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Florida legislators sweeten bill for sugar industry

Florida legislators used a bill changing wetlands regulations to block a lawsuit against the state for approving two no-bid, 20-year lease agreements with sugar and vegetable farmers.

The leases were approved by the governor and Cabinet in January and are being challenged by the Florida Wildlife Federation, which alleges the leases allow sugar growers to continue to farm without reducing pollution levels.

The provision was added to HB 999, which the House approved 106-10 and the Senate approved 39-1 on Friday, sending the measure to the governor.

The sugar industry said in a statement that the legislation was needed to "avoid obstructionist litigation from some extreme environmental activists" and to complete the state's cleanup efforts that are part of the Everglades settlement legislators also ratified.

The Senate stripped the bill of other provisions opposed by environmentalists, including a three-year ban on local fertilizer ordinances and a measure to prevent water management districts from local wetlands regulations.

Foreclosure reform on Scott's desk

A proposal to speed up foreclosures passed the Senate on a 26-13 vote and now heads to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

The third attempt at foreclosure reform in three years, HB 87 creates new options for expedited foreclosures and tightens up filing standards for banks.

Opponents claimed it would harm homeowners and favor banks, who have been accused of engaging in questionable foreclosure practices. But proponents hailed it as a way to fix Florida's nation-leading foreclosure problem, and return the state's housing market to normal.

"I believe we have a product here that will be an improvement in the process," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. It's "far more tilted to consumers than it is to banks."

Joyner to lead Senate Democrats

Senate Democrats elected Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, their 2014-16 leader. Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Allison Tant called Joyner "a tireless advocate for Democratic values and ally to Florida's middle-class families."

Joyner, elected to the House in 2000 and Senate in 2006, is the first black woman to serve as Senate Democratic leader, the party said. The current leader is Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale.

Card and support for Ken Plante

On the hectic final day of the legislative session, dozens of people paused in the rotunda to sign a poster-sized get-well card for Ken Plante, a highly respected lobbyist and former Republican state senator from Winter Park.

Plante, 72, is suffering from ALS, known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, a progressive neurological disorder with no cure. To many who earn a living in Florida's capital, the good-natured Plante has been a role model, teacher and mentor.

The inscription next to the large card asked for $250 donations to help with Plante's medical expenses. It read: "Kenny is at home, but is using a ventilator to help him breathe, and so his home health care is not covered by insurance. He also suffers as a result of the Medicare 'doughnut hole' in which his prescription medicine costs are astronomical. So Kenny Plante's many friends around Florida have banded together to help cover the health care costs and invite you to join us."

Katie Sanders and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Florida legislators sweeten bill for sugar industry 05/03/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 3, 2013 8:32pm]
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