Legislative preview 2015

As the Florida Legislature prepares to begin its 2015 session on March 3, FFVA has developed its list of priorities to help ensure a positive political and regulatory backdrop for its members.

At the top of the list is a bill proposing important agricultural tax exemptions, said Butch Calhoun, FFVA’s director of government relations. HB249, filed by Reps. Jake Raburn (R-Valrico) and SB398, filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland).

The Agricultural Tax Exemptions bill redefines the terms “livestock” and “agricultural production,” revises sales and use tax exemption for certain farm equipment to exempt from tax irrigation equipment, repairs of farm equipment and irrigation equipment and certain trailers. It also revises sales and use tax exemption for items in agricultural use to exempt from tax stakes used to support plants during agricultural production.

SB398 will be voted on in the Senate Agriculture Committee late today (Feb. 16 – links to updates will be added later).  HB249 has been referred to the House Finance and Tax Committee for its first vote, but no hearing is scheduled yet.

FFVA's Butch Calhoun with Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Destin).

“This is the same bill we backed last year,” Calhoun said. Last year’s legislation, SB312/HB575, was amended with only one week left in the session to include only exemptions for irrigation equipment and repairs after leadership said its fiscal impact would have to be drastically reduced. Even after its fiscal impact was cut from a $15 million savings for agriculture to $2.5 million, the bill never made it to the governor’s desk.

“Another issue we’ll be working on is a bill that would amend the Bert Harris Private Property Rights law,” Calhoun said. “There have been a couple of court cases that have weakened the law as it’s written, and we want to see it clarified among other priorities,” he said. Reps. Keith Perry (R-Gainesville) and Katie Edwards (R-Sunrise) filed HB383, and Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami) filed SB284.  HB383 passed the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on Feb. 10 unanimously 13-0.

Calhoun said another issue affecting growers is gleaning produce from fields. HB137/SB158, filed by Rep. Rader and Sen. Greg Evers (R-Pensacola), would allow for greater protection from lawsuits when growers allow groups or individuals to glean fields, such as church groups collecting usable produce for food pantries. “Current law says that you have that protection after harvest,” said Calhoun. “And that is strictly technical. What if you don’t harvest that crop? What if you had a bad price or a cancellation from a buyer and you just want to let people come in and harvest, rather than wasting good product? You don’t have any protection as is.” The new bill would allow a grower to welcome gleaners any time during the production year. It also would provide a waiver of liability.

FFVA board members visit Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-New Port Richey).

SB158 also is on the Senate Agriculture Committee agenda for late today  (Feb. 16), and HB137 was sent to the House Civil Justice Subcommittee in January. Last year’s gleaning bill passed the Senate but was never put on the House calendar.

Calhoun also said that transportation issues are on the plate this session, specifically to protect producers from excessive ticketing of vehicles moving certain products from field to packinghouse. He expects a bill to be filed soon addressing this.

There’s also a lot of talk in Tallahassee about the use of expected revenues generated by Amendment 1 funds. Calhoun is pleased that the concerns and recommendations of environmental groups and agriculture are “not that far apart.” “The biggest differences are that the environmentalists want to spend most of money on buying more land, and agricultural interests want most of it to go toward addressing water issues around the state,” Calhoun said. The sponsors of the amendment, Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, issued a paper outlining their recommendations early this month, which include $170 million for Everglades, estuaries and Northern Everglades restoration, $170 million for the Florida Forever Program and $60 million for springs over the next 20 years.

“There’s a lot going on with Amendment 1,” said Calhoun. “We’ll wait and see what the bill will entail. This isn’t going to gel till later in the session because everyone is looking at the $750 million figure over 20 years and how they can benefit.”

Related to Amendment 1 is a bill by the House State Affairs Committee that would revise Florida’s water policy in some important ways. Similar to last year’s SB1576, which passed the Senate but was not taken up by the House, committee members are asking for a comprehensive approach to the subject in 2015.

See an analysis and the latest events related to the bill here.

Other bills FFVA is tracking include those covering topics such as farm buildings, commercial motor vehicles, hemp product, animal control and GMO labeling. FFVA members will soon receive the first of the session’s Capitol Voice legislative affairs bulletin with weekly updates on all bills of interest.

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