Fla. House Passes Commuter High-Speed Rail Bill

December 8th, 2009 by

www.abcnews.com – Legislation that would clear the way for creating a commuter rail system in central Florida zipped through the House on Monday, but it was headed for an uncertain fate in the Senate.

It also includes an increase in the state’s subsidy for the existing Tri-Rail commuter system in South Florida and sets up two agencies to plan and build future passenger rail systems of all types across Florida.

Supporters argued that Florida cannot hope to qualify for $2.6 billion in federal stimulus money to also build a high-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa — with a possible future extension to Miami — unless the SunRail system is established in the Orlando area.

The bill (HB 1B) passed on a bipartisan 84-25 roll call as the sole subject of a special legislative session.

Similar legislation has twice failed in the Senate and a close vote is likely. One supporter, Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami, is recovering from a heart attack and probably will miss the vote expected Wednesday.

The Senate Transportation Committee later Monday approved the bill on a 5-4 vote. Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, cast the deciding vote. Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, added Fasano to the committee last week after Bullard, also a member of the panel, was hospitalized.

Gov. Charlie Crist, a strong supporter of the legislation, was meeting with senators to try to win their votes.

“I never described it as arm-twisting — encouraging, encouragement,” Crist said. “I’m right in the middle of it, absolutely. This is the third time we’ve tried this and I believe the third time will be the charm. Florida needs the jobs.”

Sen. Jeremy Ring, the Senate sponsor, said talks were continuing in an effort to reach a compromise with labor unions that oppose the legislation. They fear it would result in the replacement of union workers with nonunion employees as public passenger rail systems acquire tracks from private railroads.

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