0999 / S 1684 Environmental Regulation by Rep. Patronis and Sen. Altman (already addressed above) 


OTHER BAD BILLS

S 0958 Underground Storage of Natural Gas by Sen. Richter / H 1083 by Rep. Eagle

H 0357 Manufacturing Development by Rep. Boyd  / S 0582 by Sen. Galvano


GOOD BILLS THAT DIED

H 0309 Renewable Energy Producers by Rep. Rehwinkel-Vasilinda  / S 0498  by Sen. Thompson

HB 4003 Nuclear and Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle Power Plants by Rep. Rehwinkel-Vasilinda   


BAD BILLS THAT WERE SOMEWHAT IMPROVED BY AMENDMENT

S 0364 Consumptive Use Permits for Development of Alternative Water Supplies  by Sen. Hays / H 0109 by Rep. Young 


OTHER BILLS OF INTEREST

S 1472 Nuclear and Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle Power Plants by Sen. Legg / H 7167 by Rep. Diaz

Everglades legislation

·       H 7065 Everglades Improvement and Management by Rep. Caldwell / S 0768 by Sen. Simpson

·       HB 999 – Ratification of no-bid 30 year sugar leases

·       Budget

Florida Forever – The budget provides for up to $70 million for Florida Forever this year, but only $20 million of that is actually new money – and it’s restricted.

S 0444 Domestic Wastewater Discharged Through Ocean Outfalls by Sen. Diaz de la Portilla / H 0707 by Rep. Diaz

H 0569 Campaign Finance by Rep. Schenck / S 1382 by Sen. Latvala

H 7013 Elections by Rep. Boyd / S 0600 by Sen. Latvala


The 2013 Session In Microcosm

CS/CS/CS/HB 999 - Environmental Regulation by Rep. Patronis


I’m starting off with a description of events and issues surrounding HB 999 by Rep. Patronis (his third omnibus permitting bill in three years.)  This bill serves as a sort of legislative microcosm for the 2013 session.  It started out as a bad bill; some of the worst provisions were removed and some minor improvements were made; worse provisions were added; we got rid of some of those, but not all; and in the end, the bill passed.  Sierra Club Florida asked Gov. Scott to veto the bill but he signed it today, May 30, 2013.


I won’t try to give you a full history of the different versions of the bill, but here are some of the highlights by issue:


Fertilizer

There was no bill filed to preempt fertilizer regulations this year, but Rep. Crisafulli teamed up with Reps. Raburn and Patronis in an attempt to once again preempt local control of urban turf fertilizer.  This year’s idea was to appoint a “Florida Fertilizer Regulatory Review Council” (made up of mostly pro-fertilizer members) to examine the issue and submit their recommendations to the legislature in three years.  During the three years the Council was to work, no new strong local fertilizer ordinances would be allowed.  Further, enforcement of the strong ordinance recently adopted by the city of Rockledge (in Brevard County) would have been preempted.


Rep. Crisafulli organized and led the initial meeting and then handed the project off to Rep. Raburn who sponsored an amendment to Rep. Patronis’ HB 999.  No environmental organization was invited to the initial fertilizer meetings, so we invited ourselves and participated throughout.  Thanks to your calls, local activists, the involvement of local elected officials, and a special appearance by the “Creature from the Indian River Lagoon” at a press event in Rep. Crisafulli’s district, the Senate struck the fertilizer provision from HB 999.  We’ll probably see it in some form again next year.


Ordinary High Water Mark

You may remember that this was a major issue in the 2012 session.  Similar language popped up in originally filed version of HB 999 in a section dealing with how wetland determinations were to be made.  After some resistance from proponents, the section was removed from the bill.


Local Government – Development Permitting

Two sections of HB 999 limited the number of “Requests for Additional Information” (RAIs) cities and counties were allowed to ask developers applying for permits.  The Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties worked with the sponsor to arrive at a compromise that streamlines the process for professional developers, but allows local government to be as thorough as necessary for everyone else.


Docks, Marinas, Mooring Fields, and Boat Shows

A number of sections of the bill were devoted to boating related issues.  We were able to remove the provision that would have removed the cap on marina size, but were unable to change provisions that potentially give multi-family developments a huge number of boat slips on sovereignty submerged lands for no lease fee, increase the term of boat show leases from 30 to 45 days and reduced their lease fees, and make the allowable size of mooring fields up to sixty times bigger than are currently allowed.  The staff analysis estimates that the provisions’ impact on Internal Improvement Trust Fund is $1.4 million in lost revenue.


Pollution Discharge Exemption

The language of this section originally exempted pollution discharges from liability if the activity was regulated under Chapter 403 (Environmental Control.)  We objected to this and DEP agreed to limit the exemption from liability to only “authorized discharges.”  In other words, now if an activity is permitted under 403 and the permit authorizes certain discharges, the polluter is not liable for it.  The original language would have meant that if the activity in general fell under 403 and a related unauthorized discharge took place, there would have been no liability for the pollution.


Desalination exemption from modification of Consumptive Use Permits (CUPs)

Near the end of the committee process Rep. Patronis accepted a request to include language that prohibits Water Management Districts from reducing water allocations because of the new or expected availability of water from a desalination plant.  This provision was amended to broaden its scope, and then, after protests from the environmental community, it was narrowed even further. The somewhat more narrow language is retained in the bill.


Wetland Permitting Exemptions/Preemption

Yet another section of HB 999 dealt with three different kinds of exemptions from wetland permitting requirements: those for man made ponds in uplands, those created by a neighbor’s action that causes flooding, and those for Water Control Districts. 


Rep. Patronis had included the last provision that would have let the Ranger Water Control District approve development in Orange County wetlands.  Rep. Linda Stewart led the opposition to this provision in the House for Orange County. 


The environmental community made a concerted effort to strike the preemption of county permitting because thousands of acres of wetlands across the state would have been put at risk.  The subsection was removed by the Senate and the change was accepted by the House in the final bill. 


The man-made uplands provision stayed, but language was added to prohibit any action that would link man-made ponds to other wetlands.  The provision dealing with wetlands created by inadvertent flooding was also retained in the final bill, but with the requirement that anyone wanting to claim the exemption had to do so within seven years.  Hence, the exemption does not apply to wetlands more than seven years old – and it’s of the “use it or lose it” variety.


Expedited permitting for Natural Gas Pipelines and Imposition of Summary Hearing Process on Challengers

HB 999 includes language that says natural gas pipelines (which can go from one end of the state to the other) are eligible for expedited permitting and that any challenges to permits for the pipelines have to go through the summary hearing process which diminishes the challenger’s access to due process.  The same provision is included in SB 958 Underground Storage of Natural Gas.  The activities that are ineligible for expedited permitting are those that carry a significant chance of doing serious harm if they are done wrong: landfills, mining, oil drilling, etc.  But this bill (and SB 958) requires the state to abdicate its responsibility to give a deliberate and thorough examination to projects that may cover hundreds of miles and be potentially hazardous to people and the environment.


Ratification of the Everglades Agricultural Area no-bid 30 year sugar leases

At the last committee hearing in the House, the provision ratifying the 30 year no-bid sugar leases in the EAA was added to the bill.  This guts the Florida Wildlife Federation’s legal challenge to the Cabinet’s approval of the leases.   The legislature’s action does an end-run around citizens’ ability to turn to the courts and in so doing, violates the principal of separation of powers.  Sierra Club Florida has asked for a veto of HB 999.


Environmental Victories


GOOD BILLS THAT PASSED:

Two important bills that Sierra Club Florida supported were HB 277 and SB 1770.  We sent letters to Gov. Scott asking that he sign these bills into law and he has done so.


HB 0277 Assessment Of Residential & Nonhomestead Real Property by Rep. Rehwinkel-Vasilinda


CS/CS/HB 277 implements the constitutional amendment adopted by voters in 2008 to exempt renewable energy devices from property tax assessment.  This means people who invest in renewable energy devices for their homes won’t be charged more in property tax as a result. 


The bill provides that when the assessed value of residential real property is determined, an increase in the just value attributable to the installation of a renewable energy source device installed on or after January 1, 2013, may not be considered.  It took five years to get this bill passed. 


Sierra Club Florida has asked Gov. Scott to sign this bill into law.


S 1770 Property Insurance by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee

This bill contains a provision prohibiting subsidies in the form of discounted insurance for development seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line (CCCL) in a larger bill that deals with the overall issue of the Citizens Insurance Corporation, insurance rates, and coverage. 


Sierra Club Florida supports SB 1770 because it helps protect our beaches, dune systems, and wetlands from the impacts of inappropriate development by bringing insurance costs into line with actuarial reality.  Developing on beaches exposes residents and buildings to the worst hurricanes can throw at the state, causing millions of dollars in damage.  Development past the CCCL also compromises the natural systems that buffer communities against storm events.  SB 1770 reduces development on our beaches where it doesn’t belong, it makes infill development less expensive because the hidden cost of the subsidy isn’t included, and the natural protections of the shore are preserved.


