The Town Commission has hired a lobbyist over bills affecting regulation of planned utility project.
The Longboat Key Town Commission has hired a Tallahassee lobbyist to voice the town’s concerns to Florida lawmakers over pending legislation that local officials say could interfere with the town’s plans to bury power lines and hide from sight other utility equipment.
The legislation — House Bill 687 and Senate Bill 596 — would restrict local governments from regulating or prohibiting the placement of small wireless facilities in public rights of way.
Included in the Longboat project are plans to possibly use SmartPoles, which are streetlights with wireless communications gear built inside, hiding it from view.
If the bills pass as written and are signed into law, authorization and regulation of such small wireless antennas and other infrastructure would be taken from local governments and granted to the Legislature.
At a special meeting of the Town Commission last week, commissioners approved an agreement with lawyer and lobbyist Dean Cannon of the firm Gray Robinson to oppose the proposed legislation as it is being considered in Tallahassee. Cannon was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives from 2010-2012. The town agreed to a flat rate of $20,000.
Town officials are concerned these bills have a good chance of becoming law, said Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale. The Senate approved its version 5-1 in the Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee. In the House, the companion bill was recently approved in the Energy and Utilities Subcommittee.
“There’s a very real possibility this may make it to the finish line,” she said.
Mooney-Portale said the town’s “minimum objective” is to have language established in the legislation to allow an exception for the Key, along with towns in similar positions regarding burying utilities.
Town staff hopes to begin construction on the referendum-approved $50 million undergrounding project next year. The plan includes moving communication utilities underground, along with power cables. The project is intended to enhance the community’s safety, appearance and protection from storm-related outages and recovery from damage.
ALSO OF CONCERN IN TALLAHASSEE
Longboat Key has also joined the Florida League of Cities in opposing another pair of bills: House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 1158.
With this legislation, if passed as written, local governments would be barred from regulating businesses, unless they were specifically allowed under state law.
Therefore, local governments would have no control over regulating the placement of certain businesses, such as medical marijuana dispensaries.
Though the town is voicing opposition to the legislation, a lobbyist will not be engaged to oppose it.
At the special meeting on Wednesday, Town Manager Dave Bullock was frank in his summary of why the town opposes this legislation.
“It is strongly opposed by every local government representative in Florida on the basis that it makes no sense,” Bullock said.
The Senate version of that bill is in committee.
Earlier this year, town officials also said they were concerned about Senate Bill 330, filed by Steube, that would cap local business-tax receipts at $25. At the time, town officials said such a rule could cost the town about $95,000.
That bill is in the state Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax.