GRU Takeover Bill: Continue public pushback, it does have an effect
by Janice Garry, League of Women Voters
At the local legislative delegation meeting on March 17, some thirty people traveled to Tallahassee to attend and speak at the meeting to oppose the GRU (Gainesville Regional Utilities) Takeover Bill.
Although, predictably, the vote did not go our way, it did not go down without articulate voices (Alachua County Labor Coalition, union members, League of Women Voters of Alachua County, Sierra Club and GRU customers) identifying how state takeover of our local governance would affect our community. The five legislators voted 4-1 to move the bill forward. Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson was the dissenting vote.
The next step in the process of the bill is that on April 10 it will go to an unnamed committee, receive a specific bill number and then go to no more than two other committees for approval before going to the House floor, then the Senate floor on a consent agenda. That means that it would be bundled with other bills and voted on in bulk, without discussion.
The end of the legislative session is May 5, so this will all happen rapidly.
I have been told by more than one person that the public pushback is having an effect. Legislators are considering a more collaborative approach. That’s why I’m sending this message. We need to continue pressing and communicating.
- A draft of this bill was presented on the first day of the legislative session, without the required 30-day public notice about its content. The Legislative Delegation dismissed the necessity of the 30-day notice without explanation for why it is not needed in this instance.
- During the Legislative Delegation meeting, when questions were asked about the details of the bill that was voted on that day, the questions were dismissed because the bill was presented as a draft and the content of the actual bill is unknown. We will not know the actual content of the bill until April 10, when it will be introduced at an unstated committee.
- The above two points display a disregard for home rule, for public/voter input and for democratic processes. Our local government, and we, the residents, are not included in a meaningful way in a bill that would have wide-ranging effects on our community, from economic stability to first responders to environmental sustainability.
- For example, Gainesville is a Tree City. GRU manages the tree canopy around power lines with a modest requirement for tree and branch set-backs beside power lines. State criteria require greater tree set-backs. A governor-appointed GRU board could change the set-back requirements to the detriment of our tree canopy.
- For example, Depot Park and the Sweetwater Wetlands Park are gems of Gainesville that offer recreational areas while filtering our stormwater. A similar wetlands park is planned for west Gainesville. This effort is a collaboration between GRU and other city and county entities. A governor-appointed board would have no obligation to continue a collaborative relationship between the entities nor would they have the historical background of how to create the recreational/water filtration system that has been so successful.
A new website has been created to inform the public of the GRU Takeover Bill process. It is nogrutakeover.com. Additionally, the Take Action link on the website will take you to the League of Women Voters of Alachua County website, Action Alert page at tinyurl.com/Iguana1583.
On that page are the email addresses of the five Legislative Delegation members, and there is suggested verbiage for email messages. Use those or compose your own message. Often, email messages’ subject lines are the only part that is read, so when you send a message, put the essence in your subject line.
This is a legacy moment for Gainesville. Whatever the outcome, each of us can do our part to try to protect our city and our home rule. Whatever the outcome, we can act now and not regret that we did not speak out. Call and email the legislators listed below. Be courteous but assertive. Thank you.
Legislative Delegation members:
Sen. Jennifer Bradley
District Office (Fleming Island): (904) 278-2085
Sen. Keith Perry
District: (352) 264-4040
Rep. Chuck Brannan
District Office (Lake City): (386) 758-0405
Rep. Chuck Clemons
District: (352) 313-6542
Rep. Yvonne Hinson
District: (352) 264-4001