County Still Working On 2018 State Legislative Agenda

The Palm Beach County Commission.

The Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners will continue to protect home rule authority and the land use controls of local governments, as one of many issues under its legislative agenda presented by county staff last week.

The encroachment of state control over local jurisdictions is an issue that has arisen the past several years in Tallahassee and has drawn concern from local governmental leaders.

The proposed legislative agenda supports changes that would strengthen the intergovernmental review process, ensure that the development impacts occurring outside the approving jurisdiction are adequately mitigated, and eliminate unnecessary duplication and expenses. It further supports full financing of regional planning councils and opposes legislation that would prohibit or restrict the ability of a regional planning council to provide planning and technical service to its member local governments.

The county also supports efforts to strengthen intergovernmental coordination so land use decisions of one jurisdiction do not negatively affect another.

Current law requires “proportionate share” traffic mitigation payments only for the first project to take a road segment from under capacity to an over-capacity situation. The county supports amending state law to require any project affecting an over-capacity road to contribute an amount equal to its impact on the capacity it is absorbing.

At a workshop meeting on Aug. 29, Assistant County Administrator Todd Bonlarron said his legislative team has been working diligently to prepare the agenda after wrapping up a report the previous week on the last legislative session.

“Obviously, the legislature is on an accelerated schedule for the election year cycle, and our team has been working pretty diligently,” Bonlarron said, adding that several other organizations are still working on legislative priorities. “Some portions of this are a work in progress in some aspects, but others we are looking for direction as we move into the Florida Association of Counties, as they are setting their legislative agenda.”

Bonlarron noted that legislative committee meetings start this month.

Legislative Affairs Director Rebecca De La Rosa highlighted the 2018 legislative agenda, stressing that the package was a working document, which will undergo final review at the county commission’s meeting Tuesday, Sept. 26.

Among the issues are opiate abuse, and county staff will continue to work with the Florida Association of Counties and local municipalities on proposed legislation.

The legislative agenda also supports the findings of the Palm Beach County Sober Homes Task Force.

“Last week, there were six pieces of legislation introduced to the task force, so we will continue to monitor their activities and their approved package,” De La Rosa said.

The package also includes a proposed public records exemption for emergency management that will provide an exemption for individual assessment data, as well as an exemption for identifying data collected at county-run shelters, since the county has recently taken those on.

Emergency preparedness issues include funding for the Emergency Management Preparedness and Assistance Fund created in 1993, which is under the oversight of the Executive Office of the Governor and has remained at the same funding level despite a substantial increase in demands on county and municipal emergency management.

An additional surcharge of $2 per residential property insurance policy and $4 per commercial property is currently imposed and has not been modified since the trust fund’s inception.

The package also includes support for stronger legislation controlling texting while driving.

Palm Beach County Water Utilities Policy Manager Chris Pettit said several environmental issues are in the legislative package, including Glades regional water and wastewater infrastructure improvements, beach improvements, Loxahatchee River restoration and continued financing for the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area levee dike project.

“There are eight projects totaling a little over $22 million that county ERM [Environmental Resources Management] has submitted to the state,” Pettit said. “The state has not done its priority ranking yet. However, last year there was $50 million that was appropriated.”

He said staff has worked through the Department of Environmental Protection and the governor’s office for money for the remainder of the unfinished Corbett levee project.

“That is a project that, given what we’ve seen in Texas, given what we saw in Tropical Storm Isaac, is extremely important,” Pettit said. “It’s something that needs to get done, and thankfully we’ve had very good conversations on it.”

Staff is continuing to emphasize mosquito-borne disease funding.

“Thankfully, from what I’ve seen, we haven’t had too many instances yet this year, but it’s something that we have to remain diligent on,” he said.

The county will also support the septic-to-sewer conversion program, due to algal blooms and a state of emergency that was declared in 2016.

“The Department of Environmental Protection has been looking at appropriations for septic-to-sewer conversions,” he said. “There are several areas in the county where this is necessary, and we have reached out to local governments to identify where those hotspots are and where that funding can be utilized.”