2023 State Legislative Wrap-up

Florida’s Legislative Session came and went as quickly as our recent afternoon thunderstorms. Environmentally speaking, the bills ranged from mildly positive to severely detrimental, and just as our weather forecasts, the future remains uncertain. 

The environment is important to our Treasure Coast community. During the legislative session, our elected officials should be affecting real, positive change for our environment, to protect the health of Florida's ecosystems and its citizens. Here is our in-depth look at the good, bad, and the unheard bills from the 2023 Florida Legislative Session.

The Good

HB 1379 - Environmental Protection: This bill was just signed by Governor DeSantis and addresses directives from his Executive Order 23-06, establishing the Indian River Lagoon Protection Plan which includes $100 million for water quality projects. This bill also addresses Basin Management Actions Plans (BMAPs) in the northern part of the Indian River Lagoon, and expands and improves water quality protections by reducing excess nutrients in our waterways through provisions targeting septic to sewer conversions.

  • Overall this is great to see, but we would have like to see something done for the BMAPS in the St. Lucie Estuary, considering most of our issues with water quality stem from freshwater discharges coming from Lake Okeechobee through the C-80 Canal, that carry agricultural runoff into our waterways.

SB 724 - Seagrass Restoration Technology Initiative: This bill establishes the Seagrass Restoration Technology Development Initiative within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), requiring the creation of a 10-year Florida Seagrass Restoration Plan; and establishes the Initiative Technology Advisory Council. 

  • This bill awards funds specifically to Mote Marine Laboratory and it benefits seagrass restoration and research throughout Florida. Which is something we can all get behind.

HB 1367 - Unlawful Dumping: This bill specifies it is unlawful to dump litter in or on any water control district property or canal right-of-way without consent.

  • Although we would have thought it already existed somewhere, this seems like a no brainer, and we are glad to see something official on the books.

HB 1489 - Brevard Barrier Island: This bill designates the southern barrier island of Brevard County as an Area of Critical State Concern to protect the coastal ecosystem and nesting habitat of sea turtles. 

  • Protecting sea turtles! *thumbs up*

The Bad

SB 540 - Local Comprehensive Plans: Unfortunately, this bill paves the way for irresponsible sprawl by effectively silencing the voices of concerned citizens across Florida who deeply care for our environment. Beginning July 1, citizens or public interest groups that challenge a local comprehensive plan amendment and lose will be on the hook to pay for the legal costs incurred by deep-pocketed developers and local governments, paving the way for irresponsible sprawl that will jeopardize our local environment and lead to poor water quality.

HB 1191 - Use of Phosphogypsum: This bill would require the Florida Department of Transportation to complete a study on the feasibility of phosphogypsum for road construction. The EPA has already extensively studied the use of phosphogypsum in roads and concluded it is not safe, and the unreasonably short study period ending on April 1, 2024, cannot even begin to thoroughly review the health and safety consequences. Not to mention, to even begin the study would be a tremendous waste of Florida taxpayer dollars.

  • Florida Oceanographic Society, along with 33 other partner organizations sent Governor DeSantis a letter requesting he veto this bad bill. You can learn why here.

Proviso Language in SB 2500 - Fertilizer Ordinance Ban: The specific language in Senate Bill 2500 limits the ability of local governments to regulate urban fertilizer, delaying the restoration of Florida’s springs, rivers, coasts, and estuaries. Over seventeen counties and well over 100 municipalities have strict rainy season application bans.

  • This was never part of any substantive bill. It was slipped in, hoping no one would notice. Sound familiar? The fact is, urban fertilizer management during the rainy season has long been a non-partisan, common sense, science-based approach to protecting Florida’s environment.

SB 170 - Local Ordinances: This bill allows businesses to halt local government ordinances that greatly benefit our environment, including protecting specific ecosystems, water quality, and wildlife.

  • These ordinances have long been used to protect a wide range of natural resources — from sea turtles to native plants.

Challenges to Home Rule: The common theme of this year's legislative session was not only the spread of irresponsible sprawl, but the Legislature's insistence on curbing the effectiveness of local governments. Two bills, SB 1604 - Land Use & Development Regulations — which was approved by the Governor — and SB 718 - Local Government, weaken the ability of local governments to simply govern and protect their local environments.

Missed Opportunities

Good bills that died in Committee

SB 100 - Mangrove Replanting and Restoration: This bill would have required the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt rules for mangrove replanting and restoration. The rules would have addressed erosion in areas of critical state concern, protect barrier and spoil islands, assisted Everglades restoration and Biscayne Bay revitalization efforts, promoted public awareness of the value of mangroves statewide and encouraged partnerships with local governmental entities to create local mangrove protection and restoration zone programs.

  • Mangroves provide a multitude of benefits to our coastal communities. They are a habitat for marine animals and protect us from storms by stabilizing our barrier islands. They deserve our protection and our community should be aware of the damage their removal can cause.

HB 175 - Everglades Protection Area: This bill would have required any comprehensive plan or plan amendment changes that applied to land within two miles of the Everglades Protection Area to follow the state coordinated review process and would have required the change to be reviewed by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for adverse impacts.

  • When it comes to protecting the Everglades and ensuring its future sustainability, the state should step in to hold bad comprehensive plans accountable and reviewable.

HB 177 - Safe Waterways Act: This bill would have required the Department of Health (DOH) to adopt and enforce rules to protect the health and safety of people swimming in public waters.

  • By linking the cleanliness of our waters to health and human safety, this bill could have really helped push back on toxic blue-green algae in our waterways.

HB 979 - Dredging and Beach Restoration Projects: This bill would have required third party oversight to determine adverse impacts dredging activity may have on the natural habitat.

Good bills that were never heard

HB 423 - Implementation of the Blue Green Algae Task Force Recommendations: This bill would have implemented some of the recommendations that were generated by Governor DeSantis’ Blue-Green Algae Task Force (BGATF).

  • The fact that most of the Blue Green Algae Task Force's recommendations have not been implemented is a slap in the face to clean water advocates everywhere. The Governor should step in and enforce these recommendations.

HB 957 - State Renewable Energy Goals: This bill would have required statewide renewable energy electricity, and carbon emission reductions, by specific dates. It also would have prohibited drilling or exploration for, or production of, oil, gas, or other petroleum products, and  permitting and construction of certain related structures.

  • We cannot protect our ecosystems without curbing our dependence on fossil fuels and utilizing renewable forms of energy. It's simple. It may be a "big picture" idea, but what will Florida be known for once our beaches and sunshine are swallowed up by smog and rising sea levels?

Small Changes, big impact: Additionally there were missed opportunities for some of the smaller things to affect the greatest change. Take HB 91 and SB 336. The former would have prohibited the intentional release of balloons, while the latter would have authorized coastal communities to establish pilot programs to regulate single-use plastics products. People may find legislation like this to be overkill, but the majority of trash found on our local beaches come from everyday items—straws, forks, plastic bags and balloons. These items have a significant impact on the overall health of our marine ecosystems and the marine animals that live here.

The common theme of this year's legislative session was not only the spread of irresponsible sprawl, but the Legislature's insistence on curbing the effectiveness of local governments. Two bills, SB 1604 - Land Use & Development Regulations — which was approved by the Governor — and SB 718 - Local Government weaken the ability of local governments to simply govern and protect their local environments.

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