Dec. 7, 2012
The chairman of the Florida House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee said Tuesday he expects fertilizer legislation to come up again this year but added that he'd prefer that the parties involved work out the issues among themselves.
Legislation to restrict local governments from regulating fertilizer use has come up during each of the past three legislative sessions.
Landscaping and lawn care trade groups say the state shouldn't have a patchwork of local fertilizer regulations. Environmentalists and some local officials say local fertilizer regulations are needed to protect waterways from nutrient pollution.
During a House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee meeting on Tuesday, Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, asked state agriculture officials about their suggestion that state fertilizer laws need to be rewritten and whether those changes would affect local fertilizer regulations.
Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres and committee chairman, said after the meeting he expects fertilizer legislation again -- and more controversy.
"It would surprise me if it doesn't come up again," he said. "It's always a contentious issue between the industry and local governments."
Caldwell also said he'd prefer not to impose a preemption on local governments if it can be avoided. "I'd prefer to see them (groups on either side) work it out for themselves," he said.
Last year, SB 604 would have exempted certified lawn care workers from local fertilizer regulations but it was killed in a Senate committee vote.
On Tuesday, Andy Rackley, director of the Division of Agricultural Environmental Services at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said state standards for fertilizer strength and application rates should be taken out of law and updated through rule-making. But in response to Edwards' question, Rackley said those law changes should not affect local ordinances.
Rackley also said the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is wrapping up research on turfgrass fertilizer use that could influence local regulations but not the preemption issue at the state level. IFAS has scheduled a Jan. 15 meeting in Citra to discuss the findings.
"Some local governments may look at this information and say we need to adjust the (fertilizer) black-out period of time or shorten it, but it won't make them," Rackley said.
Edwards, who was elected in November, said she doesn't know whether a preemption is needed or whether she will file legislation. She said there may be an approach similar to the one Orange County took to limit fertilizer use by working with landscaping professionals to win their support.
"I want people to be on notice we are thinking about doing something," Edwards said. "But we are looking at giving people with an interest in legislation like this to weigh in now."
Cragin Mosteller, spokeswoman for the Florida Association of Counties, said her group wants to work with the various groups on legislation but will oppose restrictions on local governments.
"Unfortunately, I think you have to allow that (dialogue on local regulations) to happen on a local level," she said. "That is exactly what happened in Orange County. There have been a lot of communities around the state who have been doing that."