Rail bill slides by Senate committeeby Dara Kam | December 7th, 2009
A sweeping rail bill narrowly passed its first committee in the Senate by a 5-4 vote after being approved by the House earlier today.
The Senate Transportation Committee approved the measure after two hours of testimony and questions and a lot of distancing by Senate sponsor Jeremy Ring on what the bill is not about.
It’s not about SunRail, he repeatedly asserted. SunRail is the controversial Central Florida commuter rail project that the Senate failed to approve twice before, most recently in May.
It is unclear yet whether Ring has the votes in the Senate to pass the bill (HB 1). Republicans in the Senate are split over the bill in part because of the SunRail deal in which state transportation officials have already agreed to pay CSX Inc. $641 million for 61 miles of track around Orlando. In exchange, the transportation giant can continue to run its freight cars on the line for $1 a year.
A last-minute addition to the committee made Friday secured its passage.
Senate President Jeff Atwater placed Sen. Mike Fasano, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee and a SunRail supporter, on the committee late Friday to replace Sen. Larcenia Bullard, who was hospitalized.
Without Fasano’s “yes” vote today, the bill would have died.
Two more Senate committees will vote on the bill tomorrow before it goes to the floor for debate tomorrow afternoon.