Gov. Bush signs Everglades bill, affecting doc stamps and development approvals

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- May 16, 2002 -- Gov. Jeb Bush signed Everglades restoration bill, yesterday. It makes it more difficult for special interest groups to oppose new development and diverts some revenue generated by doc stamp taxes to pay for the restoration.

Now, anyone challenging a building permit must show that they are directly affected by the permit approval. Should any environmental group wish to protest a development, they must have 25 members living within the county where the project is being considered, and the group must have been incorporated for at least one year.

Because of the development amendment, not all environmental groups approved of the plan, even though it will pump $100 million into
Everglades restoration each year for eight years. While the Audubon of Florida calls the measure “historic,” the Sierra Club says it will inflict “serious damage on the ability of citizens to challenge permitting decisions” and “wipe out 30 years of citizens' rights.”

Gov. Bush, however, says he agreed to sign the bill based on an understanding that the new lawsuit limitations do not close all avenues of protest for local communities, adding that most lawsuits are filed under a separate section of existing law. "The bill simply will not prevent many citizens or organizations from filing third-party challenges to agency actions," Bush says.

While the real estate industry will feel no change from a doc stamp provision included in the new law, it does change the way the state allocates existing doc stamp revenue. The bill authorizes no new doc stamp taxes, but it does earmark a portion of existing doc stamp taxes to pay back, over time, the money raised through bonds. Other funds used to pay back the bonds will come out of general revenue.

While the development amendment has stolen some of the spotlight, the
Everglades bill itself is one of the biggest environmental bills undertaken by any state legislature. One of the last bills to pass during the Florida Legislature's 2002 regular session, it sets up a stable funding source for an $8.4 billion, 20-year project to restore natural water flow through the River of Grass. The state is now authorized to borrow about $800 million -- $100 million per year -- over the next eight years to buy land.

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