2016 Florida Legislative Session recap

The 2016 Florida legislative session ended on time with a tone of compromise and civility – a much different scenario than last year’s session, which was dominated by bitter disagreement. Observers say that may be because many in both the House and Senate won’t be returning because of term limits, redistricting and planned runs for other offices.

Lawmakers accomplished their only required task – passing a budget. They overwhelmingly approved an $82.3 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July. The University of Florida and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services fared well.

The governor did release on March 15 a list of items he plans to veto. Those included a $4 million passive dispersed water storage project and $5 million that was earmarked for a land owner cost share assistance program.

FFVA Director of Government Relations Butch Calhoun said it was a great session for agriculture. FFVA tracked 13 bills that were favorable to the industry and four that were either potentially unfavorable or their effects couldn’t be determined. Of those four, none passed. Of the 13 favorable bills, 10 passed and were handed to Gov. Rick Scott. He has signed some into law.

Bills that will bring good news to growers and others in the industry address issues such as water, agritourism, fire safety, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, farm vehicles, state lands, agricultural land and taxation.

Water

One of the most important and far-reaching bills to pass was SB 552/HB 7005 – Water Resources.  Filed by Sen. Charlie Dean (R-Inverness), and Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres), the broad bill revises provisions relating to water resource development, the establishment and implementation of minimum flows and levels and total maximum daily loads, the Central Florida Water Initiative, projects of the South Florida Water Management District, preferred water supply sources, consumptive-use permit applications, improvements on private agricultural lands, the Northern Everglades and Estuaries Protection Program, the power and duties of water management districts with regard to water production and water resource and supply development, regional water supply planning, springs and aquifer protection, surface water classification and potable water supply.

Scott signed the bill early in the session. It includes a provision to update and enhance Best Management Practices in certain watersheds, statewide pilot programs for alternative water supply and quality projects, and preliminary work on a web-based interactive map of the state’s water bodies that includes regulatory information about each one.

Another water-related bill is SB 1052/HB 589 – Environmental Control. Filed by Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla), and Rep. Cary Pigman (R-Sebring), the bill prohibits the water management districts from modifying or reducing consumptive-use permit allocations if actual water use is less than permitted use because of water conservation measures or specified circumstances. It also requires the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt by rule a specific surface water classification to protect surface waters used for treated potable water supply. The bill passed the Legislature on March 9.

Agritourism

A bill that will help agribusinesses conduct activities such as tours, ceremonies, and other agritourism efforts passed and was signed into law. SB 304/HB 59, filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), and Rep. Neil Combee (R-Auburndale), prohibits local governments from enforcing ordinances, regulations, rules or policies that restrict or regulate agritourism activity on agricultural land.

Fire safety

SB 822/HB 431 – Fire Safety for Agricultural Buildings, filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R- Lakeland), and Rep. Jake Raburn (R-Lithia), exempts nonresidential farm buildings on agricultural property under certain circumstances from the Florida Fire Prevention Code. For example, pole barns would be exempted as would tents up to 900 square feet. HB 431 was presented to the governor on March 9.

Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Another bill pending action by the governor is SB 1010/HB 7007 – Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Filed by Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee), and Rep. Jake Raburn (R-Lithia), it addresses a list of issues relating to FDACS. Those include revising the powers and duties of the Division of Marketing and Development to remove the enforcement provisions relating to the dealers in agricultural products law, revising the duties of the director of the Division of Consumer Services to include enforcement provisions relating to the dealers in agricultural products law and authorizing the commissioner of agriculture to create an Office of Agriculture Technology Services.

It also allows FDACS to sponsor expanded events to promote Florida agriculture and designates tupelo honey as the state’s official honey.

HB 7007 was signed presented to the governor on March 11.

Farm vehicles

SB 1046/ HB 411 – Farm Vehicles, filed by Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast), and Rep. Halsey Beshears (R-Monticello), defines the term “covered farm vehicle” for purposes of the Florida Uniform Traffic Control Law, revises the requirements for a person who operates a commercial motor vehicle solely in intrastate commerce while transporting agricultural products and exempts the driver of a covered farm vehicle from commercial driver license requirements.

It also exempts certain vehicles from the requirement that they be registered and display a license plate. Those would be motor vehicles operated normally on agricultural land and only incidentally on public roads. It was presented to the governor on March 11.

State lands

SB 1290/HB 1075 – State Lands, filed by Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby), and Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres), revises and deletes provisions relating to acquisition, surplus, sale, lease and use of state-owned conservation, non-conservation, recreation and submerged lands.

It would combine the acquisition procedures for all state lands into one section of law and remove priority consideration given to local governments when designating lands as surplus. HB 1075 also passed the Legislature on March 11.

Agriculture industry

SB 1310/HB 749 – Ag Industry, filed by Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast), and Rep. Jake Raburn (R-Lithia), preempts the regulatory authority over commercial feed and feedstuff to FDACS, provides penalties for individuals who knowingly deal in plant pests without a special permit from the Division of Plant Industry, and allows citrus crop lands in the Citrus Health Response Program to continue to be classified for five years as agricultural lands for property tax purposes. The bill was presented to the governor on March 9.

Special assessments

SB 1664/HB 773 – Special Assessments on Agricultural Lands, filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R- Lakeland), and Rep. Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula), prohibits local governments from levying or collecting special assessments for fire protection services on lands classified as agricultural lands, pole barns and other nonresidential farm buildings valued at $10,000 or less. HB 773 was presented to the governor on March 9.

HB 7099 – Taxation

In a last-minute flurry of activity at the end of the session, HB 7099, filed by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar), passed the Legislature. It revises certain documentary stamp tax provisions, expands exemptions and discounts from ad valorem taxes, revises excise taxes on certain aviation fuels, exempts parts and repairs in packinghouses not on farms and provides sales tax holidays for several items including electronics and outdoor gear.

“As the session came to an end, the agriculture industry accomplished much with the help and support of our legislative friends,” said Calhoun. “We couldn’t have done as well as we did without the leadership of Rep. Steve Crisafulli as House speaker, the strong support of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and the hard work of our bill sponsors.”

FFVA members may access the full library of our legislative bulletin, the Capitol Voice, here.

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