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How the Legislature voted on a 'foul thing'

Third in a series of columns on key votes taken by the Florida Legislature since the last election.

What our Legislature does in the first year of our two-year cycle is too easily forgotten by the next election.

So this is a perfect time to revisit one of the Legislature's "greatest hits" from 2009 — an innocent bill that mutated into a monstrosity.

A lobbyist for Audubon of Florida called it "a foul thing," the worst bill of the session. That was saying a lot, since the same session also included the repeal of a key part of our state's growth laws.

Senate Bill 2080 started out mildly enough, dealing with water conservation. One of its forerunners was intended to promote "Florida-friendly landscaping."

But on the next-to-last day of the 2009 session, the bill was amended, without even the knowledge of its sponsor.

The new version ordered Florida's five water districts to turn over the granting of all permits for water use and for environmental destruction to their staffs — outside the normal process of public involvement and state rules.

An article by my colleague Craig Pittman explained:

Until this week, if a bottling company wanted to slurp millions of gallons of water out of the aquifer or a developer wanted to pave over thousands of acres of swamps, the state permits had to be approved by one of five water management district boards appointed by the governor. The board's vote took place in a public meeting where residents could stand up and give their opinion.

Instead, under Senate Bill 2080, these decisions were turned over to "five unelected, largely unknown bureaucrats."

The water boards could hear appeals only when the staff denied water-use or environmental permits — but there could be no appeal if it granted them!

How did this happen?

It happened without deliberation, without public debate, without any kind of sober process at all.

The last-minute amendment in the Senate was proposed by Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Winter Haven. It passed on a voice vote with no recorded roll call.

"The governor needs to veto this foul thing," opined Charles Lee, Audubon's lobbyist.

But the once-green Gov. Charlie Crist ignored a statewide outcry and signed it into law anyway. At the time, Crist was still a Republican, trying to curry favor with business interests and his party.

After the bill became law, an interesting thing happened. The water districts got power, and declined to use it. Some of them deliberately set up new, even more public processes.

In 2010, the Legislature quietly backtracked and repealed the portion about water-use permits. But the part dealing with wetlands destruction and other "environmental resource permits" stayed on the books. We remain at the mercy of a new governor and future water-board members with a different philosophy.

On this issue, it's easy to keep track: On the final vote in both the House and the Senate, the bill passed unanimously. Either the members knew what they were doing — or worse, they didn't.

For the record, since the ballot does not indicate incumbents, here's the list of our Tampa Bay area legislators who voted for the bill:

Sens. Victor Crist, R-Tampa; Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland; Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey; Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island; Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa; Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg; Ronda Storms, R-Brandon.

Reps. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa; Tom Anderson, R-Dunedin; Rachel Burgin, R-Tampa; Faye Culp, R-Tampa; Jim Frishe, R-Belleair Bluffs; Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City; Bill Heller, D-St. Petersburg; Ed Homan, R-Tampa; Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater; Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg; John Legg, R-New Port Richey; Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs; Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton; Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg; Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill; Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel; and then-Rep. Mike Scionti, D-Tampa.

How the Legislature voted on a 'foul thing' 09/11/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 11, 2010 9:53pm]
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