BRADENTON – HB 703 is moving steadily through committees much to the alarm of environmentalists and other clean water activists. The bill would reduce local government control of wetlands, springs and storm water protections.
Opponents point out that Governor Scott claimed to have dismantled the state's Department of Community Affairs, which oversaw Florida’s growth development plans, in order to promote "home rule" on local issues, while meanwhile, legislators have continuously attacked local control measures in what could ultimately amount to a massive deregulation.
HB 703, introduced by Rep. Jimmy Patronis (R-Panama City), is supported by a broad swath of special interests, including Big Ag, Big Sugar and Big Development. It would prevent any local government from reconsidering a comp plan amendment where development has been approved on "bona fide agricultural lands."
It also takes away the right of local governments to require a super-majority vote on comprehensive plan amendments. Because it is retroactive, it could end up repealing land use controls related to such issues that have been adopted after July 1, 2003.
HB 703 also would also provide for decades-long consumptive use permits, which could threaten the ability of communities to manage water in the long term. Land owners agreeing to water storage would receive 50-year consumptive use permits, while developments of Regional Impact (DRIs) would receive 30-year consumptive use permits if located in places designated as "Rural Areas of Critical Economic Concern."
The bill has a companion in the Senate (SB 1464) which has also been moving along on the fast track. A number of groups including 1000 Friends of Florida, Progress Florida and Reef Relief have waged staunch opposition to the bills, noting that as Florida's population continues to increase, water management will only become more critical.