Sierra Club Florida has also asked Gov. Scott to sign this bill into law.


S 0948 Water Supply by Sen. Grimsley

SB 948 started out as a bill that we opposed because it provided for subsidies of “self-suppliers” (of water) that could have meant tax dollars going to pulp and paper, mining, and industrial scale agriculture, and also because of its potential for changing the allocation of water to the Everglades Agricultural Area.  This bill was a priority of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 


Sierra Club Florida worked closely with the Florida Conservation Coalition and the Nature Conservancy with other stakeholders and was successful in amending the bill to:

·     allow WMD water supply funding only for projects that serve a public purpose (such as storing water on agricultural lands for subsequent release to the Everglades or estuaries)

·     require that all water supply needs be considered, not only rapidly urbanizing areas and rural areas

·     include local comprehensive plan data when available

·     limit the scope of user proposals to only alternative water supply projects instead of all water supply projects, and

·     incorporate water conservation measures in water supply planning


This was a successful collaborative effort that resulted in meeting DACS’ need to get better data regarding agricultural water supply, and environmentalist’s need to limit public investment to public purposes, include comprehensive plan data, and to promote water conservation.  We did not get everything we wanted in the bill.  The South Florida Water Management District balked at changing the language dealing with the 1-in-10 year drought standard, but we did get just about everything else we asked for.



H 0007 Water Management Districts by Rep. Porter / S 0244 by Sen. Dean

This legislation is a weaker version of Rep. Porter’s bill from last year.  It no longer mandates cooperation between WMDs, but does provide a mechanism to address impacts on water supply caused by an adjacent WMD’s permitting of withdrawals nearby.  Districts are authorized to enter into interagency agreements and to assist DEP in developing reservations, MFLs, or recovery or prevention strategies. 


S 0050 Public Meetings by Sen. Negron / H 0023 by Rep. Rodrigues

This is the second year Sen. Negron filed this bill, and he was able to get it passed this time.  The bill assures citizens of an opportunity to speak on issues before boards and commissions before decisions are made.  Exceptions are made to allow boards to maintain decorum and order, and groups may be required to appoint a spokesperson to speak for them.


The bill incorporates a number of amendments Sierra Club Florida suggested for last year’s bill.


BAD BILLS THAT DIED:

CS/HB 33 - State Lands by Rep. Smith / SB 466 by Sen. Altman

HB 33 is a bill that proposed to allow the board of trustees (the Cabinet) to exchange state-owned land for a conservation easement on privately held land. The easement didn't even have to be permanent - and there was no requirement that the conservation value of the easement be equivalent to the conservation value of the state-owned land.


HB 33 passed its first committee, but was TP'd in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.  (“Temporarily passed” is the name of a parliamentary maneuver that allows a bill to be set aside without a vote.  A sponsor will use this technique if the bill will be voted down and he or she wants preserve the option to use the bill’s language in an amendment.)


The companion bill, SB 466 was on the agenda in its first Senate committee, Senate Environmental Protection and Conservation, the next day, April 9.   Sen. Altman had agreed to a major overhaul of the bill that we might see next year, but since the bill had died the previous day in the House, he too asked that the bill be TP'd.



This bill was similar to Rep. Ford/Sen. Evers' bills that we opposed last year.   HB 431 provided for a public-private partnership to explore and drill for oil in the Blackwater River State Forest that would not be subject to the protections for state lands in 253.52, 53, or 54 of the Florida Statutes. 


Obvious concerns included the impact of the development footprint which would include not only the drilling itself, but the seismic exploration, roads, traffic, and possible transmission facilities if nothing were to go wrong.  The impacts of a spill would be an additional issue.  On top of that, the bill's exemption from portions of Chapter 253 would have eliminated public input, the sealed bid process which helps the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund (the Cabinet) to get the best deal for the state, notice requirements, etc.  


Local activists were joined by Sierrans and others in opposition to this bill which was withdrawn before its formal introduction.


Fracking bills

CS/CS/HB 743 Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act by Rep. Rodrigues / CS/CS/SB 1028 by Sen. Clemens



These linked bills would have required energy companies that want to “frack” in Florida to disclose the chemicals they injected into the ground to help extract oil or gas.  The only problem was that they could be exempted from disclosing any chemical they claimed was a “trade secret.”  In other words, the company could pretend to be a good neighbor by telling everyone about the innocuous materials they injected into the ground, but then they’d be exempted from disclosing the really nasty stuff they injected if they claimed it was a trade secret. 


HB 743 passed its committees and the full House 92-19  (all 19 “Noes” were Democrats). The companion bill HB 745 (that provided for the trade secret exemption) passed all its committees but was TP’d on third reading because as a public records exemption it would have needed a 2/3 vote and Democrats were opposed.  On the Senate side SB 1028 passed two of its three committees, and the public records exemption, SB 1776, was never heard in any of its committees.


These bills were “sold” on the premise that they provided valuable disclosure about the chemicals used in fracking.  This is a strategy the industry is using around the country, and we’ll likely see it back next year.



S 0584  Purchase of Land by a Governmental Entity by Sen. Hays / H 0901 by Rep. Stone


SB 584 / HB 901 included a requirement that State, county, and municipal purchases of conservation land had to be matched by the sale of equivalent amounts of land.  This would have unduly limited the ability of localities and the state to purchase conservation lands and would have ignored the will of voters who may have voted for conservation land purchases by referendum. 


Even in the absence of a referendum, the bill would have imposed an immediate and inequitable cap on each locality’s ability to buy conservation lands: the amount of land the locality owned at the time the bill became law. Eventually, there will be no non-conservation lands to be sold to meet the bill’s requirements.  This would mean the government entity would have to purchase non-conservation lands (to give back) in order to buy conservation lands to keep.


Bill sponsor Sen. Hays said in committee and in meetings that he is very concerned that the State and local governments have land on the books that they can’t take care of properly, and he wants the state to meet its stewardship responsibilities.  Unfortunately, those stewardship issues are largely budgetary in nature, and cutting back on conservation land purchases to keep prescribed burn costs down is a transparent excuse to avoid buying land. 


Floridians depend on the “free” services provided by conservation lands – aquifer recharge, water purification, removal of pollutants from the environment – and as the population of the state increases the need for adequate conservation lands only increases along with it. 


Sen. Hays vowed to bring the bill back in future years and Sen. Andy Gardiner who is expected to be the next Senate President in 2015 expressed his strong approval of the bill before Sen. Hays TP’d it because it didn’t have the votes to get out of committee.  The House companion, HB 901, was never heard in its first committee.



FIRST STEPS

Recycling

S 0722 Disposable and Reusable Bags by Sen. Bullard / H 0957 Recyclable Paper Bags and Reusable Bags by Rep. McGhee


Sierra Club Florida was pleased to have sponsors in both chambers of bills addressing plastic bags.  There were some differences between the bills, but in general they would allow local communities to ban plastic bags and provide that paper bags can be used if the store charges ten cents a bag with the proceeds going to education. 


Localities are currently preempted by a section of law (403.7033 F.S.) that says:

Until such time that the Legislature adopts the recommendations of the department, no local government, local governmental agency, or state government agency may enact any rule, regulation, or ordinance regarding use, disposition, sale, prohibition, restriction, or tax of such auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags.

Since DEP has ready submitted its recommendations to the legislature, but the legislature has failed to adopt them, the preemption is permanent.  Getting bills filed to end this preemption was an important first step toward ending plastic bag pollution.



S 1154 Chemicals of High Concern by Sen. Sobel / H 0773 by Rep. Danish

These bills would require the Department of Environmental Protection in consultation with the Department of Health to compile a list of 50-100 chemicals that could affect the health of children and pregnant women.  It would also authorize DEP to participate in an interstate clearinghouse regarding the use of chemicals in consumer products.  The bills were not heard in committee, but getting them filed is an important first step.


H 1233 Genetically Engineered Foods by Rep. Rehwinkel-Vasilinda / S 1728 by Sen. Sachs


These bills would require the labeling of genetically engineered foods so consumers can choose whether or not to purchase them.  This bill has run into significant opposition from the agricultural industry in other states, and Florida is no different.  But getting the bills filed is the first step. 


Sierra Club Florida’s Executive Committee signed onto a letter supporting this legislation back in December of 2012.


Bills Improved By Amendment:



H 0203 Agricultural Lands by Rep. Beshears / S 1190 by Sen. Brandes

This bill was filed to finish up the intent of its sponsors to keep local governments from restricting agricultural activities.  The bill this year added a provision that would have prevented local governments or WMDs from charging for stormwater management services that took care of run off from farms.  Sierra was able to work with the sponsor, Rep. Beshears, to narrow his bill by exempting water management districts and only restricting the imposition of permitting fees.  This compromise did not make it a bill we supported, but we were able to be neutral on it.


