The Senate Appropriations Committee deliberated on legislation left over from a previous hearing, but it went anything but quietly. A heated debate on a “fractious” subject lit up an otherwise uneventful meeting.
Fracking has driven a rift between politicians, lobbyists and the environmentally conscious for years. And legislation heard in the Senate Appropriations committee may have deepened the divide. A bill to allow energy companies to classify chemicals used in the fracking process, by labeling them as “trade secrets” was approved, but opponents wouldn’t let it go without a fight.
“Senator Richter, maybe I misheard what you said… but did you just say in response to the question that, without this bill, there is no disclosure?”
Sen. Jack Latvala (R, Clearwater) threw the first punch, when he requested clarification on the wording from the bill’s sponsor, fellow Republican Senator, Garrett Richter (R, Naples).
“Thank you for that clarification. I think I was probably confusing the public records request with the substantive bill,” Richter responded.
Kim Ross, president of Rethink Florida Energy, blasted the bill and urged lawmakers to reconsider.
“As a businesswoman, I also believe in proprietary business information and trade secrets to keep what we need secret, but in this case, it is putting business interests above public health, and that is morally wrong. Please vote ‘no’ on these bills, thank you,” Ross said.
Amy Datz of the Environmental Caucus of Florida continued along the same lines, but was stopped by Latvala in mid-statement when he felt her remarks became too personal.
“Do you believe the very young DEP employee who has been employed in her job for two or three months is not going to have to say it’s a good bill, or lose her job? Why not ask an independent—“
“Mr. Chairman, we don’t need that,” Latvala interrupted.
“Senator Latvala, you are correct. Ma’am, if you would please refrain from making derogatory remarks at state employees, we’d appreciate that. Thank you,” Sen. Committee Chair Tom Lee (R, Brandon) ordered.
Gail Dickert, a child advocate from Madison County who has brought the pain in previous hearings for this bill, had a tone in her voice that many would call ominous.
“I pray with all my heart that you look in your souls and you realize that you’re doing something terrible today if you vote on this! It’s gonna be weighing on your hearts and minds for as long as you live, because you had a choice,” Gail said.
In spite of the arguments against it, the bill was approved on an 11-to-7 vote. That’s a marked change from the bill’s previous hearings.
The bill is now on its way to the full Senate, but with the number of republicans voting “no,” it may be in trouble.