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News Senators Want New Look at Growth Management

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Feb. 8, 2011 --

Setting the stage for a possible floor fight in a newly configured chamber, a Senate panel on Tuesday approved measures to protect 2009 growth management changes now tied up in court.

The Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee approved a pair of measures that re-enact portions of that year’s SB 360, a controversial package of growth management changes that was immediately challenged by cities and counties, which said they were an unfunded mandate on the shoulders of already cash strapped local taxpayers.

The bill dealt largely with the creation of infrastructure to match new development, and where that development is steered. Opponents of the bill said it basically relaxed growth restrictions in cities. Backers said it would help reduce sprawl. But the bill hasn’t been in effect because of a court challenge.

Measures approved by the Senate committee Tuesday were aimed at restoring parts of the law as a way to get around the court challenges and avoid costly development delays. But newly elected members questioned the wisdom of the original bill backers were trying to protect, saying lawmakers should take a whole new look at the proposal.

But Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, urged lawmakers to approve SB 174 and SB 176 to protect permits that have already been extended and acted upon after lawmakers approved SB 360 two years ago. He pushed back against any substantive changes to the original measure.

“We want to make sure existing law stands,” Bennett said. “People have made decisions on the assumption that those laws would be in place.”

Skeptics, led by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who were not part of the 2009 Legislature, say they are worried the bills -- and the underlying bill they are attempting to fix -- go too far in shifting the balance of power from cities, counties and the state to developers.

“In my area, we need this kind of management,” Latvala told members before the vote. “I cannot, in good conscience, vote for this.”

Latvala wanted to add amendments to either one of the bills, saying he wanted to propose changes to the original 2009 law. Bennett said he would consider a third growth management bill this session that would incorporate any additional changes to the original proposal, but did not want those changes added to either bill voted on Tuesday.

“It’s very difficult for me to break out the portions that Sen. Latvala has problems with,” Bennett said. “I would like to vote the bill out. “

Other freshmen members of the committee, Sens. Gwen Margolis, D-Sunny Isles Beach, and Jim Norman, R-Tampa, made similar requests to make changes to the 2009 growth management law, but said they would wait for another bill to be introduced.

“I’m taking your word that the amendments will be looked at to make this a good bill,” Norman told Bennett before voting for both bills, which passed on 12-1 votes.


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