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House panel moves forward with tree trimming bill

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Amid concerns from cities and environmental groups, a House panel Monday approved a bill that would prevent local governments from placing restrictions on tree trimming or tree removal in certain areas.

The issue has drawn widespread attention because of a Senate version (SB 574) that would bar local governments from restricting private landowners from trimming or removing trees.

But House sponsor Katie Edwards-Walpole, D-Plantation, tried to ease concerns Monday before the House Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee voted 11-1 to support her version of the bill (HB 521).

She said the measure is aimed at addressing drainage and flood-control problems caused by growth of trees and vegetation.

The bill, in part, would prevent local governments from prohibiting or restricting tree trimming or removal on rights of way maintained by agencies such as water-management districts and water-control districts.

Edwards-Walpole said the measure was not the “big, bad tree bill” initially proposed.

“To set the record straight, I do happen to like trees,” she said.

Despite her assurances, the bill still drew concerns from groups such as the Florida League of Cities, the Sierra Club and 1000 Friends of Florida.

In part, those groups argued the wording of the bill remained too broad and was not specific enough to flood-control and drainage issues.

The Senate version of the bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, has not been heard in committees.