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Water Not A Commodity For Late Session Bargaining?

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TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – If the House and Senate can't find common ground on water policy in the next 50 days, then they'll try again next year, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said this week.

While the two chambers are looking at widely divergent proposals to enact new water policies across most of Florida, Crisafulli said he doesn't expect leadership-backed water priorities to be used as a late-session hardball bargaining chip for issues such as Medicaid expansion or stadium funding.

"I'm not going to pass a bad water bill," Crisafulli said after the House floor session Wednesday. "If we have a bill that's in play that's just not good for the future of a clean sustainable water source … for the future of our state; we don't need to pass a bad bill just to pass a bill."

The House version (HB 7003), which has already been approved by the full House, is considered more business- and agriculture-friendly than the Senate's proposal (SB 918), which is viewed as being more project-focused.

"If we can work something out, great," Crisafulli added. "If not, then we gave it our try and we'll come back next year and try again."

The water-policy discussions come as lawmakers work on carrying out a voter-approved constitutional amendment that will require the state to set aside hundreds of millions of dollars a year for land and water conservation. Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg, who has been meeting this week with lawmakers to ensure money for the Everglades is included in the final appropriations, said he wouldn't be disappointed if the water-policy aspect of enacting the constitutional amendment was delayed a year.

"In a way, that's a positive outlook, that there is no drop-dead deadline," Eikenberg said Thursday. "I've seen legislation not make it the first year and you come back and make a better bill."

Sen. Charlie Dean, an Inverness Republican who plays a key role in Senate water issues, called the differences "significant."

But Dean also didn't see lawmakers using the voter-approved constitutional amendment, which is now forecast to generate about $741 million in the next year, being used by either chamber to advance other issues that are stuck in the budget and late-session conference talks.

The House policy changes would impose what are known as "best management practices" for natural springs, the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. Also, water-management districts would be directed to implement a water-management plan across Central Florida.

The Senate version is heavily focused on protecting springs. It also would establish a method to prioritize various water projects and create a non-motorized trail network. Unlike in the Senate approach, the

House does not include springs-protection zones, which would regulate the impact of septic tanks and the flow of storm water and agricultural runoff into springs.


For the first time in two years, Gov. Rick Scott met Tuesday with members of the Legislature's black caucus --- but no one seemed particularly heartened by the results.

"We see issues of morality constantly being ignored, and frankly, we're tired of it," Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said after the meeting.

About 20 African-American lawmakers met with Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera in the governor's large conference room. The agenda had three items: Medicaid expansion, targeted economic development for minority areas with high jobless rates, and greater diversity in hiring executive staff and making judicial nominating selections.

But Scott proceeded to stay on message about his efforts to increase jobs and cut taxes.

He didn't directly address the question of Medicaid expansion, but pointed instead to the possibility that the federal government will slash more than $1 billion from the Low Income Pool program, which helps hospitals that care for large numbers of low-income and uninsured Floridians. He urged caucus members to lobby the feds to keep the money flowing.

Asked to target local economies --- such as the Belle Glade area, where the jobless rate is 41 percent --- for economic development, Scott said every area of the state should come up with its own strategy. "If no company wants to come there, there's not going to be any jobs," he said.

As to diversity in his hiring and appointments, Scott said, "I believe I've tried to find the most qualified people."

Scott also dismissed what Bullard described as "continuous frustration that is getting to a tipping point" in minority communities over incidents in which unarmed black men --- such as Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Gardiner in Staten Island, N.Y. --- have been shot by law-enforcement officers.

"I answer my phone," Scott replied. "If you know someone who's been treated unfairly, call me."

Several caucus members, including Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said they'd tried to reach out to Scott without success.

"We need some positive impact, because the blood of the community is boiling," Bullard said after the meeting. "We saw active protects standing in alignment with Ferguson. We saw active protects standing in alignment with the Gardiner family in New York. But we also know that there's a number of issues right here at home that he's failed to address, and unfortunately he's failed to address today."

The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner And Margie Menzel contributed to this report.


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