2015 Legislative Session: Final Agriculture Report

The 2015 Legislative Session, including a Special Session on the budget, is now complete.  The budget and tax package are in final form and all legislation has been acted on by the Governor.  The status of legislation and budget items dealing with water and agriculture issues is summarized below. 

 Changes, additions and updates from prior reports will appear in bold text.

For any relevant legislation, the full text of each bill and any amendments can be found on the legislative web sites.  (www.flsenate.gov; www.myfloridahouse.com; and www.leg.state.fl.us.)

Water Policy Issues

Water policy was not taken up in the Special Session.

Water Supply and Quality:  CS/HB 7003 by the House State Affairs Committee is a comprehensive 89-page package by the House State Affairs Committee.  It includes increased emphasis on public-private partnerships with landowners for conservation efforts; it includes springs protection measures for all first and second magnitude springs, designates such springs as Priority Florida Springs; requiring the establishment of a spring protection zone for each; and requiring agricultural operations within each spring protection zone to implement agricultural best management practices or conduct water quality monitoring. The committee bill also streamlines statewide regulation, planning and permitting within the state’s water management district structure.  CS/HB 7003 has passed all of its committees of reference and was voted favorably on the House floor the first week of session. The Senate laid SB 918 on the table, took up HB 7003, amended it, and sent it back to the House. However, the House had already adjourned at the time.

CS/CS/SB 918:

  • Create a pilot program for alternative water supply development in restricted allocation areas and grant those selected projects first priority funding;
  • Require that basin management action plans include milestones for implementation and water quality improvement and an associated water quality monitoring component sufficient to evaluate whether reasonable progress in pollutant load reductions is being achieved over time;
  • Remove provisions requiring interim MFLs for an Outstanding Florida Spring, and replace them with an emergency rulemaking mandate to adopt MFL no later than July 1, 2016. Emergency rules are effective thru regular rulemaking procedures and the rules are exempted from legislative ratification.  It also requires recovery and prevention strategies to be adopted concurrently with the MFL and for amendment of the regional water supply plan to reflect a water resource or water project in a recovery and prevention strategy. The amendment restores current law on significant harm but requires DEP to adopt a rule with a uniform definition of “harmful to the water resources” and allow a WMD to adopt a more protective definition;
  • Require the annual report of the water management districts to grade each watershed, water body or water segment by level of impairment and violation of adopted MFLs;
  • Remove cross WMD impact of MFLs but require the adjacent District to collaboratively develop and implement a recovery or preventions strategy for an OFS not meeting an adopted MFL;
  • Require monitoring be included in new consumptive use permits for groundwater withdrawals of 100,000 gallons or more and wells with an inside diameter of 8” or more; and
  • Require DEP to establish standards for collection of water quality and quantity data and the WMDs are required to use these standards and report their data to DEP which is required to maintain a central database. Any water resource project suggested by a WMD or a state agency must use the DEP’s testing results and analysis.

The House took up HB 653 and amended the language of CS/CS/918 onto it with some provisions removed, most notably provisions relating to trails and creating a water resources council to evaluate water projects.

Ratification of Rules/Minimum Flows & Levels and Recovery & Prevention Strategies/DEP: HB 7081 is a committee bill that ratifies specified DEP rules relating to minimum flows and levels for the Lower Santa Fe and Ichetucknee Rivers and their associated priority springs, for sole & exclusive purpose of satisfying any condition on effectiveness pursuant to s. 120.541(3), F.S. It has passed the full House and is in Senate messages. The bill was approved by the Governor (Chapter 2015-128, Laws of Florida).

Amendment No. 1 Implementation

The House and Senate met in conference committee during the Special Session to finalize the implementation of Amendment 1, the constitutional amendment passed by voters in November that allocates money for land and water conservation efforts.  

SB 2516-A implements Article X, section 28 of the Florida Constitution. The constitutional amendment requires that 33 percent of documentary stamp tax revenue be distributed into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and prohibits funds from the LATF from being used for other than specified purposes provided in the amendment. In addition, the amendment prohibits the comingling of the LATF with the General Revenue Fund.

SB 2516-A restructures trust funds to implement the constitutional requirement that documentary stamp taxes directed for environmental purposes must not be comingled with the General Revenue Fund. The bill also ensures that the documentary stamp taxes are not commingled with other revenue sources and can be tracked from distribution into the LATF to appropriations within the General Appropriations Act. The bill terminates certain trust funds currently receiving documentary stamp tax revenue intended for expenditure on environmental programs and redirects those moneys and moneys from other sources deposited into those terminated trust funds to other appropriate trust funds. The terminated trust funds include within the:

Department of Environmental Protection the:

  • Florida Communities Trust Fund;
  • Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) Trust Fund;
  • Ecosystem Management and Restoration Trust Fund;
  • Florida Preservation 2000 Trust Fund; and
  • Water Management Lands Trust Fund.

Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection the:

  • Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) Trust Fund.

Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission the:

  • Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) Trust Fund.

SB 2516-A revises the statutory distributions of revenues derived from the documentary stamp tax to satisfy the water and land conservation constitutional amendment. The bill:

  • Requires the LATF to receive 33 percent of net revenues from the documentary stamp tax.
  • Requires payment of debt service for Florida Forever and Everglades bonds from the LATF.
  • Repeals the existing distributions of documentary stamp taxes to terminated trust funds that serve environmental purposes other than the distribution to the LATF.
  • Removes the existing documentary stamp tax distribution for payments in lieu of taxes to local governments.
  • Maintains the existing effective percentage distributions to the State Transportation Trust Fund and the Department of Economic Opportunity’s Grants and Donations Trust Fund, while reducing the actual distribution to these trust funds.
  • Increases the percentage distributions to the State Housing Trust Fund so that the same dollar amounts are distributed to that trust fund as would have been distributed under current law.
  • Maintains the percentage distribution from the State Housing Trust Fund to the Local Government Housing Trust Fund.

Finally, the bill addresses the following provisions:

  • Specifies that funds in any LATF must be invested separately with the interest deposited into the General Revenue Fund.
  • Revises the Land Acquisition Trust Fund within the DEP and the FWC to comply with the constitutional amendment.
  • Revises all environmental bonding provisions to comply with the constitutional amendment and repeals all obsolete bonding provisions.
  • Redirects the phosphate rock severance tax distribution from the CARL Trust Fund to the State Park Trust Fund within the DEP.
  • Specifies that all Land Acquisition Trust Fund balances as of June 30, 2015, in the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are transferred to the Grants and Donations Trust Fund effective when the bill becomes law.
  • Removes language that funds shall be made available from the CARL Trust Fund within the DEP for payment in lieu of taxes to qualifying counties and local governments; however, the bill adds language that the Legislature may appropriate funds annually for the payment in lieu of taxes.
  • Removes obsolete language and cross references.
  • Corrects cross references and conforms provisions to changes made by the act.

Agricultural Operations

Tax Cuts: The final tax bill, HB 33A, makes a number of tax cuts, including new or expanded sales tax exemptions for the following agricultural items: feed for aquatic organisms, irrigation equipment, costs of maintenance and repairs of irrigation and power farm equipment, stakes, and certain trailers used on farms. The tax package was approved by the Governor (Chapter 2015-221, Laws of Florida).

Surveillance by a Drone: CS/CS/CS/HB 649 by Representative Metz and CS/CS/CS/SB 766 by Senator Hukill prohibits a person, a state agency, or a political subdivision from using a drone to capture an image of privately owned real property or of the owner, tenant, or occupant of such property with the intent to conduct surveillance without his or her written consent if a reasonable expectation of privacy exists. The bill amends sections of law applying to law enforcement and does not appear to have the intent of affecting agricultural operations.  It is related to HB 979 by Representative Smith and SB 1178 by Senator Richter. Both versions of the bill have been amended to generally authorize the use of a drone by a person or entity engaged in a business or profession licensed by the state, within the scope of a license. The Senate bill was approved by the Governor (Chapter 2015-26, Laws of Florida).

Property Rights and Taxes

Civil Liability of Farmers: SB 158 by Senator Evers and HB 137 by Representative Rader provides that an existing exemption from civil liability for farmers who

gratuitously allow a person to enter upon their land for the purpose of removing farm produce or crops left in the field applies at any time, rather than only after harvesting. The senate bill was approved by the Governor (Chapter 2015-38, Laws of Florida).

Private Property Rights: CS/CS/HB 383 by Representative Edwards amends the Bert Harris Private Property Rights Act to provide for settlement agreements between property owners and governmental entities and extends the protections of the Act to  governmental exactions which exceed a rough proportionality standard. The bill was approved by the Governor (Chapter 2015-142, Laws of Florida).

