Senator Jim King’s Intent
Many of us in the Sierra Club have been working hard to oppose a bill Senator Jim King of Jacksonville has proposed in the Florida Senate. You may have heard Janet Stanko talk about it at our general meetings. I have been trying for months to have a meeting with him to discuss the legislation but his staff has repeatedly told me he has been too busy.
Senate Bill 270 as written would prohibit citizens and citizens’ groups, like the Sierra Club, from initiating an administrative hearing in an effort to protect our environment. If an agency granted a permit let’s say to a paper mill who wanted to build a pipeline to dump their pollution into the middle of the St. Johns River, or if an agency granted a permit to an industrialist to build a polluting plant adjacent to a pristine spring-fed river – Sierra Club or any regular citizen would be prohibited from using the process we have relied on for many years – the administrative process – to attack the permit. The environmental community has labeled Senate Bill 270 “the anti-citizen participation act.”
There are also other aspects of the bill which would be devastating to environmentalists, provisions requiring us to post a bond if we brought an administrative claim, requiring us to pay the developers’ huge attorney fees if we did not prevail, etc. What citizens’ group
could dare take on an important, complicated case if they had to post a $100,000 bond, if they might have to pay that much or more in attorney fees to the corporation on the other side?
I had written a strongly worded column for this month’s Sentry in opposition to the bill. I had tried twice the week of the article’s deadline to talk at least to Senator King’s legislative assistant about it, but no one from his office would call me back. Finally at
5:45 p.m. January 18, Friday afternoon, right before I e-mailed my column to Alice to put it in newsletter format, I called his Jacksonville office one last time. Even though I felt it was unlikely a government worker would be there late on Friday before a holiday weekend, the receptionist answered. Could I speak to Kelly Williams, Senator King’s legislative assistant? No, she had just left to go back to Tallahassee. Well, I am about to publish this article criticizing Senator King and I wanted to at least give his office a chance to comment on it before I published it, I’ve called twice this week and it is frustrating to continually be told that everyone is too busy to talk to me, especially since Senator King is my Senator, I live in his district.
“Could you please hold for a minute?”……….. When the receptionist came back on the line she gave me the Senator’s home phone number. “He will be waiting for your call.”
Senator King’s wife answered the phone – I asked for their home fax number and said I would send over the column – “If the Senator wants to discuss it please tell him I would be glad to talk about it anytime.” I gave her my cell number.
A few minutes later Senator King called me back.
We talked for more than 20 minutes. He listened to my objections. He said it was not his intent to cut out citizens, like the Sierra Club, who had a substantial interest in the LOCAL area where the environmental issue was present from bringing an administrative claim. H just doesn’t want, for example, people who live in Miami bringing an action in a dispute up in Jacksonville.
We talked about some of my other concerns for his bill. He said he would take the draft of my column and ask the legal staff to respond to my questions and to make sure they worded things to match what he intended.
Senator King said he could get back to me by Tuesday, the day after the holiday honoring Martin Luther King. I was concerned because the bill was scheduled to come up before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday – would there be enough time to have this exchange? Senator King assured me it would not be called up if there were these kind of issues to be worked out.
So I pulled my carefully drafted column, one I had asked all of Ex-Com and our Tallahassee lobby team to review for factual accuracy and for tone of voice before I published it.
If Senator King’s bill #270 is passed into law AS IT IS PRESENTLY WRITTEN the environmental community, including regular citizens in the future who will want to step-up to protest because of a catastrophe about to take place in their neighborhood, will suffer a crippling blow.
Senator King is the most powerful person in the Florida Senate at the present time. But perhaps Senator King will voluntarily amend the language of his proposed bill based on finding out what those who drafted it wrote it into it, unbeknownst to him (and it is pretty technical legalese that changes things so much). Maybe the drafters of the language had just not been careful enough in what they wrote, maybe it was not purposeful that they did not reflect Senator King’s actual intent.
By the time this article is published in the Sentry we ought to know if the bill changed to reflect what Senator King told me was his actual intent. I am hopeful. And I am grateful the government receptionist worked late on the Friday of a holiday weekend, and that she took the initiative to “put my call through.”