By JULIE HAUSERMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2000
The Legislature continues to send mixed messages about the future of vehicle emissions testing in Tampa Bay.
Thursday, the House gave preliminary approval to a bill that would keep tailpipe tests in Tampa Bay, but eliminate it everywhere else in Florida.
The bill would lower the cost of the annual tests to $8, exempt cars that are 3 years old or newer, and expand the tests to include nitrous oxide, a pollutant that environmental officials say contributes to the region's smog. The bill includes a caveat: If other polluters in Tampa Bay, such as power plants, are able to cut their nitrous oxide emissions to meet federal standards, then officials could put an end to the tailpipe tests.
Meanwhile, a bill moving through the Senate would eliminate the tests all over Florida, including Tampa Bay. That could set up a showdown between Florida and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- and Tampa Bay could lose federal highway funds if the region's air pollution doesn't improve.
The dispute between the House and Senate won't be resolved until next week, when the Legislature heads into its frenzied final days.
One of the most acrimonious -- and arcane -- debates of the legislative session hit the House floor Thursday, when private property rights advocates spent more than an hour presenting a bill that aims to draw a line in the sand along Florida waterways.
The line is supposed to mark the place where private land ends and public land begins. But setting it into law has set off a political firefight. Attorney General Bob Butterworth has called the bill a "land grab" by Florida's biggest landowners. He says private property owners will now be able to stake a claim to public shorelines.
The so-called "sovereign lands" bill has gone through more than six versions so far. Environmentalists still oppose it, as do Butterworth, Comptroller Bob Milligan, and Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson.
The bill's sponsors, Republican Reps. Paula Dockery of Lakeland and Adam Putnam of Bartow, are backed by the state's agribusiness and development industries. Putnam and Dockery say their opponents are exaggerating the bill's impact.
"Why is it that every single environmental group opposes this legislation?" asked Rep. John Rayson, a Pompano Beach Democrat.
"They want the fuzzy status quo that exists today," Dockery shot back.
A similar measure is moving through the Senate, and both are expected to pass next week.