Capitol Report 2016 Session Week 1
January 15, 2016
Filed by: Debbie Harrison Rumberger, LWVF Governmental Consultant
Following a year of special sessions, political infighting, and a collapse of constitutional protocol with the House unexpectedly aborting its regular session, legislators moved quickly to cement its priority issues this week. Promising a renewed commitment to working together for the people of Florida, priority bills have quickly been advanced in both the House and the Senate.
LWVF Education Chair, Sue Legg, participates with 3,000 others calling on the Legislature to provide adequate funding for our schools and teachers, a resolution to excessive testing, greater accountability over charter schools, and an end to the school voucher system.
The Florida Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a massive bill intended to protect and restore Florida’s springs, waterways and groundwater, despite objections from environmentalists who say the bill was weakened by the influence of industry and agriculture interests.
Backers of the measure (SB 552) defeated via voice vote several floor amendments offered mostly by Democrats to try to fix what environmental groups have called the bill’s flaws. The House companion (HB 7005) passed the House chamber and the Water Bill is on its way to the Governor for his signature. The language sought by environmentalists included changes that would have included requiring the state to collect data on users that draw 100,000 gallons per day or more, Water Management Districts to estimate maximum sustainable groundwater withdrawals for each district, and a state timetable on restoring natural springs. A letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking for his veto is in the works.
Some of the key information that will be provided to Gov. Scott include:
- All significant users of the citizens’ water should be required to monitor their use. This bill contains a loophole that will, in effect, exempt many agricultural users from monitoring.
- When Water Management Districts need by law to deny consumptive use permits, they do not need a stop sign in their faces under the guise of an administrative review by the Department of Environmental Protection.
- Water Management Districts should not be allowed to decide unilaterally to plunder water from already stressed water bodies in other districts.
- Citizens’ tax dollars should not be haphazardly given to private entities who care only about their own financial bottom line
GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY AND ANTI-CORRUPTION LEGISLATION
In what may be one of the bright lights of the 2016 Legislative Session, efforts to increase government accountability while addressing corruption are moving forward in the Senate under the careful watch of Senate sponsor Don Gaetz (R-Destin). SB 582 appeared dead when the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee voted it down. Twenty-four hours later, though, Gaetz had inserted SB 582 into SB 686 and got the strong backing of the Ethics and Elections Committee for a far more expansive set of reforms than what was originally proposed.
The bill would require local governments to publish proposed and past budgets on the web; ensure legislators can’t use their position as a sole method to get a high-paying job outside of the legislature; require more frequent reports from lobbyists detailing who is paying for their services; add government contractors to the list of officials covered by anti-bribery laws; and change the burden of proof to a more easily to prove standard of willfully and knowingly engaging in illegal conduct. Gaetz said all of the provisions of SB 686 are recommendations from the Commission of Ethics, a statewide grand jury dealing with public corruption that arose out of local government scandals.
Please take a moment to read Lobby Corps Ethics monitor, Peter Butzin’s report on this important legislation.
The Senate Environmental and Preservation Committee approved a bill Wednesday that tosses out local ordinances regulating or banning fracking, giving the state control of overseeing the drilling method and triggering concerns the proposal stops short of real oversight. Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples) offered SB 318, which would create a specific state permit process for fracking and prohibit enforcement of local ordinances banning fracking. Dozens of opponents to the bill, including physicians, local government representatives and environmentalists, spoke in opposition to the bill. Richter’s bill passed on a 6-3 vote with Committee Chair Senator Charlie Dean joining the Democrats in opposing the bill.
Our other priorities, including Voting and Election Reform, Education, Health Care, Gun Safety, and other Natural Resource issues, are being tracked weekly. A total of 50 bills are currently being monitored by LWVF and will be reported on during session as activity regarding them moves forward.
Attached, please find the complete list of bills the League is tracking this session: