Senate candidate Scott signs off on Florida’s 2018 session, issues last veto of eight-year term

Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks at a Connect Florida Reception Thursday, February 8, 2018.

Before Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott announced that he will challenge three-term incumbent Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson in November’s election, he had some paperwork to clear from his desk in Tallahassee.

In signing 17 bills and vetoing one — the “toilet-to-tap” bill — Scott officially ended Florida’s 2018 regular session.

Although there is speculation that he may preside over a special session before the fiscal year begins on July 1 to forge a gaming pact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Scott’s schedule is relatively clear of legislative-related obligations as his eight-year term as governor enters its final stages.

Now it’s mostly about hurricane preparation and response, and running for the Senate.

Scott signed 193 of the 195 bills passed by the Legislature, which ended its 2018 session on March 11, while using his line-item veto to eliminate $64 million in “member projects” from the state’s $88.7 billion 2019 budget.

The Legislature only passed 195 of 1,747 bills during its 60-day session, the fewest number of bills presented to a Florida governor for signing since 1997.

During his eight years in office, Scott has vetoed 57 bills. The two vetoed on April 6 marked the fewest vetoes after any session since 2014, when he vetoed one bill.

Scott vetoed 12 bills in 2012 and 11 last year.

Before vetoing House Bill 1149, which would have allowed chemically treated, recycled water to be pumped into the state’s underground aquifers, Scott had rejected HB 1113, which would have expanded the governing board of the Palm Beach County Housing Authority.

Scott was heavily lobbied to veto HB 1149 by a wide range of opponents, who labeled it the "toilet to tap" bill and said he would be known as "Gov. Poopy Water" if he signed it.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Payne, R-Palatka, would help increase the state’s drinking-water supply by encouraging the reuse of treated wastewater to recharge the Florida aquifer system.

In his veto message, Scott said he was “not convinced that this legislation will not muddle Florida’s protection of our aquifers.”

“The Department of Environmental Protection will remain focused on protecting Florida’s water resources and will continue to safeguard our aquifers under existing laws,” Scott wrote. “Florida has stringent water quality standards, and we are going to keep it that way.”

Scott said there were other “worthwhile provisions” in the bill but they did not outweigh his concerns about aquifer protection.

Scott said there were good elements in the bill and urged lawmakers to reconsider them in the future, including the C-51 Reservoir project near Lake Okeechobee.

“Although this project is still in progress and not yet in use, local communities should have the ability to use the completed reservoir to bolster their water supply, as was the original intent of the project,” Scott wrote.

He praised another provision that would have created a “blue star” program in encouraging increased monitoring and maintenance of wastewater systems by utilities.

Scott was also lobbied extensively to veto HB 631, which bans cities and counties from adopting ordinances to regulate “customary use,” or public access to beaches above the high-water line.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, allows only courts to determine customary use, which is the traditional use of dry beach sand for recreation by the public.

Scott’s office reported opponents requesting a veto outnumbered supporters by an 8-1 margin, with 327 calls and messages against the bill and 40 in favor.

Supporters of the bill, including Scott, said despite the post-session agitation for a veto, the bill is widely supported by Floridians.

Among notable past vetoes was Scott’s rejection of a 2017 bill that would have removed the “liquor wall” that prohibits grocery stores and big-box retailers from selling hard liquor.

Other vetoes include bills overhauling alimony laws, allowing higher speed limits on interstate highways and providing financial incentives for dentists to care for patients in underserved areas.

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Yvonne Shaffer