A Senate co-sponsor of a controversial environmental bill says he didn't know it was amended to include a provision that critics say would limit public input on permitting decisions by the state's five water management districts.
Environmental groups including Audubon of Florida, 1000 Friends of Florida and the Putnam County Environmental Council are calling on Gov. Charlie Crist to veto SB 2080. Crist raised concerns about the bill last month but he said Tuesday he hasn't decided whether to sign it.
Sen. Carey Baker, R-Mount Dora and a co-sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday he was not aware of a provision in the bill that allows water management district executive directors to approve permits without votes of the districts' governing boards unless the directors choose to deny the permit.
"I was quite surprised," Baker said. "When you look at the language in the bill it doesn't say all the things I'm telling you (the bill says). It's sort of technical language (you wouldn't understand) unless you had time to dig through it which we didn't have time to at the end of session."
Baker said the bill was sponsored primarily by Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Winter Haven, and that Alexander allowed Baker to have his bill dealing with "Florida-Friendly Yards" to be amended to the bill, making Baker the co-sponsor.
Baker's original bill, supported by environmentalists, would prevent homeowners associations from restricting the use of Florida-Friendly yard practices that are designed to need less water and fertilizer.
On April 30, the next to last day of the regular session to vote on bills, the Senate approved an amendment (Barcode 256072) that included the provision directing water management district executive directors to make permitting decisions. Alexander could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
The provision also was included in House bills 7137 and 7143, which won House approval but died in the Senate without being voted on. Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers and sponsor of both bills, also couldn't be reached for comment.
Mike Slayton, deputy director of the St. Johns River Water Management District, said the amendment to SB 2080 also was explained by Alexander on the Senate floor before it was adopted.
"If you are going to say it was a sneak attack, it was the slowest, most obvious sneak attack one could make," Slayton said.
Environmental groups say the bill would limit public access to the approval process. And former state Rep. David Flagg of Gainesville, who serves on the board of the Suwannee River Water Management District, agrees.
"I'm not looking for a fight," Flagg said. "I'm not looking to be a non-team player with the governor or Sen. Alexander, whom I know. I just think this is a bad bill as it relates to the seriousness of water management and the importance water-management districts and their governing boards ... as we have more consumption and loss of water in Florida."
The Florida Home Builders Association is supporting SB 2080 because it would allow water-management district boards to focus their time on other issues involving their agencies. "This is not only good for the environment; it's also good for business," association spokeswoman Edie Ousley said in an e-mail.