Controversial Water Protection Bill Passes In Senate, Moves To House

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) — Despite objections from environmentalists, the Florida Senate unanimously passed a massive bill on Wednesday aiming to protect and restore the state’s springs, waterways and groundwater.

Opponents of the bill say it has been weakened by the influence of industry and agriculture interests.

Backers of the measure (SB 552) defeated on voice votes several floor amendments offered mostly by Democrats, intended to fix what environmental groups have called the bill’s flaws.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he expects the House to pass a companion bill, House Bill 7005, to send the legislation to Gov. Rick for his signature by Friday.

Critics said despite the bill’s weaknesses, they still considered it a good first step for protecting Florida’s waterways and the northern Everglades.

“You could be waiting a very long time for a bill that does everything you want it to do,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

Some environmental groups, including the Audubon Society of Florida, backed the bill in its present form, saying it adds to protection for Florida’s water. Others including the Sierra Club sought to generate grass-roots pressure for the Legislature to amend the bill, and suggested a dozen amendments to tighten its regulations and enforcement provisions.

The bill got support from industry and agriculture groups not usually known for commitment to environmental causes.

Backers, including the sponsor, Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, acknowledged some of the amendments had merit.

But they said so much work and negotiation has gone into reaching agreements on the bill’s provisions they didn’t want to alter it.

“Let’s not let pursuit of the perfect be the enemy of the excellent,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood.

Backers have sought for nearly three years to pass such a bill, beginning with a much smaller measure by Dean in 2014. It was aimed solely at springs.

An expanded version died last year when the House adjourned early after last year’s fractious legislative session.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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