Whose water is this bill carrying?

Published March 20, 2003|Updated Aug. 31, 2005

A freshman lawmaker was so unfamiliar with his own bill Wednesday that he couldn't answer any questions posed by a legislative committee. So he turned to someone he said was the expert: a lobbyist for the state's biggest developers.

The lobbyist, Jim Garner of the Association of Florida Community Developers, helped write the bill for Rep. Baxter Troutman, a Winter Park Republican elected last year.

It's not unusual for lobbyists to write legislation, but it is unusual for a lawmaker to admit that a lobbyist knew more about a bill he's sponsoring.

"I'll have to defer to Jim Garner," Troutman repeatedly told committee members.

Garner was happy to oblige.

Troutman's bill (HB 1005) is opposed by environmentalists and the state Department of Environmental Protection. It would change a state law that allows some of Florida's groundwater to be reserved to benefit the environment. The law has been used only once in Florida history, according to the DEP.

Developers worry the law might hurt them if the state decides not to grant water permits for new development where the environment is stressed. Garner is particularly concerned because he represents golf course developments.

"We just want to make sure we don't kill the economy that produces the money to enhance the environment," Garner told lawmakers, who asked him to stay close by in case they had any more questions.

The bill passed unanimously.

Environmentalists were fuming. "I can't believe a legislator had the nerve to have a lobbyist answer every question about the bill that was asked," said Nancy Brown, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Conservation Voters.

Garner is a longtime lobbyist on water issues. Two years ago, he represented a subsidiary of Enron Corp. called Azurix. The company wanted to pay for some of the costs for restoring the Everglades and, in exchange, control the public water supply and decide how much to charge for water.

Troutman, a citrus heir and cousin of U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, later said Garner didn't "totally write the bill."

"They've helped me come up to speed on the issue, though," he said. "It was predominantly the lobbyist crew and the home builders."