2009 Fla. Legislative Preview
As legislators look to slash regulations to encourage growth, environmentalists worry about losing hard-won protections from pollution. Here's a look at what lawmakers hope to tackle.
During a recent visit to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Gaetz learned from Secretary Charles Drago how difficult it is for a cosmetologist to open a beauty shop in Florida. “The application at the state level goes through 17 sets of hands — and that’s on top of local permitting, licensing and zoning,” says Gaetz. Back in his district, which stretches from Panama City to Pensacola, charter fishing boat operators must navigate a tangled maze of government regulation, Gaetz says.
|“Since this is a time when government can do less for us, surely this is a time when government should do less to us,” says Sen. Don Gaetz, chairman of the new Senate Select Committee on Florida’s Economy. With the help of leading business economists in the state, the panel will propose legislation aimed at creating incentives and eliminating impediments to business development, survival and expansion. The committee is also in close communication with the Obama administration, discussing how targeted economic stimulus should best be applied to Florida.
Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, sees many areas where lawmakers can look to streamline. “It takes too long to get a road from concept to concrete. It takes far too long and it’s too expensive to permit good developments, quality developments, environmentally sensitive and responsible developments.”
Gaetz says the panel will hold a series of public forums around the state and establish a website for public comment to help determine “what we unconsciously or consciously have done at the local or state level” to discourage growth and development and business activity — and whether those regulations are necessary. Gaetz says that regulations put in place to save the Everglades would “probably be a disincentive we want to keep in place,” whereas a regulation created because of anti-competitive pressures would be one his committee would want to target.
Environmentalists and some local government officials are concerned that the Legislature, in its zeal to streamline, will loosen environmental protections.
The fertilizer industry, for instance, is expected to make another push to create a statewide fertilizer ordinance that would pre-empt local governments from adopting stricter measures. Cities such as Sarasota and Sanibel have enacted tough ordinances restricting the use of fertilizers by residents and businesses.
“A statewide fertilizer ordinance is fine, but not with a pre-emption clause,” says Sanibel Mayor Mick Denham, who spent much of last year’s session in Tallahassee helping defeat the bills. “Every part of Florida is very different in terms of its topology, the soils it has, the vegetation, and trying to have one bill that fits all of Florida really doesn’t work.”
Pre-emption will be a buzzword in Tallahassee again this year in other matters as well. Look for House bills targeting local stormwater fees, mining regulations and wetlands ordinances. For example, a handful of counties, such as Martin and Hillsborough, have wetlands regulations that go far beyond the state’s. Sansom has drawn a bead on such ordinances as overly bureaucratic during a time when all levels of government should be focused on economic recovery.
Environmentalists say they hope to pre-empt some of the pre-emption in Tallahassee. “Whenever the economy goes soft, polluters blame the environment, and we see proposals to roll back environmental regulations,” says Eric Draper with Audubon of Florida. “It’s an opportune time to do it because people are distracted. But the arguments are not true. There’s not really a trade-off between clean water and a prosperous economy — it’s not an either-or.”