Commissioners vote to oppose airboat bill, other proposed legislation


Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 8:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 8:07 p.m.

County commissioners voted Tuesday to oppose four pieces of proposed legislation filed in Tallahassee this session, including a bill that would pre-empt the county’s voter-approved airboat curfew.

Facts

County Commission actions

- Eliminated informal meetings in favor of special meetings for “general policy discussion” with agendas: 4-0

- Approved a draft list of projects that could receive funding from a one-cent transportation sales tax: 4-0

- Amended county ordinance codes, renaming the Public Safety Department to the Department of Fire Rescue and giving the board the ability to assign street names: 4-0

- Eliminated Sunday restrictions on alcoholic beverage sales: 4-0

- Approved a management plan for Turkey Creek Hammock Preserve and a $1.5 million grant to partially pay for the land’s acquisition: 4-0

- Approved sending of commission’s letter of dissent to state legislature regarding legislation that “erodes local government home rule,” including a bill that preempts the county’s airboat curfew: 3-1 (Susan Baird dissenting)

The letter commissioners voted to send to the local state delegation targeted bills that they felt represented “examples of potential erosion” of the county government’s local home rule.

The letter started with a request from the political action committee that got the airboat curfew on the November 2010 ballot to oppose legislation by Sen. Steve Oelrich R-Cross Creek. That legislation would, if approved, exempt airboats that pass a sound test from the county’s 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew and other local prohibitions that counties around the state may have on airboats.

To gain the support of the majority of the board, specifically the vote of Commissioner Lee Pinkoson, the language of the county’s letter was broadened to include other bills deemed a threat to home rule. Pinkoson said he did not support the airboat curfew but did support local government home rule.

The other bills included a measure that would weaken local control over workforce boards and would prevent counties from requiring that applicants seeking development plan approvals obtain state and federal permits. The letter also referred to proposed legislation that would not allow counties to collect tourism development tax monies from online travel companies.

The revised letter passed 3-1, with Commissioner Susan Baird in dissent. Baird questioned “when is home rule, home rule?” and reiterated her earlier argument that a majority support for the airboat curfew did not come from the voters who live near the county’s lakes.

The proposed airboat legislation has been referred to committees in the Florida Senate and House, but has not yet been heard by any committee.

Informal meetings

Also Tuesday, commissioners officially did away with informal meetings and replaced them with special meetings.

The informal sessions dated back to the late 1990s and were open to general discussion of any county issues with no set agenda.

The special “general policy discussion” meeting will have an agenda that includes “time sensitive” items staff has brought forward for a vote, specific items commissioners have decided in advance to discuss and a time for general commissioner comments.

Last year, local political activist Ward Scott took to the airwaves on the conservative talk radio program “Talk of the Town” and alleged the informal meetings violated the Sunshine Law. The State Attorney’s Office investigated and concluded that they did not.

Tuesday’s vote to do away with the meetings passed unanimously, but almost failed in a 2-2 deadlock. Baird initially did not think the changes went far enough. She said only items on an agenda should be discussed. Conversely, Commissioner Mike Byerly did not support the changes at first because he thought there was nothing improper with the informal meetings. He said he believed allegations of Sunshine Law violations were politically motivated. Both eventually voted for the measure.

Blue laws

Following on the heels of a recent Gainesville City Commission decision, county commissioners unanimously did away with the Sunday “blue laws” that restricted alcohol sales. In stores, sales of beer and wine now will be allowed from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. Stores will be allowed to sell liquor from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. In restaurants, bars and clubs, alcohol and liquor drinks may be served seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.

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