Oil spill recovery bill evolving


The Senate’s major oil spill recovery legislation changed significantly in a budget committee Friday, its last stop before the full chamber could consider the proposal as soon as next week.

Out of the bill is a three-month tax holiday on boat sales. Now included is Wakulla County, placed among the counties designated as most seriously affected and the focus of recovery efforts.

Sponsor Sen. Don Gaetz on Friday offered an amendment to wipe out the sales-tax holiday. The now-dead provision would have saved consumers as much as $15.4 million in the coming year, a staff analysis concluded.

Gaetz said with lawmakers facing as much as a $3.6 billion budget shortfall, any new costs face extra scrutiny.

“It was an unnecessary anchor on the bill,” Gaetz said.

Still in the bill is $10 million to the regional economic-development group Great Northwest, with promises of $20 million more. The money is to focus on diversifying the Panhandle’s tourism and military-dependent economy.

“Right now in Northwest Florida, we’re a two-trick pony,” Gaetz said

Gaetz’s bill directs three-fourths of future fines and penalties paid to Florida by BP be designated for environmental and economic recovery and research in the counties hardest hit. The seven counties originally included were Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton. Now in the mix is Wakulla after an amendment offered by Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat.

Gaetz said he included Wakulla at the request of Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna.

Coley filed House companion legislation earlier this week, Gaetz said, because she’s the senior member of the Northwest Florida legislative delegation.

Coley’s bill relies on an existing Rural Economic Development Initiative that reviews the effect of state regulations and criteria on rural areas. It directs that the eight counties get special focus from the REDI. Gaetz’s version calls for the extension of construction and wetlands permits and specific tax-incentive waivers. The Senate bill also includes rebates on lease payments for sovereign submerged lands.

The House version does not earmark future fines and penalties to the eight counties.

Cole’s bill does include the $10 million for economic development.

Gaetz acknowledged Coley’s version doesn’t go nearly as far as his bill, which could come to the Senate floor as soon as Tuesday.

“At least we have a dance partner,” Gaetz said.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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