March brings end to disappointing legislative session

Beyond the Curb


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Here we are in March already. March is when spring starts and the Florida legislative session ends. 

While one carries the meaning of renewal, rebirth and re-growth, the other may mean the end of a painful period for Floridians.  

I say painful because not all decisions made by policymakers in Tallahassee are in line with what we, the people who voted them in, want to see happen. 

This year, for example, despite 64 local governments having passed resolutions opposing fracking and the opposition expressed by various environmental groups, the House passed a fracking bill (HB 191) that would regulate the practice in Florida and leave local governments with no say about it. 

<i>Shutterstock.com</i>​Fracking, the process in which an acid fluid is blasted into rock to free up oil and gas well below the ground, “is a messy undertaking that could be particularly damaging in Florida, with its porous limestone below the surface and underground aquifers that supply most of the state’s drinking water,” The Tampa Tribune wrote in an editorial, “A devious fracking bill.”

A similar bill, SB 318, stalled in the state Senate waiting for a presentation from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on the science behind fracking and its impact. 

Suncoast News reports that “the proposal would provide statewide regulation for the drilling method [… and] would toss out bans passed by 64 counties and cities.”

This is called preemption when the state legislature enacts a law to prevent local governments from regulating issues locally, and it is getting more and more common here in Florida. It is quite disconcerting to see where legislators are going with this “preemptive legislation trend.” It unfortunately shows a tendency to protect the interest of powerful industries above all others.

“Since the 1980s, Florida’s legislators have protected Big Tobacco by passing bills pre-empting counties from regulating smoking in public places; in 2008, it pre-empted counties from making laws taxing or prohibiting plastic bags until the state could implement a ‘study’ on the subject; in 2013 the Legislature protected Big Business when it passed a pre-emption bill that restricted counties from passing laws that would require employers to offer sick time to employees; this year, the Legislature is protecting Big Oil in a huge way by attempting to pre-empt counties from banning fracking in their communities (that bill has passed in the House and is currently moving through committees in the Senate), and now they want to pre-empt bans on polystyrene, too,” writes Erin Sullivan from Orlando Weekly.

Yes, the state is looking into regulating polystyrene, more commonly known as Styrofoam, in a way that “cities and counties would be prohibited from banning foam plates [food and beverage containers] and other products.” 

Under HB 7007, that just passed the House, “this preemption does not apply to local ordinances or provisions thereof enacted before January 1, 2016, and does not limit the authority of a local government to restrict the use of polystyrene by individuals on public property, temporary vendors on public property, or entities engaged in a contractual relationship with the local government for the provision of goods or services, unless such use is otherwise preempted by law.”  

A similar bill, SB 1010, is in the Senate.

If we don’t pay attention, all these kinds of bills will pass and leave us with no control over what is done right in our backyard. Sadly, way too often our leaders make decisions based on annual budgets and immediate gains instead of considering some long-term ill (and many times irreversible) effects certain policies may inflict on the people. 

In place of a fracking bill, why not introduce a bill that fuels investments in clean energy? 

It is important for us to be aware of what happens in our government. A good way of doing that is by joining organizations like The League of Women Voters of the Space Coast — lwv-spacecoast.org — to keep abreast of the issues that affect us and to have a voice when something becomes a threat to our interests and well-being.

The legislative session is scheduled to end around March 11. And this is how fortunate we are that March is here. 

Email Marcia Booth at Marcia@3RsAndBeyond.org.