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Legislation Dying In Race To The Finish Line

Some of the most controversial bills of the legislative session are dying as lawmakers rush to complete their work for the 2016 session.

The casualties include a fracking bill backed by the oil and gas industry and an agreement with the Seminole Tribe that would have expanded gambling.

The industry backed fracking bill officially died Tuesday when the Republican sponsor decided not to call for a final vote in Senate Appropriations. The same committee voted 9-10 to kill it last week.

Hydraulic fracturing generally involves blasting rock formations deep underground with high pressure streams of water and chemicals. It’s created a domestic oil boom and Senator Garrett Richter of Naples equated his bill earlier this year to nothing less than a national security priority.

“I believe that we as a state and we as a country should do everything possible we can do to increase the amount of resources, energy resources that we have, thereby reducing our reliance on people that want to sell us oil and at the same time destroy our way of life and kill us.”

The bill was born a few years ago when a Texas oil company was caught using a fracking-like technique near the Everglades. The Dan A Hughes Company was fined heavily and eventually pulled up stakes.

Richter’s bill would have set up a permitting program with stricter drilling regulations. But Richter couldn’t sell the argument Florida is powerless to stop fracking without them.

Here’s Democratic Representative Evan Jenne of Hollywood.

“We’re coming up on two years now with no fracking activity. If that were the case, it would be happening time and time again.”

Richter and Jenne agree rock-bottom oil prices are also a key limiting factor, at least for now.

Environmentalists flooded lawmakers with emails and phone calls and jammed every committee hearing to speak against the bill. Jenne said it worked.

“This is one I think the victory really belongs to the public in letting their Senators know how really bad an idea this was.”

Election-year politics and redistricting also played a role, Jenne says. Senators want to avoid controversy as they introduce themselves to new voters. And Jenne says a constitutional redistricting amendment in 2010 created more diverse districts.

“It’s done what the groups who wanted to pass Fair Districts wanted. It’s created a body that has to be representative of the public.”

Also apparently dead, or at least on life support, is legislation to ratify a gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Governor Rick Scott negotiated a deal in December that would have given the state 3 billion dollars over seven years.

In exchange, the tribe would get exclusive rights to craps and roulette and slots and blackjack, but not in South Florida. On Tuesday, Senate Appropriations tabled the legislation.

Lawmakers couldn’t resist the temptation to expand gambling in their districts as the bill made its way through the process. It would have allowed slot machines in five counties where voters have already approved them.

The bill became too loaded down, says Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley.

“There just were too many ornaments added to the tree. And when that happens, sometimes the tree just gets too heavy and it falls over. You know, it started as a modest bill and it turned in to something much more.”

Some supporters say the Seminole Tribe was too heavy handed. It fought to limit competition and launched a slick TV campaign to push a deal through. But Bradley doesn’t agree with the critics.

“The Tribe is a sovereign nation and they have certain rights under federal law for gaming. So I have no quarrel whatsoever with how the Tribe conducted themselves.”

It’s also likely Scott will lose another priority, his demand for a billon-dollar tax cut and $250 million for Enterprise Florida, the state’s business recruitment arm.

The House is refusing to give money to Enterprise Florida and his call for a complete elimination of the corporate income tax appears dead. Scott toured the state earlier this year to drum up support for the tax cuts.

Reporters asked Scott Tuesday if he went overboard. He gave an unusually animated response.

“My responsibility as governor is to do exactly what I ran on in 2010 and 2014. There is no question what I ran on. Turn this economy around. Make sure everyone can get a job. I’m very committed to doing everything I can and I’m going to keep doing it.”

With less than 10 days left in session, Scott has his work cut out for him.