Florida Tribune

November 16, 2010

Legislature signs off on rebates and passes contentious rulemaking bill

By Brent Henzi


State lawmakers dealt with several environmental issues as they convened for a one-day special session on Tuesday.

Although most of the work involved overriding vetoes by Gov. Charlie Crist, legislators also discussed whether to approve one Crist-backed initiative. Legislators approved $31 million in federal stimulus funds to provide energy rebates for homeowners who bought solar panels, solar water heaters and energy efficient air conditioning units. Currently a backlog of 13,000 solar rebate applicants are awaiting their payments of nearly $52 million.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said he is “not nuts about the rebates” but “a promise was made to the consumers” and the money is sitting there waiting for the legislature to take it and do the right thing.

One of the most highly contested measures brought up was HB 1565, which would require legislative approval of administrative rules adopted by the governor if they are deemed to have an economic effect. Those opposed to the bill say it will stifle economic growth at a time when Florida suffers from an 11.9 percent unemployment rate.

The bill was vetoed by Crist, and legislators were barely able to obtain the two-thirds majority to override that veto Tuesday. The House passed the override with a 99-21 vote and the Senate passed it 32-7.

Legislators also delayed the implementation of SB 550 from January 1, 2011 to June 1, 2011 Tuesday. SB 550 requires all septic tanks to be inspected every five years. The Legislature took up the bill after hearing citizens' concerns about algal blooms, pollution and groundwater over-pumping from springs, but have been second-guessing the bill after hearing complaints about what it could cost.

Lawmakers called for more discussion on the costs associated with the inspection requirements. Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Destin, called it a “multi-multi-million dollar mandate.” He said inspections could cost homeowners $150 to $200 annually and force those with septic tanks to also pay pump-out fees of $400 to $450 every year.

Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, was the delay's lone dissenter in the Senate. He argued that the bill included provisions to offer assistance for those who can't pay the fees. He also said delaying implementation is “a step backwards” for water quality improvement in Florida.

Legislators approved a veto override of HB 569, which removes the ban on yard trimmings in landfills. Supporters of the bill say recycling yard waste could provide valuable renewable energy, while opponents are skeptical. A few state environmental groups opposed the bill, and Crist said he considered it a “step backward” for recycling in Florida. No one in the Senate opposed the veto override, while the House approved it by a 114-5 vote.

Crist’s veto of HB 981 was also reversed on Tuesday. The bill will make it easier for landowners to hold onto an agricultural property tax break. Current law states that whenever agricultural land is sold for three times its value, it is automatically presumed to no longer be used for “bona fide agricultural” purposes, thus forcing the owner to prove a tax break should remain. HB 981 changes state law to protect agricultural land tax breaks if the land is still used for farming purposes.

“Our legislative leaders have acted boldly and responsibly in protecting open spaces and working agricultural lands for future generations from an inconsistent application of tax policy,” Commissioner of Agriculture-elect Adam Putnam said in a statement. “This bill will bring evenhandedness to property taxes on these farms and ranches.”

Crist’s veto of SB 1516 was easily overridden. The bill will require the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to create a database to track state property and buildings. Those opposed to the bill have argued it will make it easier for the state to sell off conservation land, because the bill requires such land to be considered either essential or non-essential in conservation efforts. Only a single member in each of the House and the Senate opposed the bill.

Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, opposed the bill originally and opposed it again today. She said Gov.-elect Rick Scott should be the one to decide what agencies do. She said she’s “not sure the original intent of the bill was to have a database of the lands.”

One other environmental issue brought up on Tuesday was Crist’s veto of a petroleum contamination site cleanup bill, opposed by a single member of the House. HB 1385 will now allow 4,985 petroleum-contaminated sites to be removed from the state’s cleanup list if they are found not to pose a threat to drinking water supplies.

Originally published in the Florida Current - exclusively distributed via Lobbytools - Florida's Premiere Legislative and Media Monitoring Service.