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Legislative session update: HB 1219 defeated in Senate

By Staff | May 6, 2009

This year’s legislative session was characterized by bills couched as promoting economic development and job creation. A number of bills pitted natural resources and their protection against this economic backdrop.

Most notorious of these bills was the late session House Bill 1219 that would have allowed oil rigs in our nearshore waters as close as three miles from shore. Although this bill passed the House 70-43, the Senate did not take it up so the bill died for this year.

Our local Representative, Gary Aubuchon, boldly voted against this bad bill, citing the damage that would be caused to our local economy from having oil rigs in sight of our internationally renowned beaches. The Senate’s refusal to hear this bill in the last days of the session was a crucial decision. We can expect to see this ugly proposal again next year, so stay tuned!

Stinging from the Senate’s refusal to hear the oil drilling bill, the House stripped $50 million in funding from both Florida Forever and Everglades Restoration. As of Sunday night, a compromise emerged from the presiding leadership, thanks to the Senate’s efforts to keep the pressure on. The House Speaker and Senate President have proposed no new funding for Florida Forever in this year’s budget. However, they have allocated just under $5 million to cover the debt service on $250 million from last year’s budget that was not bonded due to the downgrading of Florida’s bond rating. They funded Everglades restoration for $50 million, of which $3 million is allocated for the northern Everglades and estuaries.

Good news from this year’s session is the passage of the local Healthy Beaches initiative, promoted by Sanibel Mayor Mick Denham. HB 707, sponsored by Aubuchon, requires the Department of Environmental Protection to track down the source of contamination that causes a beach closure. Currently, there is no investigation of contamination sources when a beach is closed. This bill, which failed to pass last year’s legislative session, is a good move toward accountability for water quality, a standard that Mayor Denham has made his hallmark.

The Legislative session has been extended to the end of this week, and we’ll continue to keep you updated on the latest developments.