H 4007 Powers of the Department of Environmental Protection by Rep. Nelson / S 0326 by Sen. Hays

The originally filed version of HB 4007 would have repealed the prohibition on the DEP’s purchasing land for the Florida Barge Canal.  Rep. Nelson agreed to our suggested amendment limiting the repeal to only obsolete language, and we were able to be neutral on the bill instead of having to oppose it on a technicality. 


The bill as amended repealed a number of provisions detailing how land acquired by the DEP for the canal would be returned to its previous owners.  (This issue was essentially taken care of years ago, and for the few instances where it had not been, there was virtually no way to find the original owners as more than 75 years have passed since the project actually started.) For interesting history, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross_Florida_Barge_Canal .  


S 0528 Growth Management by Sen. Simpson (Thrasher amendment re St. Johns County Ag enclave) / H 0537 by Rep. Moraitis

SB 528 and HB 537 were originally filed to address the Boca Raton case where a judge found that the referendum language for comprehensive plan changes that was passed last year to stave off a lawsuit by Yankeetown (which includes a provision for such referenda in its charter) could be used by citizens who opposed other development issues. 


This year’s bill was filed to narrow the scope of the legislation to only the cities (Longboat Key, Yankeetown, and St. Petersburg Beach) that had referendum language in their charters.  Sierra had worked to get last year’s accommodation for those communities adopted by the legislature.


Toward the end of session, Sen. Thrasher filed an amendment to the bill that repealed a last minute surprise amendment to a growth management bill last year by then Senator Mike Bennett which forced St. Johns County to allow development on a piece of property currently zoned agricultural.  



Environmental Losses

Sierra’s losses include good bills that died and bad bills that didn’t.  In some cases, we were able to lessen the impact of bad bills, but not enough to make them acceptable.  We’ve asked Gov. Scott to veto four bills this year and they’re listed first in this section.


Bad bills that passed for which Sierra Club Florida requested a veto:

(Gov. Scott signed all four of these bills into law May 30, 2013.)


Coal Ash bill - S 0682 Fossil Fuel Combustion Products by Sen. Simpson / H 0659 by Rep. Goodson 

Sierra Club worked with Clean Water Action and Audubon on this bill and together we were able to get a number of amendments adopted that improved the bill.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to eliminate the chance that unencapsulated coal ash would leach toxic materials into our wetlands, surface waters, and groundwater and cause threats to human and animal health.  Therefore, Sierra Club Florida and others have asked for a veto on the bill.


According to the EPA, coal ash can be used safely when it is “encapsulated.”  This means the ash is bonded chemically in a way that does not allow the trace elements in it to leach into the environment.  This is important because in our efforts to reduce air pollution, the fly ash that used to go out of the smokestack is now captured and retained in coal burning plants.  That means the toxic materials in fly ash are retained as well.  Cleaner air has resulted in dirtier residual products from burning coal.


Some fossil fuel combustion products are self cementing and self activating.  These kinds of coal ash encapsulate easily and are considered safe when used in cement, asphalt, or concrete.  But other products are not self activating and can leach toxics when exposed to water.  SB 682 gives these unencapsulated coal ash products blanket approval for a number of uses with inadequate safeguards.  It also provides that the state’s prohibition on hazardous waste sites (because of Florida’s high water table and karst geology) doesn’t apply to fossil fuel combustion products.


S 1808 Numeric Nutrient Criteria by Sen. Simpson / H 7115 by Rep. Raburn

This bill was pushed by the DEP because it would help them seal their flawed deal with the U.S. EPA to allow weak water quality standards – weaker, in fact, than existing ones.  It was designed to do an end run around the consent order that resulted from Sierra Club Florida, EarthJustice, and our allies suing the EPA to force them to set numeric nutrient criteria.  The consent order did just that, it set dates by which actual numbers had to be established for nutrients in Florida’s waters, but implementation was delayed.


During the delay, the polluters worked on the EPA by getting Congress to threaten their budget.  The result was that the EPA gave in and agreed to Florida’s weak proposal that continues to rely on the narrative standard.  This means the damage has to happen before anything can be done about it – a “restorative” standard instead of a protective one. Real numeric nutrient criteria are like a speed limit sign: Everyone understands what it means and it’s easy to enforce. If the speed limit (or the amounts of nutrients) are set properly, it will prevent accidents (or damage to our waters.)


