The Florida legislature wrapped up its session last week, approving the largest state budget ever and passing 264 of the 1,880 bills that were filed this session. The average number of bills passed per session for the past decade is 338. No legislation passed that would be devastating for Florida’s agriculture.

The $77.1 billion budget does include several priorities that are important to our industry. Most, if not all, of the budget requests from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services were funded, including new budget requests for the Office of Agriculture Water Policy.

The University of Florida's IFAS didn’t fare as well as FDACS, but it did receive most of its requests, including $2 million in non-reccurring funding for the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee. Non-reccurring dollars cannot be used to hire staff, but they can be used for maintenance work on existing buildings and for the planning, permitting and construction of new facilities.

Another priority for FFVA, Operation Pesticide Cleansweep, the pesticide amnesty program within FDACS and the state Department of Environmental Protection, is fully funded in this budget. This program, which provided growers with a safe and economical way to dispose of cancelled, suspended, and unusable pesticides, had not been funded since 2010.

On agricultural legislative issues, the agriculture industry is flabbergasted by the amount of unfinished business that was left to die as the white hankie was dropped at 10:39 p.m. on Friday.  Only three of the issues FFVA supported passed, and the rest -- including our priority tax exemption bill, SB 312/HB 575 -- will not make it to the governor’s desk for his signature.

On a positive note, we were successful in defeating language that was added to SB 1326 and HB 7065 that would have exempted counties from the Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Act when they adopt a Flood Insurance Rate Map issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the purpose of participating in the National Flood Insurance Program.

Other bills of interest that are being sent to the governor for his action include: HB 851, which will allow Florida high school students in the country illegally to pay in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities; HB 755, which will pave the way for qualified undocumented immigrants to be admitted to the Florida Bar; SB 1030, which will allow for a specific strain of marijuana to be sold legally in the state for medical use; and SB 392, which will increase the speed limit on certain interstate highways to 75 mph.