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SCCF provides update on week four of legislative session

By Staff | Apr 1, 2019

Rae Ann Wessel

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s wrap-up of last week’s legislative session:

– Session progress: We are at the halfway point in this legislative session and the conventional wisdom is that if a bill has not yet been heard in committee or if there is no companion bill – there is a slim chance of passage. That is the likely fate for more than 3,400 bills that have been filed this session, where an average of only 250 bills usually pass in a given session.

– Transportation: Unfortunately SB 7068, the mid-state heartland expressway bill that until last week did not have a companion, got one on March 28 in the House Appropriations Transportation and Tourism Committee. PCB TTA 19-02 is a horrible bill for Florida that will result in the diversion of more than $300 million from the state’s general fund and untold billions more in bonding to promote sprawl and corresponding impacts on conservation lands needed for the protection of our water resources, wildlife corridors and habitat. SCCF strongly opposes the mid-state heartland expressway and we ask you to take action to oppose the bill before its last Senate committee stop.

– Fracking: Both the House and the Senate heard the partial fracking ban bills, SB 7064 and HB 7029. Public testimony strongly opposed the bills but for divergent reasons. Environmental advocates support a fully defined fracking ban that would include hydraulic fracturing and matrix acidizing. The oil and gas industry representatives oppose the partial ban and claim that the industry is safe and a ban is unnecessary. In the end, the legislators in both houses passed the partial hydraulic fracking ban out of committee as “better than nothing” and a foundation to build upon with an opportunity to add matrix acidizing at a future date. The Senate bill has two more committee stops while the House bill only had one additional committee stop before it moves to a full legislative vote. It is disappointing that a ban without the matrix acidizing definition has not been considered and leaves South Florida vulnerable to matrix acidizing as was conducted without permission at the Hogan Well in Collier County in 2014. SCCF will continue to support a full fracking ban and will update you on the progress of the effort as it moves through the process this session.

– Plastic straw ban/local government preemption: The House and Senate plastic straw ban bills, HB 603 and SB 588, were passed out of their respective committees last week. SCCF now opposes the bills as they took a good concept – banning plastic straws – and added local government preemptions and exemptions that would rollback existing local government ordinances requested and supported by local communities. The Senate straw ban bill is even worse than the House version as it also bans local governments from regulating the use of reef harming sunscreens. The bills have additional committee stops and SCCF will continue to oppose these unhelpful preemption bills.

– Water quality: Both the House and Senate bills, HB 85 and SB 1022, on-site sewage treatment and disposal were heard and received unanimous support last week. While the bill are not identical they seek to improve the current oversight of existing septic tank regulation by the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Protection. According to the bill analysis, less than 1 percent of septic systems in Florida are actively managed. The remainder of systems are generally serviced only when they fail, often leading to costly repairs that could have been avoided with routine maintenance. Another bill that passed the Senate Natural Resources Committee, SB 628 by Sen. Ben Albritton, seeks to revise the state’s requirements to assess and identify the totality of Florida’s water resource issues though “a quantitative, needs-based evaluation of specific categories including water supply infrastructure, water quality protection and restoration, wastewater infrastructure, stormwater infrastructure, flood control infrastructure, and environmental restoration.” With this evaluation the state can develop a badly needed long-term funding plan to prioritize water quality system fixes. SCCF will continue to support the necessary focus on these clean water solutions.

Rae Ann Wessel is the natural resources policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. For more information about the SCCF, visit www.sccf.org.