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Fertilizer bill narrowly advances in Florida House

TALLAHASSEE — A controversial bill that would ban cities and counties from regulating fertilizer use and sales faced surprising resistance from House Republicans on Wednesday.

The bill seeks to void local ordinances, such as ones in Pinellas County and St. Petersburg, that ban summer sales of nitrogen-based fertilizers.

Retailers say the ordinances are bad for business, but environmental advocates say they help prevent pollution of local waterways due to runoff during the rainy season.

"This is the best way to improve water quality," said Rep. Clay Ingram, a Pensacola Republican sponsoring the House bill. "It's the right thing to do for business."

But the measure only narrowly passed the House community and military affairs subcommittee, with some of Ingram's fellow Republicans, as well as Democrats, opposing it. Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami, broke a 6-6 tie when he returned to the meeting after a brief absence.

Some members appeared swayed by arguments that the state can't have a "one-size-fits-all" approach and by the pleas of city and county lobbyists.

Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, said the bill is one he could easily argue for or against. In such cases, he said, it's best to consider feedback from the people he represents. And his BlackBerry, he said, was filled with messages from people opposing the bill.

"I wish Pinellas wasn't so stringent," Hooper said before casting his vote against the proposal. "Maybe they have reached out to the point where there is some need to address their level of restriction."

Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, supported the bill but said the matter needs more discussion.

"I don't think it's a perfect bill," he said. "Regulations should be regional, not statewide."

He doesn't believe that going hyper local works, he said. Places such as Pinellas County, which has more than 20 cities, could end up with dozens of different fertilizer ordinances. Plus, given that neighboring Hillsborough County doesn't have a sales ban, there's nothing to stop Pinellas residents from driving over the bridge to buy fertilizer. And finally, Brandes said, he believes that sales bans might prompt people to overfertilize in the weeks before the ban hits.

"How can you ever judge if it's effective or not?" he asked.

The bill allows cities and counties to go no further than a model ordinance approved by the Legislature in 2009 that includes such provisions as avoiding fertilizing before a heavy rain.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Fertilizer bill narrowly advances in Florida House 03/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 8:55pm]

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