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Fracking, land management and water bills left in doubt

The Florida House adjourned the 2015 Legislative Session on Tuesday, leaving bills dealing with water policy, hydraulic fracturing, septic tank waste and Duke Energy Florida in doubt.

As the Senate was discussing fracking legislation, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli told House members there was no reason to keep House members in Tallahassee because of an impasse with the Senate over Medicaid expansion in the 2015-16 state budget.

Crisafulli made clear the he did not think the House’s move to sine die killed legislation.

He said the Senate “had a water bill since the third or fourth day of the session so if they wanted to pass it and had an intention of passing it I think we would have probably seen it by now.”

“Every year bills die in this process that’s just the reality of the process,” he said.

After the announcement, the Senate voted 36-1 to pass the House version of a property rights bill, HB 383.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, a Republican from Orlando, said he couldn’t be more proud of the Senate, which he said to a round of applause will return Wednesday.

“Tomorrow we are going to send the water bill to the House,” Gardiner said. “Sadly that bill is not going to make it.”

He also said the chamber would look at good policy, “not at getting even.”

When Crisafulli made his sine die announcement earlier, the Senate was discussing HB 1205, which passed the House 82-34 on Monday. Then, as an amendment to impose a two-year ban on fracking was being discussed, the Senate temporarily passed the bill.

Just before adjourning, the House refused to concur on Senate amendments to HB 7109, a bill dealing with Duke Energy Florida and Public Service Commission reforms.

The bill also would allow Duke Energy Florida to issue bonds to cover $1.4 billion in operating costs before shutdown of the Crystal River nuclear plant. Bill sponsors said the legislation would save Duke customers $600 million.

The House on Tuesday rejected amendments added by the Senate that would have required meetings every other year in service areas of the four largest utilities and required refunds of excess deposits to customers.

That left the Senate to decide whether to pass the House version of HB 7109 or allow the bill to die.

Among other bills that passed the House and were left awaiting action by the Senate:

Comprehensive water policy, contained in SB 918, HB 7003 and HB 653. HB 7003 passed the House by a 106-9 vote on the second day of session. The Senate version of the bill, SB 918, was on the special order calendar for Wednesday.

HB 7135 would allow the Cabinet to give away state lands to adjacent landowners and require park managers to consider allowing “low impact” agriculture on state parks. The bill passed the House 88-24 on April 16. The Senate companion bill, SB 7086, was not heard in its final committee stop.

HB 687, which delayed a 2016 ban on the land application of septic tank waste for two years while a study is being conducted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. HB 687 passed the House 99-12 on April 9 while the Senate version, SB 648, failed to clear its final two committee stops.

The budget impasse also has affected implementation of Amendment 1, a measure approved by voters in November.

The measure would provide an estimated $740 million for water and land conservation. Environmental groups criticized the lack of money proposed in both the House and Senate spending plans for land acquisition.

The property rights bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday, HB 383, was filed in response to a 2013 U. S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of Florida landowner Coy A. Koontz Sr. who was in a permitting dispute with the St. Johns River Water Management District.

HB 383 creates a cause of action to recover monetary damages for landowners where state and local governments impose conditions that rise to the level of “unconstitutional exactions.” The bill passed the House 113-1 on Friday.

One major piece of legislation that passed this session was SB 1216, which eliminates the “development of regional impact” state review program for proposed new large developments. Cities, counties and environmental groups opposed the bill, which was supported by developers and home-builders.

Christine Jordan Sexton contributed to this report. Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

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