Sun Sentinel: Congress Bestows Favors for Florida December 23, 2014

By: William E. Gibson
Sun Sentinel
December 15, 2014

WASHINGTON — While wrapping up its least productive session in modern history, Congress approved some small-but-significant measures of special concern to Floridians and is expected to renew a sales-tax deduction that affects 2 million Florida families.

Bills passed at the end of the two-year session include a provision sparing small boats from meeting environmental restrictions on water discharges – a big deal in a state teeming with boaters.

Passage of a sweeping spending bill to keep the government funded includes money for the Everglades and to repair the aging Herbert Hoover dike that encircles Lake Okeechobee. Congress also approved sanctions against Venezuelan leaders, a cause led by Florida’s Cuban-Americans.

Perhaps most significant, the Senate this week is expected to revive a federal income-tax deduction for state and local sales taxes – a popular writeoff in Florida, which has no state income tax to deduct. The House already has approved the measure — which expired at the end of last year — to cover 2014 tax filings.

The boater provision is typical of the kind of small, incremental actions that can be passed by a Congress often deadlocked on bigger matters. Look for more of the same in 2015 when Republicans take charge of both the House and Senate but President Barack Obama still wields veto power.

Tucked into a Coast Guard spending bill, the provision allows small commercial vessels to operate outside the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules on water discharges. Water released during normal vessel operation – such as washing the deck or onboard bathing — will be unrestricted for another three years.

“(The rules) would be pretty onerous on small boaters and difficult to comply with,” said Patience Cohn, industry liaison for the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

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