A lot of environmentalists thought the Bert Harris Property Rights Act of 1995 would impinge on the state's ability to protect wildlife, open spaces and clean water, and they were right. But that law did not go far enough for developers and speculators, and so the Legislature in 1996 made more changes in order to reign in the Department of Environmental Protection's and the water-management districts' "unelected bureaucrats." But this still wasn't enough for Rep. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie. Somehow, the water-management districts continued to function, cramping the style of favored developers (and political contributors), such as the Consolidated Tomoka Land Co.
Last year Consolidated Tomoka lost a lawsuit challenging the St. Johns River Water Management District's land regulation on the Tomoka River in Volusia County.
Pruitt's bill, which was written by Consolidated Tomoka's lawyers, passed the House overwhelmingly on March 10. It forbids agencies from adopting environmental rules unless specifically directed to do so by the Legislature. But just how "specific" those orders must be remains unclear. And the bill's language allows "exceptions" to environmental regulations while virtually forbidding enforcement of them. Plus, the bill's retroactive.
Pruitt's bill -- and a companion bill in the Senate sponsored by John Laurent (R-Bartow) -- has been pitched as an anti-red-tape measure. But environmentalists are up in arms. "This was specifically intended to reverse Tomoka," says Terrell Arline of 1000 Friends of Florida. But the ramifications go beyond that one law. "There are more than 400 `environmental` rules that rely on this," says Arline.
Arline continues to try to persuade legislators -- so many of whom are beholden to developers -- to abandon or at least tone down the bills. But for now it looks like Gov. Bush will decide the matter.