Democrats and industry critics condemn fracking bill as threat to health, environment

House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach and Rep. Irv Slosberg D-Boca Raton, were among those condemning fracking bill advancing in House
House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach and Rep. Irv Slosberg D-Boca Raton, were among those condemning fracking bill advancing in House

A measure that many warn could be used to open Florida to the controversial oil and gas drilling techniques known as fracking poses a threat to public health and the state’s environment, House Democrats and industry critics said Monday.

Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Hollywood, who is sponsoring separate legislation that would ban fracking in Florida, condemned House Republican leaders. He said the election-year push for more fracking was designed merely to placate the oil and gas industry, a steady GOP contributor.

Jenne said the House will “do anything, if it’s going to help their backers make a buck.”

The proposal (HB 191) is headed Tuesday for the House floor. A similar measure advanced last year, but failed to clear the state Senate, where Republican leaders still show little interest.

Two-dozen counties, including Palm Beach County, have either banned fracking or support a statewide ban.

The House bill and a similar measure in the Senate (SB 318) would bar local governments from enacting prohibitions on the practice, which involves drilling deep below ground and the introduction of toxic chemicals that destroy rock, freeing oil or gas reserves.

Fracking currently is not regulated at the statewide level in Florida. Supporters of the legislation say it would set some standards for the industry.

Critics, however, say the legislation is misleading.

“This will destroy the state like you can’t imagine,” said Ray Kemble, a former fracking industry worker from Dimock, Penn., who said that more than half of that state’s almost 10,000 wells have been cited for violations.

Valeche latest county official to endorse Scott’s pitch for economic development cash

Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche
Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche

Palm Beach County Commissioner Hal Valeche weighed in Tuesday supporting Gov. Rick Scott’s pitch for the Legislature to give him $250 million for economic incentive efforts.

Valeche, a Republican, joins fellow Commissioner Steven Abrams and West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio in echoing Scott’s proposal. The local government officials say that beefing up available cash for the economic development partnership, Enterprise Florida, could help lure companies and jobs to the county.

Scott has been asking local officials to sign letters mostly aimed at prodding the Florida Senate, which has resisted his pitch, into giving him the money next year.

“Having previously served as a board member of Enterprise Florida, I am acutely aware that the State’s partnership with Palm Beach County has been integral in creating great jobs in our community, in fields such as marine industries, manufacturing and the high tech sector,” Valeche said.

Scott’s plan was included in his $79.3 billion budget proposal released Tuesday. The approach gives lawmakers a role — requiring legislative leaders to sign off on any incentives topping $1 million. It also is intended to toughen the job-creating standards for companies seeking the incentive cash to relocate or expand in Florida.

Voters’ coalition plan would bring back Negron, keep four Senate seats in Palm Beach County

Sen. Joe Negron. Where he lands, no one knows
Sen. Joe Negron. Where he lands, no one knows

Just when it looked like Sen. Joe Negron was going to be saying goodbye to Palm Beach County, a proposed Senate map by a voters’ coalition tucks him back within the county’s boundaries.

Six earlier staff-drawn Senate maps — and the proposal approved Wednesday by the full chamber — remove the Stuart Republican’s Jupiter-Tequesta piece of the county, pushing him further north and west.

Negron is in line to become Senate president following next year’s election, and his departure would cost the county some political muscle. But the map approved Wednesday also reduces the county’s Senate delegation from four seats to three — a cut opposed by the Palm Beach County Commission.

“Nothing in this process is final until it’s over,” Negron told the Post Wednesday. “But it certainly appears more likely I’ll be representing voters further north and west than those in Palm Beach County.”

But a late-hour map from voters’ groups led by the Florida League of Women Voters keeps Negron’s District 32 in Palm Beach County’s northern tier. It also retains four Senate seats in the county — complying with county commissioners’ wish list.

Voters coalition map keeps four Senate seats in Palm Beach County.
Voters coalition map keeps four Senate seats in Palm Beach County.

It’s hard to tell where any of the Senate map-making ends up. The Senate map approved Wednesday could face a tough review in the Florida House, where Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami, said he plans to consider a range of  plans, including the voters’ proposal.

The Florida Supreme Court also is positioned to have the final word on what Senate boundaries look like, beginning with next year’s elections. And so far, courts have viewed more favorability coalition-drawn plans than those coming out of the Legislature.

Some senators may get a free pass next year — with the right number

Special session starts -- with a few sparks
Special session starts — with a few sparks

The Florida Legislature opened a three-week special session Monday to redraw Senate district boundaries, with sparks flying from a proposal that could shape a bitter leadership fight among ruling Republicans.

Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said he was ready to defy a more than 30-year-old state Supreme Court ruling that ordered lawmakers to run for re-election when their district boundaries are changed by redistricting.

Galvano said that he and Senate legal staff maintain that not all senators should be forced back to the ballot next year.

A key to gaining a free pass would be if a senator’s seat number doesn’t change in redistricting, even if thousands of voters were added or subtracted to their district through the latest line-drawing.

“We are not going to have every member running again,” Galvano said, after outlining his plan to the full Senate as it opened a session scheduled to continue until Nov. 6.

For Palm Beach County, the latest round of redistricting is expected to reduce the number of Senate districts from four to three, with Republican Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, likely pushed further up the Treasure Coast, losing the Jupiter-Tequesta area he now represents.

The county’s three Democratic senators, Maria Sachs of Delray Beach, Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Joe Abruzzo of Wellington, look positioned to retain most of their current districts under six proposed maps unveiled by the House and Senate.

Todd Bonlarron, the county’s lobbyist, argued Monday before a House-Senate redistricting panel, that Palm Beach shouldn’t lose a senate seat.

“We believe…it could be reasonably be split into four seats,” Bonlarron said.