2007 Florida Legislative Forecast
The Florida legislative session is scheduled to begin in March 2007. As is normally the case, a number of environmental issues will be at the forefront. The election of Governor Charlie Crist and new leadership in the Legislature, with Senator Ken Pruitt as President of the Senate and Representative Marco Rubio as Speaker of the House, and new committee and council leadership, it should be an interesting session. The following is a summary of some of the issues and bills that may be considered.
Like property and casualty insurance and property taxes, energy issues continue to receive much attention in Florida. Last year, the Legislature passed a comprehensive energy bill (SB 888) that streamlined the power plant and transmission line siting acts and provided grants and incentives for various forms of alternative fuels and energy conservation. The bill also created the Florida Energy Commission, which will soon hold its first meeting. Governor Crist has announced in his budget funding for a continuation of the alternative fuels program and renewable energy will likely receive much attention. Climate change issues should receive attention. A number of placeholder bills have been filed in the Senate in these areas. In his budget, Governor Crist has announced funding for a continuation of the alternative fuels program. Renewable energy and climate change issues will likely receive much attention going forward. A number of placeholder bills have been filed in the Senate in these areas.
Over the last several years, consideration has been given to a variety of bills that would create incentive-based permitting systems. Some of the bills had authorization for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to consider an applicant’s past history in determining whether a permit should be issued or renewed. An incentive-based permitting system is one of the items that made it onto the list of Speaker Rubio’s 100 ideas that will be considered during the session. A bill has already been filed in the House (HB 297).
The protection of springs in Florida has been a topic of legislative consideration for the past several years. This year will be no exception. HB 299 has been filed which would establish a Springs Commission. The bill implies that DEP and the water management districts would map first and second magnitude springs, and the Commission would develop a plan to be used by communities and the water management districts to protect the springs. Senator Nancy Argenciano, a springs protection advocate in the Senate, is planning legislation that will be more ambitious than the House version. (Senatos Argenciano’s bill has not yet been filed.) Springs protection will be a hot topic during this session.
Vegetative Index Ratification
The DEP has amended its rules to add new species on the state’s wetland plant list to bring the state and federal wetlands boundaries closer together and to remove one of the perceived impediments to the delegation of the Federal Wetlands Permitting Program to the state. The rule must be ratified by the Legislature. This issue was considered in 2006 and should be back this session.
Water Quality Credit Trading
DEP submitted to the Governor, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, a report with recommendations on a water quality trading program. Recommendations for statutory and regulatory changes were made to implement the program and it has been discussed in several committees already this year. No legislation has been filed, but the program may emerge during the session.
Water supply creation continues to be a significant issue in Florida. Legislation was passed several years ago to encourage the creation of alternative sources of water supply. Continued funding for these programs will be considered in 2007.
With the new governor came a new Secretary of DEP, Michael Sole, a 16-year DEP veteran. His announced priorities include a successor program to the Florida Forever land acquisition program, ensuring public access to parks and trails, protecting surface and ground water resources, restoration of the Everglades and improving the health of Lake Okeechobee, and enhancing the use of alternative energy to protect the environment. Expect to see these priorities included in legislation that is filed.
Other Recent Developments
The White House has issued Executive Order 13422, giving the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) the right to review any “significant” guidance documents issued by any federal agency. At the same time, OMB issued its Bulletin on Good Guidance. The Executive Order would require agencies to provide OMB with advance notice of any significant new guidance documents, and require the agencies to identify market failures (e.g., lack of information, externalities) or other problems that the guidance is intended to address, and assess the significance of the problem.
New Jersey recently enacted a law, S. 2261, regulating the re-use of industrial sites for child care and similar activities. This legislation was passed in the wake of the Kiddie Kollege controversy this past summer, in which children at a day care facility in Gloucester County were found to have elevated levels of mercury in their blood. The day care facility had formerly been used as a thermometer factory. Under the new law, the state Department of Health must adopt regulations for assessing the maximum safe contaminant levels in the interiors of buildings that will be used for child care or schools, and the local health department must certify that the buildings meet indoor air quality standards before any permits for construction or renovation are issued.