'Water bills' already on the move in the Senate - Florida Politics

‘Water bills’ already on the move in the Senate

A Senate panel on Monday cleared a ‘water bill’ aimed at cleaning up some of the state’s waterways.

The Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee OK’d the measure (SB 204) with a unanimous vote. Legislative committees are meeting in the Capitol this week, in advance of the 2018 Legislative Session that starts in January. 

The bill, by committee chair Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, would approve spending at least $75 million a year on springs projects and $50 million annually on projects related to the restoration of the St. Johns River—the longest entirely within Florida—and its tributaries, as well as the Keystone Heights Lake Region. 

Bradley said it’s “incredibly important” that the river “remain healthy”: “It really defines the character of so much of our state.”

But, he added, “there’s a limited pie of dollars and we need to figure out where to put them,” he added, referring to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

A 2014 constitutional amendment, known as the Water and Land Legacy Amendment, or “Amendment 1,” requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years. That amendment, which needed a minimum of 60 percent to pass, got a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

The mechanism to spend that money is through the Florida Forever conservation program. Florida Forever regularly received upward of $300 million annually after it became law in 1999, but those expenditures were dramatically reduced after the recession hit a decade ago.

The current 2017-2018 state budget included nothing for Florida Forever, but the Department of Environmental Protection has asked for $50 million for Florida Forever in next year’s state budget.

Moreover, environmental advocacy groups filed suit in 2015, saying lawmakers wrongly appropriated “doc stamp” money for, among other things, “salaries and ordinary expenses of state agencies” tasked with executing the amendment’s mandate. A Tallahassee judge scheduled a trial for that suit next July 23-27.

The committee also took up a bill (SB 174), filed by Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican. It would set aside at least $50 million a year to help address issues such as beach erosion.

“We’re gonna get (the bill) out early so there aren’t any questions” about its effect on appropriations, Latvala said.

The bill, supported by the affected coastal counties, also cleared the committee without opposition.

Both pieces of legislation next head to the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources and the full Appropriations Committee.

Background provided by the News Service of Florida, reprinted with permission. 

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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