The Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Dangerous bills help Big Sugar pollute, quash government transparency

With less than two weeks left to wrap up the session, the Florida Legislature is moving some controversial and destructive bills forward at warp speed while allowing others of paramount importance — expanding Medicaid to 1 million more Floridians, for instance — to languish and go nowhere.

•  Government transparency. House Bill 249 and Senate Bill 1260 would create a public-record exemption for any email address of any registered voter who communicates with any state, county or municipal agency. Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, says he simply is trying to protect Florida voters from “getting spammed” by political groups. Other supporters say it would attack voting fraud — though there’s no evidence that fraud even exists.

This dangerous legislation seeks to hide exchanges between public officials and lobbyists and other special interests seeking favors. Gov. Rick Scott, who championed transparency when he was elected and started the “Project Sunburst” initiative that makes communication with the public a, well, public matter by disclosing email exchanges, should veto this legislation. Take out that veto pen!

One amendment to SB 1024 would make it a crime if anyone receives confidential information about state unemployment claims. Huh? That’s nonsensical.

Then there’s the much-ballyhooed ethics reform legislation, SB 2, which would actually create a new loophole for public officials to hide their financial information and avoid disclosing ethically suspect connections.

All the talk of “transparency” in the budget process by Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford has been lots of noise surrounded by smoke. Nothing has changed.

• Big Sugar vs. Everglades. Bob Graham, Florida’s former governor and senator, was in Tallahassee this week lobbying against two bills that would give sugar companies big breaks for polluting Florida’s fabled River of Grass. The bills, HB 999 and SB 1684, would make it easier to wipe out wetlands needed to clean rainwater before it flows underground to the aquifer. The legislation would also limit the authority of water districts to control pumping by private interests. As Mr. Graham points out, the bills “don’t advance any interest of the public, just special interests.”

Indeed, the legislation would even prevent the Florida Wildlife Federation from going to court to overturn a decision by Gov. Scott and the Cabinet to give 30-year leases for 31,000 acres of Everglades land to two sugar companies. No public redress? Since when is Florida a dictatorship?

After spending millions of dollars over decades to clean up the pollution from sugar farms and from development, this legislation would give a free pass to the polluters. It also would speed up natural gas permits for pipelines (that would help Florida Power & Light) and limit cities from getting more information (no more than three attempts allowed) before approving a development permit.

Gov. Scott, who hammered out an agreement with the federal government to continue the Everglades clean up, should make clear that these bills are unacceptable. Veto required.

• Farm Share program. One budget item that warrants the governor’s nod would restore $1.1 million for Farm Share, a Miami-Dade County nonprofit that collects food from farms and wholesalers for homeless shelters and pantries to feed the needy statewide.

Farm Share is no special-interest turkey. It’s a well-run program that merits support.

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