State Politics

Economic growth bill irks environmentalists

MANATEE — Environmentalists this week bashed a bill that mostly addresses economic development, but also has some provisions for “streamlining” environmental regulations.

But its sponsor, state Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said some of the bill’s environmental proposals will be substantially modified.

Among those he plans to change is a provision that would have allowed, for certain noncontroversial permits, a professional engineer to “self-permit,” with oversight from regulators, Gaetz said.

The bill, SB 1752, is called the “Jobs for Florida” bill.

The Senate passed the wide-ranging, bipartisan economic development bill Thursday that would provide tax breaks and other incentives for businesses, including boat and aircraft dealers and the space and film industries.

Among its co-sponsors is state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, who has said the bill was designed to create jobs in the state’s stagnant construction industry by cutting back government red tape.

Bennett could not be reached for comment in numerous attempts to contact him over the past few days.

“This is a very bad bill,” said Glenn Compton, director for ManaSota-88, a local environmental group. “The last thing we need in the State of Florida is less environmental regulations.

“We are asking as many members and concerned citizens as we can to voice their opposition to the bill.”

Eric Draper, executive director for Audubon of Florida, called it “a terrible bill which undercuts environmental programs by ty- ing the hands of regulators.”

Gaetz said he hoped to rewrite some of the sections expediting permitting.

“We are in the process of modifying the bill to make sure we focus on economic development and job creation,” Gaetz said.

“My hope is that those who may be skeptical about streamlining and expediting the process of creating jobs, who are troubled by expediting, will be less troubled ... (as two sections of the bill) are substantially modified, he said.

“It’s a shame there are those who believe those who create jobs ought to be strung out for years and months, when they have a noncontroversial project.”

Gaetz emphasized the bill’s economic devel- opment provisions, includ- ing a $1,000 tax credit for small and large businesses that hire the unemployed, and a plan to reduce anti-competitive barriers so Florida businesses can compete on a level playing field.

“We want to create incentives for companies to stay in Florida and come to Florida,” he said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald staff writer, ca nbe contacted at 748-0411, ext. 7031. Wire services also were used in this report.