Thursday, April 17, 2008

Legislative issues - from FNPS

Dear Action Alert recipient:   The action of our FNPS Board of Directors to approve funds for a lobbiest in the 2008 FNPS budget has enabled us to have effective representation in Tallahassee during the legislative session for the first time in our history.  In January, we contracted with Sue Mullins who is now lobbying on our behalf during the legislative session.  This is one of the toughest legislative sessions in recent memory with budget cuts topping the list of action items for the legislature.  Not surprisingly, environmental programs are on the chopping block.  The remainder of this message provides a summary of the issues that FNPS is actively addressing and those that we are watching  during the legislative session.  We typically don't know, until the last minute, what the current status of legislation is as the various committees and legislators seek to mold the legislation to fit their interests and the interests of their constituents and favorite special interests.  When we get news that we need to contact legislators about legislation, we'll let you know as soon as possible.   Thank you for speaking out on issues important to preserving our native flora.  ----- Shirley Denton / FNPS President  Top Issues:  Funding for Florida Forever Funding for Everglades Restoration  SB 542 Florida Forever This bill will extend the Florida Forever land conservation program by 10 years, adding authority to bond or pay in cash for another $300 million per year to acquire and manage land for conservation purposes.  The Senate version is very strong, adding provisions for climate change prevention and adaptation, strengthened land management and flexibility in securing lands for preservation. The Senate version maintains a true conservation purpose for acquisition and protection of lands for perpetual public benefit, where the House version (PCB 08-09) contains strong land management language but needs work on acquisition programs.  FNPS and the Florida Forever Coalition provided much of the language for the Senate bill.  The House released its Appropriations bills on March 25 and did not include the $5 million in general revenue (GR) to launch sales of the 2008 series of Florida Forever bonds, nor the $30 million in GR necessary to repay bond debt issued for this series. The House budget director said simply, "there was no money and we had to make hard choices."  As with Florida Forever funding, there was no money made available for the $100 million annual expenditure for Everglades restoration.  This week, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted to attach a series of bad amendments to the House Florida Forever bill that would confound land acquisition for conservation with land acquisition to support special interests including utilities for such purposes as supporting alternative water supplies.  FNPS actively lobbied against these amendments and sent out an Action Alert to Members.  This is a saga that is not over.  Expect a series of actions in both the House and the Senate eventually climaxing in a committee to merge the two very different bills.  We anticipate that we will be contacting key players throughout the process.  FNPS fully supports the Senate bill and will support measures to remove the bad amendments and restore full funding for the House bill.  Sue Mullins is keeping us up to date and speaking on behalf of FNPS.  We expect that we will need to call upon members (via the FNPS alert list), at a moment's notice, to write supporting letters, faxes, and e-mails.   Major Issues Implicating FNPS Interests  HB 5079 Department of Environmental Protection   This bill will transfer the Bureau of Invasive Plant Management from the Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services. It will also cease transfer of $250,000 annually from the Conservation and Recreation Lands Trust Fund to the Plant Industry Trust Fund within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for the purpose of implementing the Endangered or Threatened Native Flora  Conservation Grants Program pursuant to s. 581.185(11).  The money will instead be transferred to General Revenue for spending on any governmental program.  Additionally, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS), not DEP will issue permits for any business involving the importation, transportation, non-nursery cultivation, collection, sale, or possession of any aquatic plant species, and the DACS will list and exempt from that list the prohibited plant species after determining that the proposed activity poses no threat or danger to the waters, wildlife, natural resources, or environment of the state.  The bill will allow DACS to determine whether the species Melaleuca quinquenervia, Schinus terebinthifolius, Casuarina equisetifolia, Casuarina glauca, or Mimosa pigra can be permitted for sale or cultivation, and whether other uses of those species are appropriate for mulch or other non-disposal uses.  FNPS is fighting this transfer.  SB 1506 Electric Transmission Lines on State Lands and now part of Senate Energy Package, SB 1544 and Florida Forever Successor Program, SB 542   The language contained in these bills will facilitate easier access to state lands for electric transmission lines and other linear facilities. Energy and other utilities are suggesting the state allow the construction of transmission lines and other linear energy facilities across state conservation lands. The proposed language would provide compensation for lands used for power lines by offering up to twice as many acres in return.   FNPS is working with partners in the Florida Forever Coalition to ensure the siting language avoids or minimizes impacts to conservation lands and chooses such lands as a last resort.  HB 261 Violations in State Parks by Culp This bill decriminalizes many of lesser violations of State Parks rules. Penalties are established as misdemeanors and can result in ejection from the park and/or fines of up to $500.00. The intent of the bill is to bring penalties in line with the violations and to encourage judges to hold violators accountable for their actions. It is thought that this will encourage enforcement of penalties that may have been considered too harsh in the past, including those governing the theft or damage of native plant and tree species. The following activities are identified as second degree misdemeanors under the bill:  Cutting, carving, injuring, mutilating, moving, displacing, or breaking off any natural formation or growth within the boundaries of a state park. Capturing, trapping, injuring, or harassing wild animals within the boundaries of a state park. Collecting plant or animal specimens within the boundaries of a state park.  