SB 2508 trip to Tallahassee with Captains for Clean Water
What a day in Tallahassee at the state Capital! I am mentally drained after quite a long week of hurriedly getting up to speed on a last-minute senate bill. This bill was added as a ‘conforming bill’ to the senate’s Florida budget. This term is something I wasn’t familiar with, but it basically means they can introduce a bill like this and instead of going through committees in the house and in the senate and then going to final votes it only gets introduced in one senate sub committee before going in front of the full senate to be read and signed into law. Essentially subverting typical processes and only meant for smaller bills that don’t cause policy changes.
The fact that this was added in the 11th hour on a late Friday afternoon right before the senate’s budget was meant to be finalized was a big red flag. The content and wording on the bill had a lot of issues and had what seemed to be, read to be, and really looked to be full sail policy changes which shouldn’t be included in this type of bill.
Luckily the Captains for Clean Water caught this and were able to mobilize a group to go to Tallahassee for the one public comment on this bill. They had around 50 people go and speak in opposition of the policy changes outlined in the bill on February 9th. That did not go well to say the least… they were belittled, told they were misinformed, and cut short on time.
Due to this, they launched a big effort of gaining more people to get a bigger opposition to the bill. This is when I got more involved and educated and signed the petition ultimately after looking into it and reading more about the bill and policy changes outlined.
SB 2508 originally had some wording in it that was perceived to give water rights even under a drought situation to certain users of the water in Lake Okeechobee. Plus, it seemed to keep the levels of lake water higher too. While tying the hands of the water management district and effecting the ability of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) to be used. Even after the LOSOM process was finally completed after years of work with the state water management district (state agency) and the US Army Corps of Engineers (feds) and stakeholders too (captains for clean water, municipalities, and other water users like agriculture, sugar, Seminole tribe, and others too). There was concern over the future funding of the EAA reservoir being affected as it was pushing other projects funding too. Possibly diluting future funding of the EAA reservoir and effecting its completion and completion date. Finally, another concern was that it would stop fresh water from eventually going to that reservoir once its completed or slow it. While possibly creating more harmful discharges.
However, in the final hours the night before they were to vote on the bill at 7:44pm they submitted an amendment to the bill which was more than 5 hours past the deadline for amendments. On February 17th, I along with at least a hundred or more other captains ventured from all over the state and descended on the state capital to show opposition to this bill in its original form.
Luckily, the late submitted amendment with some back room negotiating was able to nearly gut this bill of concerning wording and potential policy changes. I arrived at the capital around 8am right in front of the state’s courthouse on the front lawn of the state’s senate and house building where there were a collection of Hells Bay boat works boats and other big trucks gathered with a crowd of people. We networked, talked, got together, and reviewed what the amendment was and what changed with the help of the policy team at captains for clean water. Then around 10am we all ventured into the state senate chambers to sit in the gallery to oversee the proceedings. They danced around the bill and didn’t end up discussing it to nearly 1pm.
The bill’s sponsor, senator Albritton, then went on a big discussion of the bill and what it was and what’s changed and why he wanted it to pass. He did allude to the fact that there was a lot of confusion and miss information surrounding it like they insinuated on the only public hearing on this bill. Essentially accusing groups like Captains for clean water of spreading misinformation, which was frustrating to sit through, but everyone behaved themselves and no one got into trouble… Then after being questioned thoroughly from a myriad of senators about what the changes mean and confirming the EAA reservoir funding and completion, and use wouldn’t be affected. This wouldn’t precipitate more discharges and that it wouldn’t affect the water management districts ability to follow the LOSOM process the bill was voted on and approved with only two in opposition. From the start, senator Jeff Brandes of Pinellas County was in opposition to the bill based on the way it was proposed and pushed through and was very dissenting on that fact. He’s a really good dude!
While there’s still some concerns, the bulk of the concern is in the past. Now it goes through ‘conference’ where the senate and house meet on the bill, and it goes through final stages. Since it was attached to the states budget it will be wrapped up in this process. This is another reason the bill was so strange and raised so many red flags as it was attached to the budget like a tick so it couldn’t be vetoed by the governor without the governor totally killing the entire state’s budget process which would potentially cause a government shut down without a special session called to extend the time frame in which they could totally restart the budget building process once again. This was the importance of showing up and opposing the wording and getting it fixed by the vote yesterday! If it was pushed through and attached to the budget the only way to stop the concern was the nuclear button of a governor veto.
So, all in all, yesterday was a BIG WIN in my mind. For the clean water folks and people concerned over the future of our estuaries. Our concern over how the bill was proposed and what was included was placated and nearly cured by this big amendment to the bill which gutted the concerning parts of the original bill.
Hope you will stay in tune through our emails, social media, and other groups like Captains for clean water as we all unite and work together to fight for the future of our fishery and water economy!
Capt Dylan Hubbard
President, Florida guides Association