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Lobbyists in Tallahassee undercut will of the voters

Florida Times-Union // Ron Littlepage

With the Legislature halfway through its annual session, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that what’s going on in Tallahassee is disgusting.

Don’t think for a minute that the people of Florida are the top priority there. Pleasing Big Money is.

You may recall that 73 percent of the voters who marked ballots last [November] approved a constitutional amendment designed to make it easier to expand the use of solar power in the state.

Legislation introduced during this session to implement the amendment includes requirements that would discourage putting rooftop solar panels on homes and businesses.

Never mind what 73 percent of the voters said. Those requirements, the Miami Herald reported, were written by Florida Power & Light and inserted into the bill.

A gauge of a company’s power is how many lobbyists are carrying its water in the Capitol. FP&L has 36. Only the Governor’s Office and AT&T have more.

This is typical of how FP&L works.

You also may recall that the electric utility industry backed a sham amendment that was on the November ballot. It appeared to be supportive of solar power, but it wasn’t.

Voters were wise enough to defeat it, so FP&L is turning to legislators it can control to get its way.

The same thing is behind another bill being considered this session.

Miami-Dade and FP&L have been locked in a battle for almost a decade over where FP&L can put its huge transmission lines.

This is a big issue if FP&L builds two proposed nuclear power plants and sends the electricity to faraway places.

Miami-Dade has rules in place to protect scenic views and for public safety. FP&L wants to be able to run the lines through the middle of downtown if that’s the most profitable route.

After the issue ended up before an administrative law judge, the decision was the Florida Cabinet couldn’t take into consideration such things as Miami-Dade’s requirements when approving where the power lines go.

The Third District Court of Appeal, however, sided with Miami-Dade.

Lose in court? Simple, get a bill filed in the Legislature to circumvent the court’s decision, which is exactly what FP&L did.

Scenic Jacksonville and Scenic Florida have long battled against things like billboards and transmission lines that disrupt Florida’s natural beauty.

Bill Brinton, a Jacksonville attorney who serves with both groups, calls what the Legislature is proposing “outright arrogance.”

“FP&L lost, so now we are going to change the rules,” Brinton said in an interview this week.

The bill would overturn local rules on siting transmission lines, including requiring utilities to put some lines underground.

This is just another example of attempts in the Legislature to pre-empt home rule.

I’ve written before about several bills that would do that.

One would prohibit local governments from imposing regulations on businesses, professions and occupations. Only regulations specifically approved by the Legislature would be allowed.

Another would take away local control on private residences being used for vacation rentals.

Another would weaken local governments having a say on where wireless communication facilities can go.

Follow the money.

To top it all off, in another dig at local government, the Legislature is also considering putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot that would expand the homestead exemption for property taxes by another $25,000 to a total of $75,000.

According to Jerry Holland, the Duval County property appraiser, that would cost Jacksonville’s budget, already strained to meet basic services, $36.6 million if the amendment is approved.

Voters were smart in defeating the sham solar amendment.

Hopefully, they will be smart on this latest attempt to pre-empt local control by slashing the budgets of local governments if the amendment is put on the November 2018 ballot.

http://jacksonville.com/opinion/ron-littlepage/2017-04-07/ron-littlepage-lobbyists-tallahassee-undercut-will-voters