Water at the Forefront of the 2015 Florida Legislative Session

February 26, 2015:

There is one issue proving to be at the forefront in the minds of legislators for the 2015 Legislative Session: water. After the decisive passage of Amendment 1 dedicating tax revenue to conservation efforts last November, there is a great deal of continued policy debate on how to best allocate and conserve it. Agriculture has become increasingly more adept at pioneering water conservation practices, having been surpassed by domestic users as the largest consumer of water resources in recent years. Policymakers clearly wish to further the successful partnership with Florida’s farmers and landowners in pursuit of even more efficient use of the water supply.

The 2015 Legislative Session begins on Tuesday, March 3rd, and both the House and Senate have released comprehensive water-related legislation. This follows a joint announcement from the Speaker and the President that they would work together to pursue the common goal of sustainable statewide funding and policy strategy for water conservation. The emphasis in these bills is two-fold —(1) implementation of Amendment 1 funding options and (2) comprehensive policy revisions to the state’s laws relating to water availability for both agriculture and public supply. The House initiative, CS/HB 7003 by the State Affairs Committee provides increased emphasis on public-private partnerships with landowners for conservation efforts, springs protection, and streamlining of the state’s patchwork of sometimes duplicative or conflicting regulatory schemes.

The Senate’s primary water policy bill, SB 918 by Senator Dean mandates a new data base of conservation lands and a consolidated annual report on water quality and quantity. The bill also contains a 5-year planning process for water resource projects to be funded and establishes the Florida Water Resources Advisory Council to rank and recommend water projects for funding. Additionally, Senator Dean has filed a series of bills that create trust funds as repositories for Amendment 1 funding as well as a bill that directs 33% of documentary stamp tax collections to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for the implementation of the amendment.

Before the Legislative Session has even begun, the House is clearly signaling its intent to take the lead on the issue, as CS/HB 7003 has already passed all committees and is poised for an early floor vote before the full House membership. Although water legislation between the two chambers has few similarities in current form, the early announcement of cooperation on the issue from leadership on both sides is a good sign for consensus by the end of Session.

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