The sexcapades emanating from Tallahassee are rightfully garnering attention, but as always other nefarious things are bubbling to the top as the Legislature prepares for its annual session that begins in January.
One of them that can’t be ignored is a slap in the face to all local governments in Florida, especially Jacksonville’s.
A loose-cannon state senator from Sarasota, Greg Steube, has introduced legislation that would abolish city and county ordinances protecting trees.
You may recognize Steube’s name. The Republican legislator is all about guns, filing bill after bill to allow people to carry guns on college campuses, in courthouses, in governmental meetings and in airports, just to name a few places he wants the populace packing.
Here’s how a headline in a South Florida publication described Steube’s work earlier this year: “One Republican State Senator Has Proposed Ten Insane Laws.”
That was before Steube had proposed No. 11, which would stop local governments from regulating the “trimming, removal, or harvesting of trees and timber on private property.”
The bill would nullify existing tree protection ordinances; only the Legislature would be able to regulate trees.
Those are fighting words in Jacksonville. Before they went completely bonkers and succumbed to the siren songs of lobbyists bearing gifts, Republicans used to espouse that the government closest to the people was the best government.
The people of Jacksonville have spoken loudly and clearly on trees.
In 2000, a group called Citizens for Tree Protection Inc. collected 31,000 petitions to place a referendum on the November ballot that year that would require builders and developers to mitigate for the removal of certain large trees, mostly hardwoods, long leaf pines and cabbage palms.
Developers and builders could mitigate for cutting down those trees by planting replacement trees or by paying into a trust fund.
The vote was overwhelming; 76 percent of the voters approved the referendum.
And that enthusiasm for the city’s trees has not waned in the intervening years.
Two years ago, another group — the Public Trust Environmental Legal Institute of Florida — filed a lawsuit against the city challenging how the tree mitigation trust fund was being used.
This past July, the City Council approved a settlement that sets guidelines on how the $20 million that has accumulated in the fund will be spent.
They are not all bad actors, but some in the building industry have fought tree protection laws for years, preferring to bulldoze trees that stand in the way of development.
They have found a friend in Steube, who falls back on the tiresome argument of “property rights” to justify his bill.
People have rights, too.
People have a right to clean air, clean water and storm water runoff protection. Trees help provide those.
We’ve gotten along just fine for the past 17 years since voters emphatically said they want Jacksonville’s tree canopy to be protected.
The city is much better off because of that vote, and Steube and his colleagues in the Legislature should keep their noses out of home rule.
The bill is SB 574. Contact your legislators and tell them to make sure this bill gets cut down so that it never sees the light of day.
For the first time in a good while, legislators from Northeast Florida are moving into positions with clout.
Rob Bradley of Fleming Island is now chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, and Paul Renner of Palm Coast is in line to become the House speaker in 2022.
Lean on them to do what is right.
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