News from Tallahassee for 12/22/14

Bruce Ritchie: On Florida’s newly appointed Department of Environmental Protection director posted on 12/12/14

by bruce ritchie | context florida

Jon Steverson, Gov. Rick Scott’s choice as Department of Environmental Protection secretary, has been an outspoken director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District during his brief tenure there.

Whether he will impress environmentalists with his passion and results at DEP is uncertain.

Scott named Steverson, 39, on Thursday to replace Herschel T. Vinyard Jr., who resigned as expected on Dec. 1 after serving through the governor’s first term. Steverson had served as executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District since 2012...

In 2011, Vinyard told a Florida Senate committee during his confirmation that he was passionate about protecting the environment. But he was criticized later by environmentalists for hiring outsiders to lead his department, proposing to sell state lands and for siding with industries on pollution issues.

Steverson may get criticism from some environmentalists.

That’s because the Scott administration and the Legislature — both Democrats and Republicans — have been committed to policies that are too slow or uncertain about producing results for some environmentalists. And both parties voted to undo protections, such as a septic tank inspection requirement that was repealed in 2012.

Industry has a large voting bloc in the Legislature. The environment has almost no one willing to confront industry.

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New Leaders Named for Environmental Protection, Elder Affairs posted on 12/12/14

by JIM TURNER AND DARA KAM | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

seal of FloridaJonathan Steverson, who for the past two years has overseen one of the state's five water-management districts, will head the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as Gov. Rick Scott begins a second term.

Scott also has shaken up things at the Department of Elder Affairs.

Scott appointed Sam Verghese to take over for Charles Corley, who, after running the agency for three years, stepped down as secretary Wednesday.

Verghese had served as Scott's external affairs director since May. Prior to his stint in the governor's office, Verghese, a former staff director in the Florida House of Representatives, was chief of staff at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Steverson, who served as former Gov. Charlie Crist's environmental policy coordinator, was named Thursday to replace former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard, who left the post Nov. 26. Steverson has been director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District since 2012.

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Putnam set for leadership role in conservation debate posted on 12/12/14

by Aaron Deslatte | Orlando Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE — There are lots of cooks in the kitchen as Florida faces the related tasks of drafting conservation plans along with seemingly incongruous rules for cleaning and preserving water supplies.

Ranchers and developers want to shape any new regulations. Environmentalists want reforms in practice and not just on paper. The king-making business lobby in Tallahassee wants to ensure this spring's coming debate over water and land conservation doesn't present any bumps in the road for future growth. And politicians galore are looking for opportunities to claim credit.

Corralling these interests and addressing the state's potentially crippling water shortages will depend on the political leadership of some key figures.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, declared last year the Legislature would act this spring on water policy. Gov. Rick Scott has touted his recommendations for conservation land buying after years of zeroing it out of the budget.

My how things have changed. A century ago, conservatives favored preserving natural resources. You know, they wanted to conserve the natural heritage for generations to come.

But the politician who will have the some outsized say-so is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The Bartow Republican was proselytizing on Florida's worsening water woes when Scott was campaigning to dismantle Florida's growth and environmental rules.

While environmentalists have long viewed Florida's agriculture commissioner position as a mouthpiece for Big Sugar and agriculture interests, the current occupant is well-respected and an all-but-declared serious gubernatorial contender. As evidence of his growing clout, look at what happened at a Cabinet meeting last week.

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Conservation amendment up to lawmakers now; environmentalists worried posted on 12/8/14

by john kennedy | Palm Beach Post

FL EvergladesTALLAHASSEE — Environmentalists are wary of early reaction by legislative leaders to the water and land conservation amendment, overwhelmingly approved by Florida voters last month including 85 percent of those in Palm Beach County.

The measure would set aside one-third of the state’s existing real estate transaction tax, raising millions of dollars for such conservation programs as Everglades restoration, Florida Forever land purchases and freshwater springs protection.

But lawmakers also seem to be eyeing to make a broader menu of projects eligible for the amendment’s more than $600 million in first-year cash.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said city water and sewer projects – basic repair, maintenance and expansion work that lawmakers spent $88.5 million on this year – could be among those aided by the Water and Land Legacy campaign dollars.

“It fits into the purview of the intent of the amendment, it certainly does,” Crisafulli said.

Although environmentalists and their attorneys drafted the ballot measure, Crisafulli pointed out, “Now it’s up to us to interpret the intent.”

That reality worries some in Florida’s conservation community.

“I didn’t see any mention of paying for leaky pipes in the amendment,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida.

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FL Leaders Discuss Big Issues Facing State posted on 12/8/14

by AP

Expanding health care coverage, solving water problems, improving education and handling issues like legalizing medical marijuana and gambling were among the topics Florida leaders discussed during a summit Friday.

The idea was to bring together a bipartisan mix of political, business and education leaders to look at the major issues facing Florida in the immediate and distant future and to brainstorm on how the state should tackle them.

The event was organized by Justin Sayfie, a lawyer, lobbyist, and GOP fundraiser who runs a website that aggregates news about Florida politics and government.

Despite his Republican allegiance, Sayfie kicked off the summit by telling people to take off their political hats and put on their Florida hats. In that spirit, one session discussed how Florida can provide more health care coverage people for people who can't afford it despite the Republican legislative leadership's opposition to Medicaid expansion under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

Former Republican Congressman Tom Feeney, who is now president of Associated Industries of Florida, said after the discussion that Obama's Affordable Care Act is "politically poisonous" in Florida, but providing health care is a priority the state needs to address.

He said the approach needs to be "somewhere in between the Obama administration's take it or leave it, all or nothing, you have to buy into Obamacare — which is not going to happen anytime soon — and a legislative approach that hopefully doesn't say 'No. Never.'"

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