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Bills to abolish, restrict Florida soil and water conservation districts draw critics, concerns

Updated: Feb 20




UPDATED FEB. 19, 2022 — See our update blog, Hearings continue for bills seeking to abolish, change Florida soil and water conservation districts


UDPATE FEB. 10, 2022 — The Senate Ethics and Election Committee on Feb. 8 held a hearing for SB 1078, which advanced with a 5-4 vote. View the video of the Feb. 8 hearing. The bill to abolish soil and water conservation districts has been amended three times and in its original form was a companion bill to HB 783, introduced by Rep. Keith Truenow (R-31), which is scheduled to be heard Monday, Feb. 14, at 4 p.m. Click here to sign up to appear at the meeting. The sponsor for SB 1078 is Sen. Travis Hutson (R-7). For additional legislative links, news reports, next steps and a background primer on the bills, read below.

 

Original Post with Updates:


Betty Jo Tompkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District, was in Tallahassee on Jan. 24 to speak against abolishment of soil and water conservation districts statewide, as called for in companion bills introduced by Sen. Travis Hutson (R-7) and Rep. Keith Truenow (R-31). The bills are SB 1078 and HB 783, respectively.


Tompkins joined other district officials who learned at the Jan. 24 Senate hearing before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee that Sen. Hutson had agreed to remove language from his bill that would abolish the districts outright. His amendment, however, called for restrictive measures concerning who could be elected to each district’s board of supervisors. Currently, supervisors from all walks of life and backgrounds are elected to fill five countywide seats. With Hutson’s amendment, only people active in farming and animal husbandry (i.e., ranching) would be eligible to fill the seats on the volunteer boards (supervisors do not receive compensation for their service).


For testimony, background, next steps and links to media coverage, please continue reading.


Excerpts: Betty Jo Tompkins Testimony

  • “If you pass this bill the way it is written, a person who has a Ph.D. in agronomy, soil sciences, working as a researcher with the University of Florida for the past 30 years in soil nutrition, to better our ability to raise crops and feed the world, they couldn’t even apply or compete for a seat on one of these boards.”

  • “In addition, Roy Davis, our previous chairman of our board, who has over 70 years in the agriculture business . . . he would not qualify [to run for the board] because he’s not actively farming right now. But he’s one of the most intelligent people in the field of horticulture in Florida.”

  • “If you stop letting the public compete for these [board] positions, you’re going to narrow it to the agricultural community, which regrettably has very, very few minority members.”

  • To view the Jan. 24 meeting, visit the link below (start at the 16:05 mark for SB 1078): https://www.flsenate.gov/media/VideoPlayer?EventID=1_zc8d1g0v-202201241500&Redirect=true


Background:

  • Soil and water conservation district officials have been on high alert in Florida, lobbying against legislation that would abolish the districts in the Sunshine state. Companion bills in both the senate and house have been assigned to various committees.

  • An amendment to Senate Bill 1078, introduced by Sen. Travis Hutson, while no longer abolishing the districts, nevertheless would impose drastic restrictions on who could run, thereby drastically crippling the districts, according to Tompkins and other speakers against the measures. At first, only farmers and ranchers who own land in their respective districts would be eligible for inclusion on the ballot. The requirement for owning land has since been dropped.

  • Meanwhile, House Bill 783, as originally introduced by Rep. Keith Truenow, awaits committee discussion and stands as it was originally written. As such, it still calls for the abolishment of Florida’s soil and water conservation districts.


Legislative Updates and Tracking:


  • Senate Bill 1078 was heard at a Jan. 24 meeting before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The majority of votes were in favor of the measure, as amended, with some legislators expressing serious concerns about who could run for office, and asking for further review.

  • UPDATE (Feb. 9) — Senate Bill 1078 went before the Ethics and Elections Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., in the Toni Jennings Committee Room in the 110 Senate building. The bill has also been referred to Appropriations and Environment and Natural Resources. Meanwhile, House Bill 783 is now in Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee and has been referred also to the State Affairs Committee. View the video of the Feb. 8 hearing, where SB 1078 was the first measure heard.

  • UPDATE (Feb. 7) — Senate Bill 1078 has been amended for a third time, and in time for its hearing before the Ethics and Elections Committee on Feb. 8. Read the amendment here. Read the amendment analyses here.

  • To read, track and research Senate Bill 1078 and its related actions, click the link below and search by bill number: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bills/2022

  • To track and research House Bill 783 and its related actions, click the link below and search by bill number: https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Bills/bills.aspx

Soil and Water Conservation Districts:

Today there are nearly 3,000 soil and water conservation districts nationwide. There are 56 soil and water conservation districts in Florida.

News Coverage Links:

The soil and water conservation district companion bills have garnered a lot of media attention. Below is a list of links (with further updates forthcoming):







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