News from Tallahassee for 11/27/14

Legislators Will Decide Amendment 1's Impact posted on 11/24/14

by Mary Ellen Klas | Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE | Florida environmentalists say they were forced to go to voters to get permanent funding for land and water protection because legislators neglected the need for too many years. But now, even though Amendment 1 passed with 75 percent of the vote, the Legislature will get the last word.

House and Senate Republican leaders are preparing legislation to rewrite many of the state's existing environmental laws to respond to the amendment, which requires the Legislature and governor to set aside one-third of all taxes collected from the documentary tax on real estate transactions. Lawmakers warn that painful tradeoffs lie ahead.

How legislators make those tradeoffs will determine whether the implementation of Amendment 1 is a cordial affair — in which proponents and lawmakers agree to compromise — or the debate becomes a test of wills and, potentially, lawsuits.

"In this new reality, as we work to apply this new portion of our Constitution and faithfully implement the will of the voters, there is going to be some pain,'' said Senate President Andy Gardiner in a speech to the Senate last week during the swearing-in ceremony for members.

Gardiner conceded that the proposal to generate between $10 billion to $20 billion for environmental causes over the next 20 years could "make a significant impact on the future of water and natural resources," but emphasized that "implementing this amendment will be a chal­lenge."

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Florida gets $34M oil spill grant for conservation posted on 11/18/14

by AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida on Monday received $34.3 million in a second batch of conservation grants from a settlement over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation said the money will fund nine projects that were decided upon in consultation with Florida and federal environmental agencies.

Gov. Rick Scott applauded the funding and said the work will protect natural resources for future generations. Many of the projects will benefit the Panhandle.

In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by Transocean, exploded, killing 11 workers off the Louisiana Gulf Coast. It triggered the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history and led to lawsuits and criminal charges against Transocean, BP, which was leasing the rig to drill for oil thousands of feet below the water, and others.

The money is the second disbursement from the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. It was created by a settlement between the U.S. government, BP and Transocean to resolve criminal charges in the spill.

All told, Florida has received more than $50 million for 15 restoration projects in the state, according to the NFWF.

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Guess how much money Big Sugar gives to Palm Beach County’s congressional delegation posted on 11/18/14

by Andrew Marra | Palm Beach Post

Reformers have been trying for years to do away with the federal government’s protectionist sugar policies, which kill jobs and drive up the price of groceries for ordinary Americans.

Americans in 2014 were paying 39 percent more for refined sugar thanks to federal tariffs on imports, domestic production quotas, and a controversial federal lending program.

But reforms can never seem to get through Congress.

One big reason: the huge amounts of money that Big Sugar contributes to members of Congress, who set federal sugar policy.

How does Palm Beach County’s congressional delegation rate?

It turns out three of Palm Beach County’s four congressional representatives take big money from Big Sugar.

Here’s an idea of how much they’ve taken from sugar interests over the years:

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Amendment 1: Essential Conservation or Unnecessary Legislature? posted on 11/3/14

by NATHAN POWELL | WUSF

Midterm elections are this Tuesday. Florida voters will be voting for governor, along with three proposed amendments.

When the economy underwent a downturn in 2008, legislators began sweeping trust funds and diverting money used on land preservation and conservation to other causes. But when the economy recovered, the money was never restored. So enough signatures were collected on petitions throughout the state to place Amendment 1 on the ballot.

It would dedicate one-third of fees collected on real estate transactions to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. The fund buys environmentally sensitive lands for preservation and recreation.

While some say Amendment 1 is being overshadowed by other more controversial issues, Will Abberger, Campaign Manager for Florida's Water and Legacy says he isn't worried about more popular topics being on the ballot.

“You know, the governors race is very important for the future of our state, obviously. And it's a hotly contested race, so yes, that's received a lot of attention. Amendment 2 some might consider it a little more sexy than Amendment 1,” Abberger said. “But, we believe that Florida voters understand the importance of clean water, they understand the importance of setting aside our remaining areas of wildlife habitat.”

Kurt Wenner, Vice President of Tax research at Florida Tax Watch, says past events show the amendment might not even be necessary.

“One thing that we've seen in our analysis is that the legislature has actually spent more money on things that are covered under the amendment than would be required under the amendment in 5 of the last 11 years,” Wenner said. “So we don't necessarily think this will mean that you will have increased spending in these areas.”

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Florida Ballot Preview: Water And Land Conservation Amendment (Am 1) posted on 10/28/14

by JESSICA PALOMBO | WFSU

FL EvergladesNote: Every day this week, we’ll be taking a look at amendments on the Florida ballot.

We start with Amendment 1: the measure setting aside public money for environmental conservation. Supporters of the amendment say it’s a way to accomplish what the Legislature has failed to do. But opponents say the Constitution isn’t the place to write state budgets.

Natural Bridge Battlefield State Park is a half-hour southeast of the Florida Capitol building. Preston Robertson, the lawyer for the nonprofit Florida Wildlife Federation, is looking across the water.

“This tract that we’re looking at, which is part of what’s called the Upper St. Marks River Corridor, has been on the Florida Forever list for a long time, I think about 10 years,” he says.

Crickets chirp loudly as we stand on a roadway that’s been built over this natural “bridge” over the river. The water’s flowing slowly.

“In this case, the St. Marks River goes underground, it goes through the limestone and pops back up,” Preston explains.

The state owns and manages the park. But north of here, the river flows through land owned by the St. Joseph Lumber Company. Purchasing that waterfront land is among the top priorities for a council that recommends land purchases under the state program Florida Forever. The Yes on 1 campaign says the land-buying program is crucial to protecting the state’s drinking water and preserving natural beauty that attracts big tourism dollars. And they say the amendment will ensure it continues.

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