The News Herald - April 3, 2013, By MATTHEW BEATON
TALLAHASSEE— Military bases want a wide berth — plenty of space between them and the outside world — and the Florida Legislature wants to give it to them.
Thus a House panel cleared a bill (HB 7101) that would allow the state to buy non-conservation lands around Florida’s 20 major military installations, helping prevent “encroachment” from the rest of civilization.
Already the state can buy land that borders a military base, provided it has a “conservation value.” The purchases are made through the Florida Forever program. But there is no way to procure non-conservation lands.
The bill would change that. It would allow the state’s Military Base Protection Program to help secure these lands, so installations would have a nice buffer zone.
The bill flew through the Economic Affairs Committee 17-0 Wednesday, with no debate or questions. It now heads to the House floor.
The bill’s sponsor Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, also sits on the Veteran and Military Affairs Subcommittee, where she said the panel heard about how “critical” the issue of encroachment is.
It’s not just a problem for military bases — as homes and businesses build closer and closer to installations — but for communities who unwittingly find themselves too close to growing bases, while more and more F-22s whizz overhead.
“We heard both from military entities as well as local entities that this was definitely an issue,” she said. “This is just the state’s way of helping out.”
Her bill would authorize the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to annually submit a list of non-conservation lands, requesting their purchase.
The legislation also directs the state to consider the Florida Defense Support Task Force’s recommendations on which non-conservation lands to acquire. State Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, chairs that task force and supports the legislation. He voted for it in committee Wednesday and said it’s important to send the right message to Washington.
Patronis said another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) proceedings could take place in 2015, so the state must have all its ducks in a row to show the federal government it’s serious about supporting the military. The BRAC process generally pares back the military, making it more efficient and more in line with its current defined goals.
“I think as long as we’re doing everything humanly possible on behalf of the state Legislature to show that we’re sensitive about encroachment issues around our installations, (that) helps send a message to Washington, D.C., that we are being proactive,” he said.
Raschein also mentioned the BRAC process, which is a constant concern for lawmakers.
“This is just another message to the Department of Defense that the state of Florida is willing to create programs like this to help out our military bases,” she said.
On the Senate side, companion legislation (SB 1784) has one more committee stop before it heads to the floor.
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The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.