Amended septic tank inspection bill passes Senate committee

Jan 9, 2012

The following article was published in The Florida Current on January 9, 2012:

Amended septic tank inspection bill passes Senate committee

By Bruce Ritchie

A Senate compromise bill that would repeal a statewide septic tank inspection requirement passed its first committee stop Monday despite concerns among environmentalists. 

The septic tank requirement adopted by the Legislature in 2010 prompted an outcry from rural residents and tea party activists.

The requirement was passed as part of SB 550, a springs protection bill that received support from homebuilders and environmentalists.

Last year, the House passed a bill that would repeal the septic tank requirement. But Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness and chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation, said he didn’t want a repeal without a requirement for inspections in counties with larger first-magnitude springs.

This year, SB 820 by Dean had required the 19 counties with those first-magnitude springs to have an inspection program. The bill also required a 24-inch separation between groundwater and septic tank drain fields that were installed or repaired after 1983. 

On Monday, Dean offered a strike-all amendment to his SB 820 that closely aligned his bill with a House bill that would repeal the requirement. HB 999 allows counties to adopt inspection requirements with restrictions established by the state.

“This is a more comprehensive review,” Dean said, “to get everybody on the same page and the same playing field.”

The bill has support from groups including the Florida Home Builders Association, Florida Realtors, the Florida Onsite Wastewater Association and the Coalition for Property Rights.

The amended bill passed the Dean’s committee by a 7-0 vote and has two more committee stops before it reaches the Senate floor.

Representatives of Sierra Club Florida and Audubon of Florida raised concerns about the SB 820 changes during the committee meeting.

The bill, as amended Monday, doesn’t include the language about the distance between drain fields and groundwater that is needed for proper treatment of sewage, said David Cullen, representing Sierra Club Florida. And he said it doesn’t include a provision that prevented counties from excluding areas from inspections only if doing so will not threaten those first-magnitude springs.

“We very much appreciate the springs [protection] intent of the bill,” Cullen said. “However, the nexus between the [septic] systems that are inspected and the springs is removed.” 

Sharon Witt Glass, a state Tea Party Network representative, waived the opportunity to speak because she said the tea party groups haven’t taken a position on the bill and there are more stops ahead for it. 

Richard Harrison of Marianna said at the meeting he prefers that the Senate pass SB 114 to eliminate the inspection requirement.
If Dean’s bill doesn’t pass, the inspection requirement from 2010 would remain in place, Harrison said.

“I believe the Senate should consider repealing it this year and getting the [inspection requirement] off the people’s backs,” Harrison said.

The Florida League of Cities raised concerns that the bill prohibits local governments from requiring inspections when homes are sold. The League also is concerned about super-majority vote required for counties with first magnitude springs to opt-out of inspections, said Ryan Matthews, a lobbyist for the League of Cities.

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