October 1st, Florida Representative Cyndi Stevenson, Paul Renner, and State Senator Travis Hutson convened the annual state legislative delegation hearing in St Augustine. Historic City News readers participated in this planned opportunity to be heard by our lawmakers as they head into the new legislative session in Tallahassee.
Among speakers Friday, Government Affairs Chairman Janet Patten presented the legislative priorities for members of the St Johns County Civic Roundtable.
Priorities addressed by the Roundtable included:
Florida Forever and Florida Wildlife Corridor
- Florida has a long history and tradition of land conservation dating back to the mid-1800’s. When Governor Martinez created Preservation 2000, it became the preeminent conservation program in the country and a model for other states. However, a decade of underfunding and a reprioritization of projects by the legislature has drastically altered land conservation efforts. We urge the legislature to continue to increase funding for Florida Forever and the Florida Wildlife Corridor; last year’s funding was $400 million. It is an important investment for future generations and quality of life. Land conservation to protect our fragile natural resources ultimately saves taxpayer money.
Funding for Rural and Family Lands Protection Program
- Florida’s ideal climate makes agriculture the second-largest industry in the state. Agriculture in St. Johns County has a long and storied history and leads the state in the production of potatoes and cabbage. According to the latest UF/IFAS statistics, St. Johns County natural resource industries have an overall impact of more than $171 million annually and provides 22.8% of all county jobs. It is imperative for the legislature to protect our family farmland. This county is one of the fastest-growing in the state which further endangers precarious farmland. The program has received little to no funding in the last few years and family farms need state help to protect agricultural land.
Reduce Septic Tank & Sewer Pollution to Protect Florida Waterways
- Florida is nothing without its springs, creeks, rivers, lakes and seas. Water is our invaluable natural resource, and we must protect this vital heritage. Yet, leaking septic tanks and aging sewer systems, especially in St. Johns County, are polluting our waters and causing unnecessary harm. We urge the legislative delegation to support increased funding for septic-to-sewer conversions and updating of sewer systems. Furthermore there are under utilized technologies, among others, like vacuum sewer systems which transport sewage in partial vacuum piping to a vacuum collection stations, thus reducing the potential for leaks.
Protect Local Government Control & Limit State Preemption
- In recent legislative sessions, there has been a trend in legislation and statutes to preempt local governments and unfunded mandates. Florida is a widely diverse state and one-size-fits-all is unrealistic in most instances. What works in Brevard County is not necessarily appropriate for St. Johns County. Local governments are closer to citizens and problems and better situated to meet the needs and services of their residents. We urge the legislature to oppose legislation that further erodes local government control and curtails its ability to raise revenues for infrastructure needs.
Short-term & Vacation Rentals
- The City of St. Augustine, St. Augustine Beach, and St. Johns County have all implemented ordinances on short-term and vacation rentals after receiving much public input. If the vacation rental industry continues to advocate for a state law to preempt local ordinances, we urge opposition to such legislation as unnecessary.
Sea Level Rise & Infrastructure Funding
- Rising sea levels are being felt here in St. Johns County. We commend the legislature and the Governor for funding a broad range of mitigation and residency projects in the last session. We strongly encourage state leaders to build upon these measures and to keep the focus on this critical need. Florida can either be a leader in state resiliency efforts and initiatives or it can be the country’s number one victim to sea-level rise.