Gov. Scott Signs Bills on Water Resources, Disability Education

Gov. Rick Scott signed a major overhaul of Florida's water regulations Thursday, despite objections by environmentalists that the measure was weakened by the influence of agriculture and business interests.

Scott also signed a package of bills increasing educational and career aid for the intellectually disabled.

The water and disability aid bills were the first major bills passed by the Florida Legislature in this year's session. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, strongly backed the water bill, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who has a son with Down syndrome, has made assistance for those he calls "people with unique abilities'' the signature issue of his tenure.

The bills were also a symbol of legislator's hope for a more harmonious session, after last year's acrimony.

"These are good bills to sign ... This is a great start to the session,'' Scott said at a ceremonial signing in his office.

He then hinted he'd like Crisafulli and Gardiner to enact his own priorities, $1 billion in tax cuts and $250 million for incentives to lure businsses, proposals some legislators view skeptically.

Environmental groups say some enforcement provisions in the water bill to prevent pollution and restore natural flows contain loopholes and would be delayed in taking effect.

"At the end of the day too many concessions were made to the industry groups,'' said Ryan Smart of 1000 Friends of Florida, one of several environmental groups that asked members to send Scott messages urging him to veto the bill. 

Former Gov. Bob Graham weighed in on the bill in press interviews.

"This bill doesn't prepare Florida for the future,'' he said, citing estimates that Florida's population could double or triple this century.

Graham cited Silver Springs, "the largest, most iconic, best-known spring in Florida,'' which he said is now down to a third of its historical flow and could dry up. Smart cited tourist draw Wakulla Springs, where he said pollution has cut visibility so the famous glass-bottom boat trips are now rare.

Nonetheless, some environmental activists favored the bill, saying it's still a step forward, and only two legislators voted against it.

Asked whether he took note of the criticism, Scott responded, "I believe this is a good water bill. You have to be proud of what's happened in the last five years in this state,'' citing money for Everglades and springs restoration. "Our-0 legislature's doing an outstanding job in regard to water quality.''

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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