Hearings continue for bills seeking to abolish, change Florida soil and water conservation districts
Betty Jo Tompkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District, was in Tallahassee on Feb. 14 to speak against abolishment of soil and water conservation districts statewide, as called for in HB 783 introduced by Rep. Keith Truenow (R-31). The bill now is before the State Affairs Subcommittee.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 1078, originally introduced as a companion bill by Sen. Travis Hutson (R-7), is now before the Appropriations committee. As amended, it no longer calls for abolishing the districts, but instead calls for a reconstitution of who can run for seats on the board of supervisors for the state's 56 soil and water conservation districts. As they stand now, the positions are nonpartisan and the supervisors are not paid.
Watch the archived stream of the Feb. 14 House hearing, which drew as well other opponents of HB 783, representing soil and water conservation districts. The hearing before the Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee was held both on the fourth day of the Florida State Fair and the third day of the National Association of Conservation Districts annual meeting in Orlando. The meeting packet for the Feb. 14 hearing includes staff analysis of HB 783.
For additional coverage of Florida legislative action on this matter, including background materials and news reports, visit Bills to abolish, restrict Florida soil and water conservation districts draw critics, concerns.
In Tallahassee on Feb. 14, “I was fortunate enough to spend the entire day visiting Senate offices before the House committee meeting,” Tompkins said. "Our intent was to show the broad range of activities and impact that soil and water conservation districts can have throughout Florida and the rest of the nation. Regrettably, NACD, AFCD and FCDEA representatives were unable to attend, so those of us who did attend felt it was even more critical to be there.”
Among the speakers at the Feb. 14 House hearing were Susie Bishop, executive director, Highlands Soil and Water Conservation District; Audrey Kuipers, program manager, Okeechobee Soil and Water Conservation District; Brian Lee, supervisor, Leon County Soil and Water Conservation District; Nicole Crosby, chair, St. Johns Soil and Water Conservation District; and Christopher Pettit, director of the Office of Agricultural Water Policy under the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Tompkins brought with her flyers that showcased both her district's 1,800-square-foot display at the Florida State Fair and a sampling of HSWCD programs, projects and activities that promote agriculture, conservation and farming in rural, urban, suburban and inner-city communities. Hillsborough County is the state's third-largest agricultural county.