Lawmakers pass bill to deal with Everglades suit

Florida legislators used a bill to change wetlands regulations to block a lawsuit against the state for approving two no-bid, 20-year lease agreements with sugar and vegetable farmers.

The leases were approved by the governor and Cabinet in January and are now being challenged in court by the Florida Wildlife Federation, which alleges the leases allow the sugar growers to continue to farm without reducing their pollution levels.

The provision was added to HB 999, a wide-ranging bill that changes environmental regulations. The House voted 106-10 late Friday while the Senate voted 39-1 and sent the measure to the governor.

The sugar industry said in a statement that the legislation was needed to "avoid obstructionist litigation from some extreme environmental activists" and to complete the state's clean-up efforts that are part of the Everglades settlement legislators also ratified.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham appealed to legislators to reject the bill on Thursday. Graham, a member of the Florida Conservation Coalition, said it was clearly intended to end the litigation.

The Senate on Thursday stripped the bill of other provisions opposed by environmentalists , including a three-year ban on local fertilizer ordinances and a measure to prevent local governments from imposing wetlands regulations.

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