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Time is of essence in the Florida Legislature if the Agriculture Industry in Panhandle is to recover Featured

  • Written by  Woody Hatcher
Time is of essence in the Florida Legislature if the Agriculture Industry in Panhandle is to recover

While Senate Bill 1804 is making its way through the Florida Senate with the support of Senator George Gainer, Senator Bill Montford and Senator Ben Albritton that would provide assistance to the Agriculture Industry in the Panhandle, that was devastated by Hurricane Michael, there is no comparable legislation in the House.

In a House Appropriation Committee meeting held March 22, Democrat Representative Evan Jenne inquired if there was any money “in the silo” to help cropland farmers, dairy cattle, timber and cattlemen in the Appropriations Bill. The response was there is none and none had been requested. 

Democrat Representative, Kionne McGhee who along with the Representative Jenne and others who had toured the Panhandle area the week before, made a passionate plea to provide assistance that is needed. He made a proposal that when funded, would provide a loan up to $500,000 with a 10-year payback, zero interest, and one percent closing costs. This would help cropland farmers who are in many cases maxed out on their loans to be able to borrow money they need to get their crops in the ground. He pointed out this money needs to made available to cropland farmers so they can have their crops in the ground by June 1st. I am in line with the Governor, we have to do better. For if we don’t help get these crops in the ground farmers are facing a financial disaster that will have long range effects on the rest of the economy. 

He stated that it was his humble opinion that if Hurricane Michael had dished out the same exact damage in Dade, Broward and other counties, the discussion as to what we should give to those counties would not be a discussion, we would have already rushed down there, cleaned the area up, situated to the point that it would be better than before and our brothers and sisters in the Panhandle deserve the same consideration.  

Representative McGhee also pointed out that in the Panhandle, the timber industry suffered a billion dollar loss and if we don’t pick up the debris that has been knocked down before this summer, if we believe we currently have a headache on our hands, imagine what is about to occur this summer when a simple match can cause massive devastation throughout the Panhandle and we don’t have the resources to stop a wildfire. He closed by saying that this support for the Panhandle will not receive any pushback and would receive bi-partisan support.

No action was taken by the committee on Representative McGhee’s proposal and since there is no comparable bill in the House to Senate Bill 1804. Even if efforts by Senator Gainer and others should get it passed out of the Senate it will not help.

It appears the only alternative available is Executive Action by the Governor. From sources provided to the TIMES, it would appear there has been no formal meeting with the Governor’s office describing the dire needs of the agricultural industry.

It would seem this would have been one of the first steps taken based upon the sensitivity that Governor Ron DeSantis has shown when his office was made aware of the needs in the Panhandle. His office has previously responded expeditiously and in a positive way.

Hopefully, there will be bi-partisan support from leaders in the Senate and House who will select members who can jointly meet with the Governor and provide needed information on the condition of the Agriculture Industry and its need for immediate attention. Unless relief is provided it appears cropland farmers will not have the funds in many cases to plant their crops. A bi-partisan effort is also needed to insure the appropriations budget for 2019 provides the relief needed by the remaining members of agriculture industry, who will need similar funds to sustain their operations. 

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