Sen. Darren Soto and Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda each offered an amendment to require DEP to track the number of human deaths and animal sicknesses that are caused by exposure to algae blooms – this information is no longer gathered – and though the amendments were not adopted, the underlying issue of the importance of water quality to public health and the public interest was reinforced.    Unlike last year’s unanimous votes on the numeric nutrient criteria issue, the vote this year was 34 – 4 in the Senate (Sen. Sobel changed her vote to a ‘No’ which makes it 33 – 5), and 103 – 13 in the House. The battle will go on in the courts now that session is over.


H 0319 Community Transportation Projects by Rep. Ray  / S 0972 Transportation Development by Sen. Hukill

This bill which deals with mobility fees reduces the obligation developers have to make with respect to paying for the transportation costs their projects incur.  It only requires a good faith offer to enter into a binding agreement instead of actually entering into the agreement.   The bill also forces communities to issue permits if the developer pays their proportionate share, whether the project will exacerbate transportation problems beyond what the devloper’s payment will cover or not. 


It also perpetuates an automobile based transportation planning and assessment system by calculating everything on trips and roadways.  Transit and its benefits are not included.  Finally, the bill allows the current practice of ignoring the cumulative impacts of neighboring development that was not charged for their proportionate share to continue.


H 0999 / S 1684 Environmental Regulation by Rep. Patronis and Sen. Altman (already addressed above) 

Sierra Club Florida’s primary “ask” in its request that Gov. Scott veto the bill focused on the ratification of the sugar leases and how that action deprives citizens of access to the courts, effectively violating the principal of separation of powers.


OTHER BAD BILLS

S 0958 Underground Storage of Natural Gas by Sen. Richter / H 1083 by Rep. Eagle

This bill is designed to make importing natural gas into Florida less expensive for energy companies.  It authorizes the use of previously drilled oil or gas wells as storage facilities for natural gas that is pumped back into them.  Then the gas is pumped back to the surface for transport and sale.


SB 958 was one of the bills we were able to get amended.  The definitions section was changed to eliminate automatic approval of releasing natural gas (methane – a potent greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere. The provisions for eminent domain and for preempting local control were also stricken.  Chairman Dean of the Senate Environmental Protection and Conservation Committee insisted that underground storage must be subject to DEP permitting and refused to agenda the bill until the requirement was added.


Still, the bill has serious flaws.  The worst section is where it says that natural gas pipelines are entitled to expedited permitting and that anyone challenging the permit will have to go through the summary hearing process.  The pipelines would traverse the entire state from the northern border all the way to Southwest Florida.  Surely it’s not too much to ask that such a huge project be subject to thorough and deliberate investigation before it’s approved.  Apparently it is.  And the summary hearing process deprives the party challenging the permit of their full due process.


Sierra Club also remains concerned about the possible migration of stored natural gas into the state’s aquifers.


H 0357 Manufacturing Development by Rep. Boyd  / S 0582 by Sen. Galvano

HB 357 is designed to encourage more manufacturing in the state.  It does this by allowing local communities to adopt a model code regarding manufacturing zones and then imposing business friendly requirements on local government and state agencies.


The first problem with the bill is that local governments that choose to adopt the pro-manufacturing ordinance will be stuck with that decision for a long time.  The law provides that it cannot expire until at least ten years have passed.  Also, any business that applied for permits under the program would be permanently vested in the program even if it is subsequently repealed.


The requirements of the model ordinance also include a prohibition on amendments to the programs with only two exceptions: A state or local law addressing an immediate and direct threat to public safety, and any revision initiated by the manufacturer.  The law is intended to put the manufacturer firmly in the driver’s seat and citizens of the community will just have to go along for the ride.


However, Sierra Club Florida has consistently backed local control, so even though this seems to be an unwise provision that may disadvantage citizens of a community if a manufacturing program doesn’t work out the way they expected, they can vote out the politicians who adopted the manufacturing ordinance.  That’s the case with all actions by elected officials.


The biggest problem with the bill is that a local government’s choice to adopt such an ordinance ties the hands of not only the locals, but of state agencies as well.  It imposes limits on the amount of time the agencies have to review materials and to make a final determination of whether or not they approve of a proposed development project.  It’s a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.  Local governments should not be able to force state agencies that are responsible for regional and state-wide interests to march to a very parochial beat.


GOOD BILLS THAT DIED

H 0309 Renewable Energy Producers by Rep. Rehwinkel-Vasilinda  / S 0498  by Sen. Thompson

This bill would have provided that an energy producer generating less than 5 MWhrs of renewable energy is not a “public utility” (which would remove it from the regulations covering public utilities.) The energy producer would have to be adjacent to, contiguous with, or within half a mile of the energy customer.  The contract purchase price must be what the utility charges consumers.  The bill was not heard in any House or Senate committee.


