Florida anchoring legislation update: What’s next?
Date Reported: Apr 16, 2015
Reported By: Mike Ahart, News Editor
This week was active for those keeping an eye on the Florida Senate and House bills moving through the State legislature in Tallahassee. Over a dozen cruising boaters spent their time, effort, and money to make it to the hearings Tuesday (Apr. 14, 2015), and to voice their concerns about restrictive anchoring legislation. Some of them also attended the hearings last week.
As anticipated, an amendment to House Bill 7123 (At-Risk Vessels) was proposed the night before the House State Affairs Committee hearing. The original bill does not include any anchoring restrictions for vessels that are neither considered “derelict” or at risk of becoming derelict, but the amendment would have changed the language of the bill to match Senate Bill 1548, which contains anchoring restrictions within 200-feet of residential property and public marine infrastructure. Aligning these bills would make it easier for the upcoming joint session of Congress to enact the law.
Rep. Holly Raschein, representing the Florida Keys and parts of Miami-Dade County, introduced the bill (and an amendment to change the wording slightly). Rep. George Moraitis from Broward County explained the amendment, citing issues in Fort Lauderdale (Middle River) where anchored boats interfere with waterskiing. He also cited extended stays of vessels.
Unlike at the Senate hearing last week, the cruising boaters who attended the House State Affairs Committee hearing had time to speak to the members. Each made an original and respectful plea to reject the amendment and pass the bill. Boaters cited the need for protected anchorage space for those who tour the state, the lack of any study that would estimate the impact to boaters and marine businesses if the restrictions were to be put in place, and a concern with ceding the shared use of public waters for the benefit of a few.
A Committee member characterized the amendment as “unfriendly,” and Rep. Moraitis withdrew it. The safety-related bill passed. Stakeholders pledged to work together to find a better solutions to the issues that the amendment was attempting to address. (Watch video of hearing, starting at minute 47:25.)
In the afternoon, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government heard Senate Bill 1548, with the same contingent of boaters in attendance. Eleven bills were on the 2-hour session’s agenda, including contentious legislation related to fracking. Due to time constraints, only two attendees who petitioned the committee to speak were able to. One of the speakers against the bill was a representative of a Sea Scouts chapter, who cited the negative effect that the residential setback provision could have on such youth programs that provide opportunities for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. The other speaker detailed the challenges to finding a suitable anchorage for vessels that travel “the speed of a lawn tractor” and have to consider depths, shoals, hazards, wind direction and current.
Statements and questions from the committee echoed the concerns of the speakers. Senator Charlie Dean, who introduced the bill, stated in the closing that he did all that he could to accommodate cruising boaters, citing the exceptions for vessels requiring “safe harbor” or that need to anchor the night due to exhaustion.
Despite the plea from boaters and boating organizations, the committee voted favorably for the bill, 6 to 0. (Watch video of hearing – starts at minute 78:08, and a short break is taken for another bill during the hearing.)
What happens now? The Senate bill 1548, titled “An Act Related to Vessel Safety,” contains some good safety-related provisions, but still contains one that is not related to safety, which would affect overnight anchoring along Florida’s thousands of miles of residential shoreline on navigable waters – present and future. The bill has one not-yet-scheduled committee hearing left before it would be heard by the full Senate. When – or whether – this bill will be heard will be decided with the Chair of the Fiscal Policy Committee, Senator Anitere Flores of Miami (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As the Chairwoman, Senator Flores’ options are to:
Decide that the bill is not ready to be heard this session;
Place the bill the committee agenda for its final hearing; or
Agree to place it on the committee agenda with conditions (i.e.: the residential setback provision is removed).
Note from the The Concerned Cruisers’ Committee of Seven Seas Cruising Association (SSCA): “If you email Senator Flores (or any other Congressperson), please remember to be respectful, civil, and leave a clean wake.”
On the House side, HB 7123 – “An act related to vessels at risk” – which does not include the anchoring ban, will be heard by the full House of Representatives this week. New amendments may still be added.
Once the full House and full Senate adopt their versions of a bill, the differences would then be reconciled so that a single unified bill can be “engrossed” and sent to the Governor who could sign or veto the bill.
New groups are starting to voice concern about the setback provisions in SB 1548, and how boaters, businesses and municipalities could be negatively affected. In addition to SSCA, BoatUS, America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association (AGLCA), Marine Trawler Owners Association (MTOA), other civic boating groups – and even some marinas – are urging for removal of the residential anchoring restrictions from the Senate bill. Since no studies have been done other than an open survey performed by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission this past summer, no one knows how many currently available anchorages would be restricted, or how much economic activity, tax revenue, and jobs would be lost due to the provision.
SSCA and other boating groups are requesting that Florida marinas, restaurants, and marine businesses that rely on cruising boaters contact your state representatives. Marinas and anchorages go hand-in-hand – and touring Florida would become a lot less pleasurable without plenty of both.