Fracking bill up today on the House floor

A bill that would provide statewide regulation for fracking and toss out a long list of opposing local resolutions will be discussed Tuesday on the House floor, and it will see plenty of opposition from Democrats who filed amendments.

HB 191, sponsored by state Rep. Ray Rogrigues, R-Estero, would create a permitting process supervised by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that was created by a $1 million study. The bill also pre-empts a long line of opposing resolutions passed by county and city governments.

Monday, state Rep. Evan Jenne, R-Dania Beach, said the bill was written with no regard for the safety of Floridians.

“We have science on our side,” Jenne said. “We have the data and the facts that show why fracking and this bill is bad for this state.”

Jenne said he and other Democrats would file amendments to change Rodrigues’ bill. So far, Democrat House members have filed 27 amendments, three of which change language that would pre-empt local opposition and at least one that would put fracking up for referendum. Another amendment would hold lawmakers responsible if fracking leads to injury or death.

Influential House Republicans are also uneasy about Rodrigues’ bill. State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said he was working with the bill sponsors.

“I have grave concerns that the sponsors are working to address,” Gaetz said.

Late Friday night, Rodrigues and Senate companion SB 318 sponsor Garrett Richter, R-Naples, came to an agreement with the Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties on an amendment that would provide local governments with limited say in the fracking process. Under the amendment, with passed a Monday Senate committee and will be up for House floor discussion today, local governments could enforce when fracking operations take place to protect neighboring property. However, that enforcement cannot stop the actual fracking process.

Fracking is an oil and gas drilling process where an acid mixture is applied at high pressure to sandstone. The state DEP currently operates under law that permits for the drilling but it failed to stop the Texas-based Dan A. Hughes Co. from operating near homes in western Collier County, on the edge of the Everglades. The company eventually stopped and it received a $25,000 fine, but the incident led Richter to file his regulatory bill last year. The bill died with the abrupt end to last year’s session.

Bonita Springs the target of online attack ad

The battle between a Fort Myers-based firm and the city of Bonita Springs over a proposed car wash on U.S. 41 has spilled into the digital sphere.

Cardome wants to build a 6,200-square-foot self-service car wash between Bonita Beach Road and the Imperial River, and next to a self-storage facility and an auto parts shop.

The city has said no and contends that Cardome’s ask is tantamount to spot zoning. Sunday, Cardome launched a website — bewarebonita.com — that accuses the city of getting in the way of jobs and economic growth.

The website mentions a potential lawsuit, too.

“The Bonita Springs City Staff wants to put residents on the hook for a huge lawsuit that the City will lose,” the website’s landing page states. “All to stop a small business from building a beautiful project on its own commercial property.”

In an email sent Sunday, Cardome CEO Max Levine said the website went online “at the request of our investors” and “highlights our ordeal.”

More content will be added to the website throughout the week, Levine wrote.

The site tells Cardome’s side of the story, provides documents and news coverage from the case, shows pictures of the proposal and asks visitors to contact city council.

Using its Twitter account @RocketShineWash, Cardome sent out a link to the website Sunday through promoted tweets.

Advertisers often purchase promoted tweets “to reach a wider group of users or to spark engagement from their existing followers,” according to the social media firm’s FAQ section. Promoted tweets are offered on a Cost-per-Engagement (CPE) basis, so an advertiser only pays when someone clicks, retweets, replies to, or favorites a promoted tweet, according to Twitter’s blog.

The dispute between the city and Cardome has been dragging on for months.

Though city staff recommended in May a denial of the request based — among other things — on the car wash’s “visual impact” on U.S. 41 and its ill fit with the land development code, the city’s zoning board voted 4 to 1 to recommend approval.

In July, city council voted 4 to 2 to reject Cardome’s request to rezone its one-acre property at 27731 U.S. 41.

Mayor Ben Nelson and Councilman Stephen McIntosh were the only two dissenting votes. Councilwoman Janet Martin was absent and did not vote.

After council declined to rehear the case in August, a lawyer representing Cardome filed a petition under a provision in the state’s Bert Harris Act, which allows landowners to appeal if they feel unreasonably or unfairly burdened by local government actions.

The city and Cardome were not able to resolve their dispute at a December mediation meeting and a special magistrate later that month submitted a nonbinding recommendation that city council approve Cardome’s petition to rezone.

Council is scheduled to pick up the matter again Feb. 3, when it has to decide whether to accept the special magistrate’s recommendation, modify or reject it.

In an email sent last week, Levine said his team met with city staff, and he expects “they’ll recommend that the City Council reject the Special Magistrate’s recommended order.”

Levine called the hearing with the special magistrate “a dry run for a lawsuit.”

City officials declined comment.

Patrick Riley

What will Gov. Rick Scott do with the observations from his price gouging commission?

Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott’s office was asked how the state’s top executive plans to use the observations made by his Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding.

The answer: “Governor Scott thanks the Commission for their work to increase transparency for Florida hospitals and empower patients to fight against hospital price gouging.”