State Lands: HB 7135 by the House State Affairs Committee:

  • Adds preservation of low impact agriculture to the list of short-term and long-term state land management goals;
  • Directs land managers, as part of their every 10-year management plan update, to identify conservation lands that could support low impact agricultural uses while maintaining the land’s conservation purpose;
  • Directs land managers, as part of their every 10-year management plan update, to identify conservation lands that could be disposed of in fee simple or with the state retaining a permanent conservation easement;
  • Requires each county and city to submit to DEP, by July 1, 2017, a list of all conservation lands owned by the local government and lands on which the local government holds a permanent conservation easement. Financially disadvantaged small communities have until July 1, 2018, to submit the same information;
  • Directs DEP to complete a study by January 1, 2017 regarding the technical and economic feasibility of including the following lands in a public lands inventory:
    • privately owned lands that may not be developed due to certain local, state, or federal regulatory requirements; privately owned lands where development rights have been transferred; privately owned lands under a permanent conservation easement; privately owned conservation lands; and lands that are part of a mitigation bank

The bill passed the House, but was never taken up in Senate messages.

Other Legislation of Interest

Racing Animals—Prohibited Medications: CS/SB 226 by Senator Latvala and CS/HB 239 by Representative Fitzenhagen are companion bills that will bring Florida into compliance with the international standard for prohibited medications for thoroughbred race horses.  The bill was approved by the Governor (Chapter 2015-88, Laws of Florida).

Commercial Motor Vehicle Review Board: CS/CS/CS/SB 220 by Senator Simpson and CS/HB 145 by Representative Beshears provides for appointment of additional members by the Governor and the Commissioner of Agriculture by a specified date; provides for terms and qualifications of the additional members; and provides for removal of members by the Governor under certain circumstances. CS/HB 145 has passed the House and was sent to the Senate; the Senate bill has been laid on the table and the House bill has passed both chambers.  The bill was approved by the Governor (Chapter 2015-103, Laws of Florida).

Electronic Commerce: CS/CS/CS/SB 222 by Senator Hukill and CS/HB 175 by Representative Spano creates the “Computer Abuse and Data Recovery Act” prohibiting a person from intentionally committing specified acts without authorization with respect to a protected computer and providing remedies for civil actions brought by persons affected by a violation. The bill was approved by the Governor (Chapter 2015-14, Laws of Florida).

Legislation of Interest that Failed

Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: CS/HB 7015 by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and SB 1050 by Senator Montford is the Department’s annual omnibus bill. It removes provisions requiring the department to give certain priority consideration when evaluating applications for funding of agriculture education and promotion facilities; authorizes the department to secure letters of patent, copyrights, and trademarks on work products and to engage in acts accordingly; and authorizes the Commissioner of Agriculture to create an Office of Agriculture Technology Services.  The House bill has passed the full House but was not taken up in Senate messages.

Cattle Market Development Act:  HB 917 by Representative Combee and CS/SB 1220 by Senator Grimsley renames the current Beef Council as the Florida Cattle Enhancement Board; it revises the funding for Board activities; provides for staggered terms for board members; and repeals the sunset of the Board. The check-off language was amended out of both bills. The House bill passed but was not taken up in Senate messages.

Public Records/Public Agency Contracts: CS/CS/SB 224 by Senator Simpson and CS/CS/CS/HB 163 by Representative Beshears addresses public records requests made to entities contracting with public agencies.  It defines the term “acting on behalf of a public agency”; requires that a public agency contract for services include a statement providing the name and telephone number of the public agency’s custodian of records; and specifies circumstances under which a court may assess and award reasonable costs of enforcement against a public agency or contractor. The bill was amended and passed between the chambers but was not taken up in Senate returning messages.

Farm Buildings—Fire Safety:  SB 1148 by Senator Stargel and CS/CS/HB 1025 by Representative Raburn will exempt nonresidential farm buildings from the Florida Fire Prevention Code.  The bill has been amended to include additional fire safety considerations to address concerns raised in committee. The House bill has passed the full House but was not taken up in the Senate.

Agritourism:  CS/SB 594 by Senator Stargel and CS/HB 569 by Representative Combee prohibit local governments from enforcing ordinances, regulations, rules, or policies that prohibit, restrict, regulate, or otherwise limit agritourism activities on land classified as agricultural land. The House bill passed the full House but was not taken up in the Senate.

Land Application of Septage: CS/SB 648 by Senator Evers and CS/HB 687 by Representative Drake removes the future prohibition against the land application of septage from onsite treatment and disposal systems. CS/HB 687 died in Senate messages, with the Senate bill still pending in committee.

SB 7086 is a committee bill by Environmental Preservation and Conservation that revises measurable objectives for management goals to include the preservation of low-impact agriculture. It died pending in committee.