Thursday, May 21, 2009

Legislative Sabotage?

Controversy has erupted in Florida with the recent approval of Senate Bill 2080 by the Florida legislature. The purported purpose of the bill was to encourage water conservation by making it easier for homeowners to replace vegetation – like St. Augustine grass – with vegetation that requires less water.

According to some, the bill has been sabotaged.

At the last minute the bill was amended to provide sweeping power to the executive directors of Florida’s five water-management districts. If Governor Crist signs the bill into law, those five individuals will have the power to unilaterally approve water-use and wetland destruction permits for large projects without formal input from either the relevant water district governing boards or the public.

So why sabotage? Well, it turns out that no one seems to know how the amendment made it into the bill. According to Senate records, the amendment was added by one of the bill’s sponsors – Senator J.D. Alexander. Senator Alexander is apparently not commenting, but his co-sponsor, Senator Carey Baker, says the records are wrong and that neither he nor Senator Alexander knew of the amendment until after they voted for the bill. What?

Some have called for Governor Crist to veto the bill. Senator Carey says that if the Governor does not, then he will work during the next session to fix it. The concern is that concentrating this sort of authority in five people makes the permitting process highly susceptible to pressure from both politicians (who approve the hiring of the directors) and business interests seeking permits.

The arguments against the amendment are obvious and clich├ęs about power corrupting spring easily to mind. But I am still struck by the fact that no one can seem to identify where the amendment came from. Senator Baker seems to suggest that it may have slipped into the bill accidentally. How does that happen without anyone noticing?

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