Leaving the designated public roads with a vehicle within the boundaries of a state park. Hunting within the boundaries of a state park.  FNPS is in support of this bill.  HB 651/SB 2286 Florida Arborists Licensing   The bill creates a voluntary licensure program for arborists and requires any person practicing arboriculture (selling of trees) in this state to become a licensed arborist to better regulate consultations done for improvement to the condition of shade, ornamental, palm, or fruit trees by fertilizing, pruning, trimming, bracing, or other methods of  improving, diagnosing, or protecting such trees from tree pests, diagnosing or protecting such trees from tree diseases and or curing or repairing any damage to such trees, including, but not limited to, pruning, removal, preservation, repair, cabling and bracing, lightning protection, root pruning, root excavation, tree assessments, tree maintenance and care, trimming, cutting, sawing, or removal of trees that have been damaged to such an extent as to cause or threaten injury to life or property.  FNPS is monitoring this bill to make sure no unintended conditions or definitions are imposed so as to regulate persons not engaged in questionable practices.   SB 2624 Commercial Citrus Groves/Casuarina Cunninghamiana (Australian pine)   This bill provides conditions for use of Casuarina cunninghamiana as a windbreak for commercial citrus groves provided that the use of this species does not interfere with or restrict efforts to manage or control noxious weeds or invasive plants. It prohibits any other agency or local government from removing Casuarina cunninghamiana planted as a windbreak under special permit.  FNPS is opposed to this bill as it has the effect of promoting the use of non-native invasive plants for agricultural or other purposes, and is also monitoring the bill to fight amendments that might otherwise expand the use or cultivation of Australian pine.  HB 761 Agriculture   Prohibits county government imposition of tax, assessment, or fee for stormwater management on agricultural land meeting certain requirements; expands eligibility for exemption from local business tax receipt for privilege of selling specified products; provides indemnity of agricultural landowner for easement or other right secured by water management district for public access; provides responsibility for gross negligence & other acts; delineates requirements for tomato farmer, packer, re-packer, or handler to comply with state food safety microbial standards; provides for adoption of best management practices; removes tropical foliage from regulation under dealers in agriculture products provisions*; expands local government exemptions for nonresidential farm buildings; expands agricultural operations materials that can be openly burned.  FNPS is not in support of some of the provisions of this bill and is working with House to amend the bill favorably.  SB 310 Biomass Energy Production    This legislation increases the limit on the amount of taxes that are exempt for the sale or use of materials used to distribute biodiesel and ethanol. The bill provides for transfer of the renewable energy technologies investment tax credit. It continues the Farm-to-Fuel Grants Program within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Creates the Biofuel Retail Sales Incentive Program.  The purpose of the program is to provide matching grants for bioenergy projects relating to the production of bioenergy or feedstocks used in bioenergy production. The act specified who is eligible to receive grants. It also provided authority for the department to adopt rules to administer the program and it set forth factors that may be considered in awarding grants. In evaluating and awarding grants, the act requires the department to consult with DEP, persons having expertise in renewable energy technologies, and the Office of Tourism, Trade, and Economic Development.  FNPS is monitoring this bill and will oppose any provision to introduce or spread invasive non-native plants for biofuel production.  Other Bills of Interest  HB 1215 Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park   Requires protection, maintenance, & preservation of Casuarina equisetifolia (Australian pine) trees at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park; provides for number of trees to be returned to those documented as existing in Australian Pine Mapping Project of 2004; provides for care & maintenance of such trees; provides for institution of policy of controlled growth; provides that act is not intended to authorize sale or distribution of such trees.  FNPS (via Sue Mullins) worked with the bill sponsor to have the bill withdrawn from further consideration, as it potentially codified the use, cultivation and protection of an invasive, non-native plant species in a public preservation area, setting a regrettable precedence.   SB 1810 Agricultural Emergency Eradication Trust Fund   This bill creates an Agricultural Emergency Eradication Trust Fund. Funds in the trust fund may be made available for the promotion, advancement, and protection of agriculture in the state, including maintaining or increasing market share and suppressing or eradicating wildfire, animal or plant disease, insect infestation, or a plant or pest that endangers or threatens agriculture, potentially taking the place of the "agricultural emergency" declaration that has resulted in the removal of thousands of citrus trees to prevent the spread of citrus canker.  FNPS is monitoring (via Sue Mullins) this bill for the inclusion of any provisions that could result in unintended consequences for native nurseries or others.    SB 2352/HB 1267 Protecting Urban and Residential Environments   This bill creates the "Protection of Urban & Residential Environments & Water Act;" requires local governments to adopt "Florida Friendly Fertilizer Use on Urban Landscapes Model Ordinance" by time certain; provides for exceptions & for additions to ordinance; requires person who applies fertilizer commercially to urban turf to be certified by DACS; provides requirements for training for applicants; requires training program to be designed, approved, & made available by DEP & IFAS; requires trainer certification; provides for commercial fertilizer applicator recertification & requires maintenance of certain fertilizer application information; authorizes information to be shared with specified state & local agencies.  FNPS is in support of this bill.

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