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Controversial 'fracking' bill gets House support

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – House Republicans continued moving forward Wednesday with a bill that would create a new regulatory structure for oil and natural-gas drilling in Florida, with most of the attention focused on the controversial practice known as "fracking."

In a 9-3 party-line vote, the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee approved the measure (HB 191), sponsored by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park.

The bill, which passed another House subcommittee last month, has drawn opposition from environmentalists and some local governments.

Cities and counties are concerned about part of the bill that would give regulatory authority about oil and gas drilling to the state, effectively taking power away from local governments.

Rodrigues told the House panel Wednesday that sponsors have been negotiating with the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities about the issue, which is known as state "preemption" of local authority.

As they did during the meeting last month, environmentalists and other opponents argued, in part, that fracking could pose dangers to Florida's water and create health risks.

"Passing this bill would effectively lay out a welcome mat for the fracking industry,'' said Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat who voted against the bill.

But Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, said oil and gas drilling have long taken place in Northwest Florida's Santa Rosa County and that the bill's critics are not from there.

"The good people of Santa Rosa County are very proud to say that we've done our part in adding back to this country domestic production that has saved the lives of men and women who have had to go across the ocean to protect our quality of life,'' Broxson said. "And I'm proud to say that we've done our part and hopefully Florida will do its part in the future to keep our economy strong."

The bill needs to clear the House State Affairs Committee before it could go to the full House during the 2016 legislative session, which starts Jan. 12.

A Senate version (SB 318), sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, has not been heard in committees.