Update on septic system inspection legislation moving though committees. Do your homework, connect with your legislator and track the progress of these bills
There are bills that call for outright repeal of the septic inspection provisions of SB 550 that was passed last year. HB 13, SB 168 are all outright repeal, and are moving through various committee hearings. There is one bill, SB 1698 that repeals those same provisions, but inserts new language that outlines a prescription for conducting inspections so homeowners statewide have some protections against arbitrary standards that vary from county to county. Since SB 1698 is more involved, we will take some time to explain the major provisions.
1. Permits to own and operate a septic system transfer with title to new owner.
2. No new performance standard can be imposed on an existing system.
3. Counties participating in the inspection program are subject to the protections, inspection processes, and standards spelled out in the bill.
4. No point of sale inspections
5. No soil tests for separation from water table, and soil separation is not a condition that can be used to determine failure.
6. Evaluations signed by certified contractor, not the pumper/operator
7. No repair, modification or replacement unless a failure is identified, and specific conditions must be cited such as discharge onto ground, or into surface water, or failure of plumbing to discharge, resulting in a sanitary nuisance
8. County’s recommendation to repair must be no more than the least costly option, homeowner chooses option and provider.
9. Drainfield failure is narrowly defined as effluent on the ground surface.
10. Counties with First Magnitude Springs must participate in the inspection process. (See chart of affected springs). Other counties can opt-out of the inspection process, but those that do participate must follow the inspection guidelines.
Sludge Report Editorial Opinion: The push for conducting periodic inspections has been constant. Making sure systems are functioning as they should is not a bad goal, as it protects people’s health and our surroundings. Unfortunately, that push came to shove with inappropriate and unjustifiable Dept. of Health rulemaking that violated legislative intent, stepped on homeowner property rights, and threatened the financial well-being of so many in our state. The cost of the DOH inspection rules was staggering. 35 counties signed resolutions protesting the inspections and/or the DOH rules. Add to that the countless homeowners who made their voices heard.
A lot of what’s in SB 1698 inspection language is a direct result of the rules fiasco. Protecting homeowner rights and establishing a prescription for conducting inspections has commendable benefits. Rule-making is tossed out, and should be. The language is intended to make sure that as counties assume the responsibilities for inspections, the homeowner in Tampa is subject to the same standard and afforded the same protections as the homeowner in Melbourne.
Our sources within the septic industry say there is language in the bill that probably should be changed, as it may lead to misinterpretation by contractors and bureaucracies. They maintain this unnecessary language complicates a simple inspection of function and will add to the inspection and/or repair cost.
In the meantime, amendments to SB 1698 are flying around fast and furious, making it difficult for anyone, including the legislators to keep up. Hard to tell where this will all end up. Worth repeating….repealing the inspection provisions of SB 550 and the rules DOH developed after it was passed last year is the most important goal. If inspections are mandated, homeowner protections and a standardized, simple, and cost-effective process is needed. Will SB 1698 be it? It’s hard to tell at this point. We’ll try to keep you informed. In the meantime, some of the committee hearings are live-streamed. Go to www.flsenate.gov . Type in the bill number to track committee hearings, amendments, etc. Links to bills and who is sponsoring them is provided below.
It’s interesting that DOH has a written justification that is part of SB 1698. In it, the Department says “99% of all septic systems are not managed.” Really? Our question is, managed by whom – the Department? Since the Department has never kept records on the permits they have approved for replacement drain fields, and no one but the contractor has records for periodic pumping, how would they know that 99% are not managed? However, statements like that are enough to get legislators all in a fluff about mandating inspections – especially, if they don’t ask the right questions.
It’s actually a pretty insulting statement for DOH to make. It’s been our experience that homeowners are a fairly responsible group -responsible enough that when a system fails, it gets fixed pronto by the homeowner, without any prompting by the Department. Amazingly, some of us have even been known to call a contractor and arrange a periodic pump out on our own! Former Orange County Mayor Crotty says he pumps his tank every two years! Yes, homeowners manage it themselves, as the majority – somewhere in the neighborhood of 99% – did not just recently emerge from caves, and don’t like the idea of tromping through sewage in the yard, or toilets that do not flush, or damaging the environment.
LINKS TO PENDING LEGISLATION AND COMMENTARY PROVIDED BY COALITION FOR PROPERTY RIGHTS:
Carol Saviak, Executive Director, and newest member of the Tri-County Association H.E.L.P. Board of Advisors. For more info on Coalition for Property Rights- www.proprights.com
CS/HB 239 & SB 1090/SB 1490 – Numeric Nutrient Water Quality Criteria – by Representative Trudi Williams. Senators Charlie Dean and Greg Evers are sponsoring Senate bills addressing the same subject. This proposed legislation protects property owners by prohibiting the implementation of certain federal numeric nutrient water quality criteria rules by DEP, water management districts, & other governmental entities. The bills also clarify the authority of water management districts & other governmental entities with respect to pollution control. House co-sponsors include Representatives Jason Brodeur, Rachel Burgin, Matt Caldwell, Paige Kreegel, Greg Steube and Charles Van Zant.
_ HB 13/SB 130 – Onsite Sewer Disposal & Treatment Systems – This legislation is sponsored Representatives Marti Coley, Brad Drake, Clay Ford and Senator Charlie Dean. This bill eliminates provisions directing DOH to create and administer statewide septic tank evaluation program and fees which has been the source of controversy across the state. House co-sponsors include Representatives Janet Adkins, Larry Ahern, Ben Albritton, Dennis Baxley, Jeff Brandes, Doug Broxson, Richard Corcoran, Steve Crisafulli, Matt Gaetz, Tom Goodson, Matt Hudson, Clay Ingram, Larry Metz, Scott Plakon, Elizabeth Porter, Jimmie Smith, Greg Steube and John Tobia. Senate co-sponsors include Don Gaetz and Joe Negron. Similar bills include HB 167 by Coley, SB 82 by Lynn, SB 168 by Evers, SB 1698 by Dean. (SEE ALSO SJ 18). http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Documents/loaddoc.aspx?FileName=_s0130__.DOCX&DocumentType=Bill&BillNumber=0130&Session=2011