“I’m trying to force two children to play well together,” he explained.
Patronis’ permitting bills are always packed. In 2011, for instance, Patronis’ one bill aimed to make it easier to build roads through wetlands and open new phosphate mines and harder for regulators to yank a permit from someone who did things wrong.
Before this year’s session began, environmental advocates begged him for a break. But Patronis said he wanted to push through one little bill that would help out marina-owners — and “as soon as the bill popped out, people came to me and asked, ‘Put this in, put that in,’ ” and it morphed into something larger.
HB 999 not only strips local government protection from thousands of acres of wetlands, it also: prevents local governments from banning fertilizer sales until 2016; blocks environmental groups from suing to overturn controversial Everglades leases that Florida Gov. Scott and the Cabinet approved with sugar companies; accelerates the permitting for natural gas pipelines that originate in other states; and forbids water management districts from cutting back groundwater pumping by any entity that builds a desalination plant to increase its potential water supply, among about 20 other topics.
Despite a rare lobbying appearance by former Sen. Bob Graham, Patronis’ bill won approval in the House 98-20, with some Democrats joining the Republicans to vote yes. It’s now gone to the Senate, where a companion bill by Sen. Thad Altman, SB 1684, is also awaiting action.
While statewide environmental advocates bemoan his handiwork, Patronis said he’s never heard a word of disapproval from any of his 159,000 constituents. Meanwhile he repeatedly rakes in campaign contributions from all the industries that benefit from his legislation.
Patronis hits his term limit in the House next year, so he has filed papers to seek the seat of Senate President Don Gaetz, who is also reaching his term limit in 2016. He may face Gaetz’ own son Matt, also a House member, in the Republican primary. As of mid-April he had already raised more than $90,000.
But he rejects any accusations that he has built his political career on helping polluters.
“My dad and my uncle have taught me to be a good steward for the land,” he said. “The bills I have filed have not done anything to lessen environmental protection, but they have made the regulatory process more predictable.”
Tampa Bay Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
Craig Pittman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org