Florida agriculture thanks state lawmakers for a great session
Against a backdrop of dwindling funds in the state, Florida’s agriculture industry owes a big thank you to its friends in the Legislature this year for understanding the needs of this important sector of the our economy.
The session, which began early because this year voting districts were being redrawn, ended on a high note late in the evening March 9 with at least 10 bills passed that were favorable to Florida agriculture. Not one passed that would have harmed the grower community, and only three that would have helped died in committee.
Delivered and signed
Only 292 bills passed this session out of 2,052 filed. HB 7087 was an important one. The economic development package was important to the business community at large and to Gov. Rick Scott because it cut corporate taxes. The ag community appreciated the inclusion in HB 7087 of a sales tax exemption on electricity used in off-farm packinghouses. “This means real savings for our growers who operate packinghouses that are not on farms,” said Butch Calhoun, FFVA’s director of government relations. The sales tax exemption was originally a stand-alone bill filed by Sen. Gary Siplin (D-Orlando) and Rep. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow). HB 7087 passed on the last day of the session, and Scott signed it into law March 27. It will take effect July 1.
HB 1197, which turns regulation of beekeeping over to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, passed on March 6. It was sponsored in its original form by Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) and Rep. Mike Horner (R-Kissimmee), and amended to incorporate SB 1194/HB 1021, a general ag bill sponsored by Albritton and Sen. Jim Norman (R-Tampa). The amendment incorporated provisions of the ag bill, including a prohibition against local governments from charging stormwater assessments on farm operations. The amendment also authorized the use of citrus harvesting equipment and citrus fruit loaders to transport citrus. HB1197 was signed by the officers and presented to the governor on March 23. Scott must act on this bill by April 7.
SB 2060 received its share of public attention. It was filed by Sen. Charlie Dean (R-Inverness) and as HB 705 by Rep. Matt Caldwell (R-Fort Myers) to exempt the EPA’s numeric nutrient criteria for Florida waterways from ratification. The governor signed that bill before the session ended.
Other bills positive for agriculture included HB 503, which will assist those seeking development permits. HB503 and its companion SB 716 were filed by Rep. Jimmy Patronis (R-Panama City) and Sen. Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton). HB 313 provided limits on liability for landowners or lessees of land who allow hunters, fishermen and others on their land for recreational activities. HB 313 was filed by Rep. Leonard Bembry (D-Madison) and its companion bill, SB 802 was filed by Sen. Charlie Dean (R-Inverness). Another favorable bill passed this session requires local governments to follow statewide environmental resource permitting rules. HB 7003 was filed by Rep. Steve Crisafulli (R-Merritt Island) and its companion, SB 1354, by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice).
Two bills involving the Florida Department of Citrus also passed. HB 1237 revises the Florida Citrus Code and HB 1239 exempts non-published reports and research from being placed in the public record.
Legislation also passed that exempts farmers from needing a commercial driver’s license to transport agricultural products to or from farms. And a provision was passed that exempts the operators of farm labor vehicles from hours-of-service requirements during declared emergencies.
Some bills did not survive the committee process
Only three bills backed by ag interests died in committee.
The one with the most media attention was SB 1362/HB 1103, filed by Sen. Alan Hays (R-Umatilla) and Rep. Tom Goodson (R-Titusville). It would have provided criteria for determining the location of the ordinary high-water mark for navigable non-tidal water bodies.
Another bill would have exempted from local ordinances certified applicators applying urban landscape fertilizer who follow Best Management Practices. SB 604 was filed by Dean and HB 421 by Rep. Jimmie Smith (R-Lecanto).
A trespassing bill, SB 132/HB 77, also failed to survive the committee process. Filed by Sen. John Thrasher (R-Jacksonville) and Rep. Daniel Davis (R-Jacksonville), it would have authorized the use of purple paint marks to identify a “no trespass” area.
No immigration threat … yet
FFVA monitored several bills that contained potential problems, but those were amended to correct those issues.
The immigration bill that would have posed problems for agriculture never really got traction this session and died in committee without being heard. SB 1638/HB 1315 filed by Sen. Thad Altman (R-Melbourne) and Rep. Gayle Harrell (R-Port St. Lucie), would have required all employers in the state to use the federal E-Verify system to verify the employment eligibility of new employees.
Calhoun said that the bill’s lack of support was a positive development. But with new legislative leadership coming to Tallahassee next year, agriculture must be prepared to work on any proposed immigration legislation waiting in the wings. “This could be the major issue facing our industry next session,” he added.