Freshmen lawmakers make Tallahassee a place of change

Learn from Florida legislators what’s in store for the ag industry this session. Register here for FFVA’s Legislative Preview webinar, Feb. 28.
With significant numbers of newcomers getting their feet wet in the Florida Legislature, the specialty crop industry is keeping its eye on several potential areas of change.

Butch Calhoun, FFVA’s director of government relations, is tracking developing bills that could make a difference in how the industry does business. He’s also keeping an eye on how the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences as well as the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will fare in budget allocations.

As in every session, changes happen on a daily, if not hourly, basis. FFVA producer members will receive updated information via the association’s legislative bulletin, the FFVA Capitol Voice, each week during the session, which runs from March 5 until May 3.

FFVA members also are encouraged to sign up to receive Today’s Headlines, a daily email digest of industry articles, blog posts and broadcasts.  To join the subscription list, please send an email to information@ffva.com requesting to be added to the list.

So far, here are FFVA’s primary bills of interest:

Agricultural Lands bill would eliminate layers of regulations

FFVA's board of directors and its Emerging Leader Development Class met with lawmakers last session including Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne.

House Bill 203, relating to agricultural lands, expands the protection that agricultural operations currently have from duplication of regulations to include any governmental entity rather than just counties. The bill passed the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 12 with some amendments.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello. It was the first bill to be presented by the freshman legislator.  The Senate version will be introduced by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, another newly elected lawmaker.

“When the Agricultural Lands and Practices Act was passed in 2003, its purpose was to protect reasonable agricultural activities from duplicative regulations by county governments if the farming operations were being regulated by state or federal agencies,” said Calhoun.  “At that time, very few farming operations were located within city boundaries. Since then, several cities have expanded their borders and annexed large tracts of agricultural lands into their boundaries,” he said.

Opponents say the bill is too expansive and will take some funding away from local governments.

Greenbelt bill, 2013-style

The Greenbelt law is the focus of some tweaking, Calhoun said. “We’re cleaning up some things in the Greenbelt that don’t need to be there,” he explained. “Several antiquated sections of the law need to be removed.”

Those include a part of the statute that says, in regard to the county property appraiser reclassifying certain lands as nonagricultural, “Sale of land for a purchase price which is three or more times the agricultural assessment placed on the land shall create a presumption that such land is not used primarily for bona fide agricultural purposes. Upon a showing of special circumstances by the landowner demonstrating that the land is to be continued in bona fide agriculture, this presumption may be removed.”

“The way land prices are now, the purchase price – unless you’re using the land to grow a high-dollar crop such as blueberries – will always be more than three times what the ag assessment is,” said Calhoun.

FFVA and others also are requesting another section be deleted that reads, “The value adjustment board may also review all lands classified by the property appraiser upon its motion.” As this section stands, it allows a value adjustment board, without having received a request to reassess land, to go around the property appraiser and reclassify property as non-agricultural. A value adjustment board consists of three county commissioners and two school board members. Its purpose is to serve as a panel to decide appeals, not to make independent property assessment decisions, Calhoun said.

Rep. Beshears will sponsor the House bill and Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Dade City, will sponsor the Senate bill.

Everglades bill to be presented

Everglades restoration is going through more twists and turns than a  Florida spring.

Sen. Simpson has filed a bill that has been described as a starting point for legislative debate on the topic of Everglades water quality.

Senate Bill 758 folds Gov. Rick Scott’s $880 million Everglades restoration plan that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved last year into Florida law and eliminates older references to restoration phases. Recent discussions on the topic have focused on whether sugar farmers are paying their fair share and, on the other side, whether they have been given proper credit for pollution reduction that is a result of their incorporating state Best Management Practices.

 Florida Department of Citrus legislation

FFVA's executive committee presented the FFVA Legislator of the Year award to Rep. Seth McKeel. R-Lakeland, last year.

Another freshman house member and Florida’s youngest legislator, Rep. Jake Raburn, includes in his priorities a measure to correct the law affecting the Florida Department of Citrus and its nine-member board of directors, the Florida Citrus Commission. The Republican from Valrico said his bill corrects some sections of the law that identify the Department of Citrus erroneously as the Department of Agriculture.

Agricultural water bill would give DACS a say in future ag water needs

Another proposed bill brings the Department of Agriculture into the decision-making process with the water management districts on long-term water planning. “Currently, the water management districts have to do a 20-year projection on what water use will be and the Department of Agriculture hasn’t had a say in that,” Calhoun said. “With this bill, the water management districts would have to consider data on projected agricultural production and its water needs from the Department of Agriculture. This will help the water management districts make more accurate projections for long-term agricultural water needs.”

Senate Bill 948, filed by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, would require that “certain agricultural demand projections be based upon the best available data.” This bill is a priority for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Keeping watch on regulatory reforms

Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, and Sen. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, will file a regulatory reform bill, said Calhoun.  “The first draft has a lot in it that’s good for agriculture, including less government regulations,” he said.

Funding needed for research

In addition to the above bills, FFVA also is concerned that enough of the state’s budget is allocated to the Department of Agriculture and UF/IFAS for specialty crop research.

“A big push of the citrus industry is for greening research funding, and they’re asking for at least $8 million,” said Calhoun. “Much of this funding would go to IFAS. The governor actually has $5 million in his proposed budget, which is good because in the past he hasn’t allocated research monies for the citrus industry.  The Legislature will build their own budget. They don’t ever take all of the governor’s proposals, but the citrus industry has worked hard to get the governor to include some funding in his proposed budget.  We’ll be working with them on that,” Calhoun said.

The governor also has recommended about a $7 million cut in the Department of Agriculture’s share of the budget.  “They usually get about $3.2 billion, so this is very manageable,” said Calhoun.

For additional details and an update on bills up for consideration that will affect the agriculture industry, register for FFVA’s Legislative Preview webinar at 10 a.m. Feb. 28. Register online and learn more here.

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