To many in Florida’s environmental community, the hastily called legislative Special Session in Tallahassee on November 16 was a warning shot across the bow. If all the rhetoric from legislators turns into action, the next few years spell trouble for Florida’s environment.
After the Nov 2. elections, the Florida legislature wasted no time in overriding the Governor’s veto of one of the worst environmental bills in years. House Bill 1565, passed last year by the legislature but vetoed by the governor, would bring state rulemaking—environmental and otherwise—to a grinding halt.
HB 1565 requires expensive economic analyses on any state agency rules, and requires any rules with more than a minimal estimated economic impact ($200,000 a year for 5 years) to return to the Legislature for ratification. Adding insult to injury, the bill was offered last year late in the legislative session with almost no public debate. In the days prior to the Special Session, conservationists, business owners and local government leaders urged legislators not to overturn Governor Crist’s veto. Those pleas were ignored.
Several legislators from both parties eloquently objected to the veto in floor debate. In the final vote a very small handful of legislators voted nay but, both houses overwhelmingly voted to override Crist’s veto, making this new law effective immediately.
In a follow up article in the Tallahassee Democrat, both sides offered comments on what this vote means. “This is literally across the board. This would change the way government operates,” said Frank Matthews, a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist for the Association of Florida Community Developers.
Audubon of Florida Executive Director Eric Draper stated, “From the public health and safety standpoint, this is the worst possible thing they could come up with. This may be what they want to do, just shut down government altogether.”
Crist justified his veto last year by saying this would result in a power grab by the legislature of executive authority over state agencies. Florida’s environmental agencies in responding to the bill, reported that almost all agency rules concerning environmental, growth management, water management and related issues will “trip the threshold” requiring approval from the legislature. The veto override was expected by this new legislature. Its anti-government regulation philosophy is closely aligned with the sentiments repeatedly expressed by the new Governor-elect.
I do not know how this will impact beach and turtle protection. But it could potentially impact everything from sea wall permitting to lighting ordinances. It will certainly have a chilling effect on issuing any future environmental regulations. Before DEP can issue a new regulation on anything, lets say beach raking to protect nesting, the agency would have to conduct an economic analysis. If the cost to implement the new regulation is over 200k statewide (remember this is a very large state so almost any rule could cost at least this much to implement) then the regulation would have to go to the legislature for hearings, analysis and approval. This will likely open up agency rule making to extensive special interest lobbying, delaying ratification for years.
The legislature has effectively taken executive branch authority for rule making away from the governor and state agencies and placed it in the hands of what some consider the most conservative legislature since reconstruction.