Monday, November 20, 2017
News Roundup

Scott vetoes "Jurassic Park" bill sought by Lowry Park Zoo, approves dyeing chicks and bunnies

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Giraffes, zebras and rhinos won't be roaming Florida's parks — not yet, anyway.

But if they do, they could be dyed blue.

Late Friday, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill that had been pushed by Lowry Park Zoo officials that would have allowed zoos to lease state land to create breeding herds of everything from gazelles to elephants. But Scott said one reason he vetoed it is because the law already allows the state to lease land to anyone — even zoos.

Meanwhile he signed a wide-ranging agriculture bill, HB 1197, that exempts farms from having to pay local stormwater fees and bars local governments from regulating beekeeping.

The agriculture bill's most controversial provision lifts a 45-year-old ban on selling chicks, bunnies and dogs that have been dyed pink, blue or a whole rainbow of colors. Animal welfare groups and veterinarians had opposed the bill, which had been filed at the request of a dog groomer who wanted to color his show dogs for more dramatic effect. It takes effect July 1.

Scott signed 80 bills into law Friday, including the so-called "Caylee's law," HB 37, that makes it a third-degree felony to give false information to a law enforcement officer about a missing child. The bill was driven by public outrage over the death of 2-year-old Caylee Anthony and her mother's subsequent acquittal on murder charges.

He also approved SB 436, which stiffens the penalties for video voyeurism and clarifies that a person has a right to privacy in his or her residence. The bill was a reaction to two Bulgarian women discovering cameras inside their Hillsborough County apartment last year.

Scott also vetoed HB 865, which would have swapped a property tax with a sales tax in Pinellas County. The extra revenue could be used to pay for a new light rail system, which is estimated to cost about $1.7 billion. Although the swap would take place only if voters approved a sales tax in 2013 or 2014, Scott said it represented an opportunity for a large tax increase.

In a letter explaining why he rejected the zoo bill, HB 1117 — dubbed the "Jurassic Park bill" by environmental activists — Scott wrote that it "lacks sufficient safeguards" to "ensure the protection of state … lands, native species and habitats."

Also, Scott wrote, he believes the law already allows the governor and Cabinet and the five water management districts to lease state lands "for any use" that doesn't violate the state Constitution.

Scott's veto delighted Laurie MacDonald of Defenders of Wildlife, who said it "protects our public lands and it protects our native wildlife."

But the bill's sponsor, Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Temple Terrace, said he didn't mind the veto because Scott assured him personally that the law already allows state officials to lease land to the zoos. They just haven't done it yet.

"I'm happy … that we've brought attention to the fact that Florida law already allows this to happen," Harrison said.

"We will be watching very closely any applications for this use," MacDonald warned.

The bill had been pushed by Lowry Park Zoo vice president Larry Killmar, who is president of the Florida Association of Zoos and Aquariums. He said Friday that the group will now "certainly plot forward" toward finding state lands it is interested in leasing.

The main reason the zoos wanted the land is to have room to create large breeding populations of exotic animals, Killmar said during the legislative session. Without that, he explained, "We're like a shoe store with no warehouse. Our inventory is everything that's on display."

Critics of the bill said that turning exotic wildlife loose on state land would displace the native wildlife and even destroy habitat. They also questioned what would happen if there was an escape such as the one five years ago when a Siberian tiger got loose at Lowry Park Zoo and had to be shot.

Times staff writers Steve Bousquet and Tia Mitchell contributed to this story. Craig Pittman can be reached at [email protected]

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