Legislative bills would weaken local wetlands protection laws

kwadlow@keynoter.comMarch 5, 2014 

Environmental groups have sounded the siren opposing the proposed laws.

KEYSINFONET

New Florida legislative bills that seek to limit wetlands regulation have drawn fire from local and state conservation groups.

House Bill 703 and companion bill Senate Bill 1464 primarily seek to protect agricultural lands from additional regulation and limit farm lands from being assessed for tax purposes as potential residential or commercial sites.

However, the bills say local wetlands protections adopted after July 2003 could be neutered.

"This appalling anti-home rule legislation must be stopped," says an alert sent out by 1000 Friends of Florida, a land-protection group headed by Charles Pattison, a former Monroe County planning director.

The bills "would preempt, retroactively, local government authority to protect wetlands, springs and stormwater runoff if done through ordinances or rules adopted after July 1, 2003," according to 1000 Friends.

"This retroactive provision is unprecedented and would directly contradict the home-rule authority given to local governments as part of their responsibilities under both the 1985 Growth Management Act and the 2011 Community Planning Act."

Lisa Tennyson, the Monroe County legislative liaison, sent several proposed bills to county planning staff for view. HB 703 is among them. County staff has not fully reviewed the bill, said Assistant Planning Director Mayte Santamaria.

Reef Relief, an ocean conservation group based in Monroe County, added a legislative alert to its website.

"The bill is a Christmas tree for special interests," says the alert. "If the state keeps local governments from doing a better job than the state does, our waterways are going to die."

"Some legislators," says 1000 Friends "are apparently determined to make sure that local governments aren't allowed to make local decisions.... HB 703 and SB 1464 have some particularly egregious language that strips local home-rule authority related to comprehensive plans and environmental protection."

The bills were being considered by legislative committees Tuesday, the opening day of the two-month legislative session.

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