Great.

A summary of the eight months the commission spent traveling the state to hold 15 meetings called for more transparency in pricing, less government involvement and performance-driven payments. During it’s last meeting on Tuesday, the commission didn’t speak much about the report but they took in an ample digest of measures the Legislature has taken to fix some of the problems they found. The summary said the certificate of need for hospitals was suffocating free market enterprise. Gaetz said there are bills moving through committee that will address that would address that, though differences between the two chambers may lead to late-session death on the floor.

Gaetz, the college debate champ and respected former senate president, also told the commission there was no way the Legislature would adopt any sort of expansion of traditional Medicaid, at least in the next three years. Judging by the performance of last year’s session, I’m pretty sure no one wants to poke that philosophical hornet’s nest.

You’ll find a complete report on the last commission meeting here, just don’t ask what’s next.

Despite less revenue, House will build $1 billion tax cut package

rep-matt-gaetzThe state stands to see a $395 million less cash this year as the Legislature prepares to build another budget, but the  lawmaker responsible for the House version of this year’s tax cuts says a $1 billion plan is still possible.

A revenue estimating conference conducted Tuesday by the Florida Department of Economic and Demographic Research predicted the state would collect $31.257 billion in revenue. The amount is $395 million less than the $31.652 billion predicted during the last estimating conference in October. The total loss of general revenue is $388 million and the state lost another $7 million from a budget amendment that passed after the October revenue conference.

The lesser amount of cash means lawmakers will have less money on hand when they create next year’s spending plan, but it was not clear how it would affect the previously projected surplus amount of $635 million.

Despite the decreased revenue, House Finance and Tax Committee Chair Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said he was confident in a $1 billion tax cut package.

“We’re going to pass a $1billion tax cut,” said Gaetz when asked about the lower revenue projection. “There’s always money to grow the economy and cut taxes.”

Gaetz said the $1 billion tax package would be a blend of one-time annual cuts and recurring cuts. The package will not be as sweeping as the $1 billion cut in permanent taxes proposed by Gov. Rick Scott.

In a statement, Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said the governor remains confident his tax cut package is possible. Unlike the version proposed by the House, Scott’s entire tax cut package would be permanent.

If the Legislature chose to adopt a gambling deal Scott struck with the Seminole Tribe Dec. 7, it would bring $2.3 billion in revenue over eight years, Schutz said.

“We are pleased to also learn that we still have a significant increase in revenues over $1 billion in fiscal year 2016-17,” Schutz said. “Additionally, most actual revenues end up higher than revenue estimates.”

Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said the lower revenue projection proved the state’s economy was still climbing from the depths of decline.

“The revenue estimating conference results remind us that we continue to be in recovery, but we are certainly still bouncing back from the unprecedented recession,” Crisafulli wrote in a statement. “Fortunately, we have instituted conservative budgeting principles year after year.

“We will be able to make adjustments to our spending plan which will come out in the next few weeks.”

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he was encouraged that despite the lower-than-anticipated revenue forecast, the budget still had room to grow.

“Our goal in drafting the Senate budget is to prioritize funding to care for the most vulnerable and other programmatic structural needs of our state,” Gardiner said. “We are also working to strike a balance that reconciles our desire to enhance broad-based tax relief, economic development and other pro-growth policies with our responsibility to set aside ample reserves that allow our state to respond to the potential for continued instability in other economies.”

The Legislature will begin to craft the budget in the next two weeks.

Consumer group launches attack against auto insurance bill

The Consumer Federation of the Southeast believes a bill pertaining to auto insurance would halt pre-insurance inspection of some used cars, and they’ve launched a bid to stop it.

A release provided by the group says the “proven tool against fraud” has been in use since 1989.

“By requiring in-person inspections, the existing law deters scam artists from victimizing consumers with bogus transactions,” Jennifer West, executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, said in the release. “Anything that stops this kind of fraud is money in the pocket of consumers, and there is no good reason to erase such an important protection.”

The inspections cost insurance companies less than $14 per vehicle, and data shows that insurance fraud costs each household’s insurance policy $227 per year. Law enforcement and insurance investigators regularly use data from these inspections to advance their fraud investigations, the release states.

“Every instance of fraud, every that’s stolen because the thieves don’t have to worry about getting tripped up by the inspection requirement – these drive up the insurance rates that every Florida consumer has to pay,” West said.

The point of contention is wrapped up into 70 words of the 11-page SB 1036, by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and would make the mandatory physical inspections optional for insurers.

Similar language is contained in HB 659, by state Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona.

“The requirement helps hold down insurance premiums by detecting and reducing fraud,” West said. “The current law protects used-car buyers and benefits everyone who purchases car insurance. Eliminating the requirement would be bad news for Florida consumers.”

We focus on all things politics in the Sunshine State. We are the joint bureau of Naples Daily News / Tampa Tribune / Treasure Coast in Tallahassee.