- Legislative session begins -
Lawmakers in Tallahassee have swung into action earlier than usual this year, with the typical March start date pushed up to Jan. 12. Legislators will take up a number of measures important to agriculture.
Because the Florida Legislature is only in regular session for two months of the year, it might seem strange that some bills have already cleared committees and are ready for a vote in both the House and Senate. That’s because legislative committees meet for about five weeks before the session starts so supporters of the bills already have the ball in play for their priorities.
This year, a notable bill for agriculture interests is major water policy legislation. The 150-page document, HB7005/SB552, “revises, clarifies, amends, provides and defines” concerns ranging from cleaning up springs to unifying water policy in Central Florida, to maintaining a database of conservation lands and more. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam supports the bill, as does FFVA. The Senate passed the bill on Jan. 13 and the House approved it the next day sending it to Gov. Scott’s desk for his signature.
Another bill would exempt some agricultural equipment from sales tax. It would provide economic relief to growers in the form of exemptions on some trailers and fencing materials. SB1264 was filed by Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-Trilby) with its companion bill SB1189 filed by Rep. Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula). In addition, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar) will be filing a tax package that will exempt the purchase and repair of packinghouse equipment from sales tax.
Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) and Rep. Neil Combee (R-Auburndale) have filed SB304/HB59 to preempt local governments from enforcing any local ordinance, regulation or rule that “restricts, regulates or otherwise limits” an agritourism activity. Those activities can range from U-pick operations to ceremonial events, which could be hurt by excessive and unnecessary regulations.
Another bill filed by Stargel and Rep. Jake Raburn (R-Lithia), relates to regulations. SB882/HB431 exempts nonresidential farm buildings and agricultural pole barns from the Florida Fire Prevention Code.
Focusing on transportation, Rep. Halsey Beshears (R-Monticello) and Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast) have filed HB411/SB1046 to define covered farm vehicles and exempt drivers from commercial driver license requirements when warranted.
A general agriculture industry bill is usually filed at some point during the legislative session. This year, Hutson and Raburn filed SB1310/HB749, which would provide the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services with the authority to seek legal action against anyone who brings invasive pests into Florida.
Lawmakers also will consider a bill that would repeal legislation passed in 2009 that increased registration fees for certain critical pesticides. That repeal, SB 1270/HB4035, was filed by Simpson and Combee.
A list of other bills related to agriculture includes:
SB1010/HB7007, which revises the powers and duties of FDACS’ Division of Marketing and Development to remove certain enforcement provisions relating to agricultural products law
HB749/SB1310, which deals with burning on agricultural land
SB1052/HB589, which prohibits water management districts from modifying consumptive use permits if the permit holder uses less water than is allocated by the permit
SB1010/HB7007 is an important bill for the specialty crop industry because it was amended to include a section that would create a cost-share program to aid growers in removing abandoned citrus groves to fight citrus greening. Sen. Bill Montford (D-Quincy) filed SB1010 and Raburn filed HB7007.
Also on the radar is SB6/HB109, which would raise the state’s minimum wage. It was filed by Sen. Dwight Bullard (D-Cutler Bay) and Rep. Victor Torres (D-Orlando).
The day before the start of the session, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda (D-Tallahassee) filed HB 1369, the House companion to Sen. Maria Sachs’ SB 1700, “Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods.” This is the fourth year that Rehwinkel-Vasilinda has filed a labeling bill.
Also on Monday, Sachs filed a second GMO-related bill, SB 1708, “Labeling of Genetically Engineered Foods,” which requires the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to publish lists of raw agricultural commodities at high risk or potentially at risk for cultivation in a genetically engineered form.
Finally, the budgets of FDACS and UF/IFAS are of continuing concern to the agriculture industry, especially in the area of research. Priorities are research into citrus greening and other diseases such as laurel wilt, which attacks avocado trees; the Fresh From Florida marketing program; a continuation of Operation Cleansweep, which provides a way for growers to safely and economically dispose of unwanted pesticides; and a new pollinator research facility.
Also as part of the FDACS budget, the agriculture industry has requested funds for nutrient reduction and water retention projects.
FFVA members will receive the Capitol Voice legislative bulletin throughout the session. Those with questions are encouraged to contact Government Relations Direct Butch Calhoun via email (email@example.com) or at 850-521-0455. FFVA is a member of the Florida Agriculture Coalition, which aims to promote a united front on agriculture issues to lawmakers and bring its members’ priorities to the forefront.