HB 4003 Nuclear and Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle Power Plants by Rep. Rehwinkel-Vasilinda   

This bill would have repealed early cost recovery for nuclear and for Integrated Gasification Combined Combustion power plants. This provision allows electric utilities to charge customers for power plants that may never be built… for decades!  HB 4003 would have repealed the statutory authorization for the program.  Instead, the legislature adopted HB 1472, which is better than nothing, but not as good as 4003 would have been.  HB 4003 was not even heard in its first committee.


BAD BILLS THAT WERE SOMEWHAT IMPROVED BY AMENDMENT

S 0364 Consumptive Use Permits for Development of Alternative Water Supplies  by Sen. Hays / H 0109 by Rep. Young  

SB 364 provides adding up to seven years to 30 year Consumptive Use Permits (CUP) for Alternative Water Supplies during which the allocation of water under the CUP will not be reduced by the water management district (WMD).  The rationale for the longer permits and the seven year extension is that alternative water supply projects require financing and the bonds may take thirty years to mature.  Therefore, the source of revenue to pay off the bond – the allocation of water – must not be reduced for the life of the bond. 


The reason offered for the seven year extension is that financing is not required at the very beginning of the project when the initial planning and site mapping is being done.  Borrowing money at that stage would mean having to pay interest on a loan that wasn’t even being used.  Therefore, the seven year extension was sought to allow the preliminary work to be done and the financing arranged at the proper time – about seven years from the very beginning of the project.  That way, the bonds will mature at the same time the “guaranteed” allocation expires.


Sierra Club Florida was not happy with the idea of 30 year CUPs as they approach “ownership rights” of the permitted water, but 30 year CUPs were already in statute.  Our focus this year was on whether a WMD should be able to modify the water allocations to fulfill its responsibility to existing legal users and the water resource.  Rep. Young and Sen. Hays were willing to accept our amendment to make it clear that WMDs do indeed have the right and responsibility to reduce allocations to protect other existing legal users (other CUP holders) and the water resource (streams, wetland, rivers, lakes, etc.)


OTHER BILLS OF INTEREST

S 1472 Nuclear and Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle Power Plants by Sen. Legg / H 7167 by Rep. Diaz

This bill was the majority’s response to the call for repeal of early cost recovery for nuclear power plants.  Early cost recovery was established in 2006 in a law signed by then Governor Jeb Bush to encourage the development of nuclear power generation in Florida.  Since then, ratepayers have been billed each month for nuclear plants that are not being built.  And the debacle of the now closed Crystal River nuclear plant where Rep. Fasano estimates ratepayers will eventually pay out over $4 billion to cover the costs of a botched repair job, buying replacement energy, and building a new gas fired plant, has demonstrated that nuclear power is not cheap and that it cannot compete without subsidies from ratepayers or the government.


SB 1472 relies heavily on the nuclear-friendly Public Service Commission (PSC) to prevent utilities from charging ratepayers for power plants that will never be built by setting two deadlines.  After collecting early cost recovery from ratepayers for ten years, the utility must actually begin construction or petition the PSC to be able to continue to collect.  And after twenty years from the date of receiving a federal license for a nuclear plant or a state certificate for an IGCC plant, the utility will no longer be able to charge ratepayers an early cost recovery fee.  There is no “claw back” provision to make utilities rebate fees to customers at the end of the 20 year period, even though they may have paid for a power plant that was never built for the entire 20 years.


The bill charges the PSC with the responsibility of determining whether the plant for which early cost recovery is sought by a utility is feasible, that the projected costs are reasonable, and whether or not the utility actually intends to build the plant or not. 


Everglades

H 7065 Everglades Improvement and Management by Rep. Caldwell / S 0768 by Sen. Simpson

HB 7065 which has been signed by the Governor embodies Gov. Scott’s plans for the Everglades.  The bill as filed provided that best management practices were deemed to be in compliance with all water quality standards and extended the sugar industry Agricultural Privilege Tax payments at lower levels than they should be to meet their responsibilities under the ‘Polluter Pays’ requirement of the Florida Constitution.


Big Sugar pushed very hard on this bill, and on Everglades issues in general this year.


The bill was amended to include $32 million a year over ten years and was amended again on the floor to improve it to the point where the Everglades Foundation supported it.  Sierra Club Florida did not support the bill because “polluter pays is weakened, BMPs are still said to be "effective", and the money is inadequate.


