The 2017 Florida legislative session has come to an end. ReThink Energy Florida, and our sister 501(c)(4) ReThink Energy Action Fund were hard at work, letting the legislators know what Floridians who care about energy issues wanted to happen in the Capitol this year. And while we didn’t get everything that we wanted, we made great progress on some key issues.
First off, the Amendment 4 implementation bills were passed in the House and the Senate. In the 2016 primary election, almost 73% of voters voted in favor of this amendment supported providing tax exemptions for solar power and other renewable energy equipment included in home, commercial, and industrial property values that would otherwise fall under the tangible property tax bracket. While there was some back-and-forth between the House and Senate to get the language of the implementation bills to reflect the spirit of the voter-approved language while offering some consumer protections, in the end identical language was passed unanimously in both chambers. This is an important step towards expanding solar energy use in the Sunshine State.
We also made great legislative progress towards a statewide ban on fracking in Florida. Senator Dana Young and Representative Mike Miller filed identical fracking ban bills, each with a broad bipartisan coalition of cosponsors. Sen. Young’s SB 442 was sponsored and co-sponsored by 19 Senators, almost half of the entire Senate, and passed its first committee, Environmental Preservation and Conservation unanimously. Unfortunately, the bill did not move any further during session. Rep. Miller’s HB 451 was co-sponsored by 28 more Representatives, and was not heard in committee. Next session, we hope that similar bills will be filed, and we will be encouraging leadership within the legislature to make sure they get heard in committee.
Finally, in an example of how our grassroots action can have a very real effect, we saw SB 1238 - Utility Investments in Gas Reserves defeated when it was fast-tracked by Senate leadership. The bill, which would have forced Floridians to pay for fracking in other states, passed through Sen. Frank Artiles’ Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities committee unanimously on March 14. About a week later, ReThink Energy Florida, along with the rest of the organizations in Reclaiming Florida’s Future, had 250 participants from around the state meeting with legislators to advocate in opposition to this bill, along with discussing our positions on several other pieces of legislation. It was the beginning of the end for this giveaway to Florida’s investor owned utilities.
When the House version was heard the next week, it passed by only two votes, and as the public became more informed about the bill they contacted their legislators and spoke out in opposition. On April 25, after having been postponed twice, the Senate Rules Committee passed SB 1238. But a key supporter, Sen. Bill Montford, was persuaded by constituents to change his vote from the previous committee and it was becoming clear that the bill was rapidly losing support. House Speaker Richard Corcoran stated publicly that he would not accept the Senate bill if it passed, and the Senate declined to bring the bill up for a final vote. Had it not been for all of the grassroots activism, the bill likely would have passed and ratepayers would be forced to invest in risky fracking ventures.
During the interim between legislative sessions, ReThink Energy Florida will be working throughout the state engaging citizens with their legislators to create smart energy policy that supports clean renewable energy and rejects environmentally dangerous extreme fossil fuel extraction methods. We hope you will join us in these efforts.