2014 Legislative review

– Fewer bills passed during this election year –

Election-year politics affected this year’s legislative session by drastically reducing the number of bills passed by legislators. Some lawmakers and political observers say the Republican-controlled Legislature didn’t want to see Gov. Rick Scott veto or sign any bills into law that could affect his chances of re-election.

However, the 60-day session ended on May 2 with passage of the largest state budget ever at $77.1 billion. Only 264 bills passed – far fewer than the average of 338 since 2001. The total number of bills filed was also far below average: 1,812 compared with a 10-year average of 2,364 bills a year from 2004 to 2013.

But as Butch Calhoun, FFVA’s director of government relations, summed it up, “The good news is that no legislation passed that would be devastating for agriculture.”

Only three bills FFVA supported passed, Calhoun said. “And the rest, including our priority sales tax exemption bill, SB 312/HB 575, will not make it to the governor’s desk for his signature this year.” SB 312 would have exempted the purchase of irrigation equipment from sales tax.

The three bills FFVA supported were:

SB 536 / HB 601 – Reclaimed Water

SB 536, filed by Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby), and HB 601, filed by Rep. Lake Ray (R-Jacksonville), will require the Department of Environmental Protection in coordination with Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the water management districts to study the expansion of the beneficial use of reclaimed water. SB 536 passed the Legislature on April 28.

SB 1206 / HB 487 – Agricultural Industry Certification

SB 1206, filed by Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee), and HB 487, filed by Rep. Jake Raburn (R-Valrico), requires the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to annually provide to the State Board of Education industry certifications for farm occupations to be placed on industry certification funding lists to determine annual funding to school districts. HB 487 passed the Legislature on April 29.

SB 1630 / HB 7091 – Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

FFVA President Mike Stuart and Butch Calhoun, director of governmental relations, talk with Rep. Halsey Beshears (R-Perry).

SB 1630, filed by Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee), and HB 7091, filed by Rep. Cary Pigman (R-Sebring), revises, creates and repeals various provisions relating to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the industries the department regulates. This bill also will allow growers who participate in a water-retention program (water farming) sponsored by a water management district to retain their agricultural assessment under Florida’s Greenbelt Law. HB 7091 passed the Legislature on the last day of the session.

Other bills of interest on their way to the governor’s office include HB 851, which will allow Florida high school students in the country illegally to pay in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities. HB 755 will help qualified undocumented immigrants to be admitted to the Florida Bar. SB 392 will increase the speed limit on certain interstate highways to 75 mph, and SB 1030 allows for a strain of low-THC marijuana to be sold legally in the state for medical purposes. Only five growers or “dispensing organizations” representing various regions in the state will be selected as eligible to produce and process the low-THC cannabis. Each grower selected will be subject to strict qualifications and regulations. Read more about SB 1030 here. Scroll down to Section 5b.

As far as funding causes important to FFVA’s members, Calhoun said that most, if not all of the budget requests from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services were funded, including new budget requests for the Office of Agriculture Water Policy. “IFAS didn’t do as well as FDACS, but did receive most of its requests including $2 million non-recurring funding for the Southwest Florida Research & Education Center at Immokalee,” Calhoun said.

Another program that FFVA members have appreciated in the past, Operation Pesticide Cleansweep, was funded this year for the first time since 2010. Operation Cleansweep is a pesticide amnesty program within FDACS and the Department of Environmental Protection that provides growers a safe, economical way to dispose of cancelled, suspended or unusable pesticides.

For the citrus industry, several legislative priorities were funded. The appropriations include:

  • Citrus Research and Development Foundation* – $3.5 million non-recurring research
  • FDACS’ germplasm facility – $2 million non-recurring
  • Citrus Health Management Area (CHMA) support – $500,000 non-recurring; supplements a $7.7 million federal grant.
  • New Varieties Development Corp. – $500,000 non-recurring research
  • Florida Department of Citrus, Economic and Market Research – $500,000 non-recurring

Calhoun said he was optimistic about the industry’s priorities in next year’s session in light of the fact that later this month, the Florida Agriculture Coalition will begin traveling around the state for its election-year candidate interviews. The group will interview incumbents seeking re-election as well as candidates seeking election for the first time.

“Hopefully, the 2015 Legislature will be more amenable to issues affecting the second largest industry in Florida,” Calhoun said.

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