HB 999 – Ratification of no-bid 30 year sugar leases

The portion of HB 999 that ratifies the Cabinet’s approval of 30 year no-bid leases in the Everglades Agricultural Area (see the section on HB 999 above) also represents the legislature’s view on Everglades restoration.  If agricultural interests are exempted from having to improve their performance (as is the case in the 30 year leases) how can restoration ever take place?


Budget

The Everglades did better this year than in recent years.  There is a line item for $70 million, $32 million of which is for the Water Quality Plan and $3 million is for the Dept of Agriculture and Consumer Services best management practices north of Lake Okeechobee.


In addition, there is $3 million for a hybrid wetland project for the Northern Everglades and the $4.4 million transfer from the Dept. of Transportation to Everglades restoration generated by Alligator Alley toll revenues was not touched.



Florida Forever – The budget provides up to $70 million for Florida Forever this year, but only $20 million of that is actually new money – and it’s restricted.

  • $10 million is from general revenue for land or easement purchases
  • $10 million is from the Florida Forever Trust Fund for military buffer zones purchases (more oriented toward protecting the state’s economic interest in keeping military bases open than conserving the environment, but “any port in a storm.”)
  • $50 million can only be spent from the Florida Forever Trust Fund on land purchases if it’s generated by the sale of land


There is also $11.1 million from general revenue for the Rural Lands Protection Program (which purchases permanent easements on rural lands.)  The $50 million appropriation for the trail through the Everglades to connect the East and West coasts was vetoed by Gov. Scott.


S 0444 Domestic Wastewater Discharged Through Ocean Outfalls by Sen. Diaz de la Portilla / H 0707 by Rep. Diaz

Unlike previous years, this year’s ocean outfalls bill does not move back any deadlines.  Numerous meetings with committee staff, representatives from Miami-Dade, and DEP personnel demonstrated that the bill maintains the elements that led us to support the original bill in 2008 (SB 1302). 


Some confusion was caused by the use of an inaccurate term in the original bill’s language, but it is cleared up in the new bill.


Most importantly, the promised 95% improvement in water quality at outfall sites is accomplished by only allowing discharges through the outfalls during severe storm.  These discharges may not exceed 5% of the annual flow.   Hence, there will be a 95% reduction in discharges from the outfalls.



H 0569 Campaign Finance by Rep. Schenck / S 1382 by Sen. Latvala

This bill includes a number of changes in election law, some of which are good, and some that are not.  The full staff analysis can be seen here: PDF


The bill eliminates Committees of Continuous Existence (CCEs) but also increases the limit on contributions from the current $500 to $3000 for state-wide candidates and $1000 for most other races.  Executives of County Political Parties can now donate up to $50,000 to candidates (in addition to all other political party contributions – effectively raising the limit to $100,000.)  Candidates will now be allowed to retain up to $20,000 of surplus campaign funds for use in the next election.


Political Committees may no longer sponsor “3 packs” (including three candidates in one advertisement to get around limits on expenditures for a candidate) but contributions to them are now unlimited (previously $500).  In general, reporting and disclosure requirements are tightened up.


H 7013 Elections by Rep. Boyd / S 0600 by Sen. Latvala

This bill was filed to address some of the problems that occurred during the 2012 election – people having to stand on line for many hours after the polls closed, being forced to cast “provisional ballots, etc.  Most of the problems with the election were traced back to the very partisan elections bill from the 2011 session, HB 1355.  Democrats filed a number of bills that would have essentially repealed all or parts of HB 1355, but none were heard in committee.


HB 7013 expands early voting days and hours, increases the number of voting sites, provides late registration opportunities for members of the military and their families, and limits the number of absentee ballots a person may possess to no more than two (for non-family members).


In an effort to shorten ballots the bill reimposes the 75 word limit for ballot summaries.  However, for legislatively placed ballot issues whose summaries are found to be unacceptable, the Attorney General’s replacement summary language is not subject to the 75 word limit.


The bill prohibits Supervisors from designating specific zones where people who want to solicit votes for candidates or issues must be located.  The law is clarified to reflect the earlier provision that does not allow solicitation within 100 feet of the polling place.


The bill also provides that the presidential primary will be the first Tuesday in years evenly divisible by four that the rules of the Democratic and Republican parties allow without penalty.  (Both parties convention delegations have been penalized for holding the primary earlier than party rules allow.)


David Cullen, Sierra Club Florida lobbyist

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