The Florida Legislature will consider dozens of bills in 2022 that could have a significant impact on water quality, conservation, environmental justice and the health of the Everglades itself.
In line with Friends of the Everglades’ 2022 Legislative Priorities, we offer the following analysis of bills being considered for the session that begins January 11, 2022:
Stop pollution at its source
Prohibit oil drilling in the Everglades and Big Cypress
Strip “particle emissions” from the list of protected farming practices
Fully Fund Florida Forever
Support legal rights for the natural environment
Stop the assault on home rule
Priority: Stop Pollution at its source
Seagrass mitigation banks – OPPOSE
SB 198 (Rodriguez) and HB 349 (Sirois) would authorize the state Board of Trustees to create “seagrass mitigation banks”; seagrasses would be planted on state-owned submerged lands, generating “credits” which could be sold/purchased to offset the “unavoidable” loss of seagrass due to coastal development projects elsewhere.
But the failure rate of new seagrass plantings is high, and by creating a formal mitigation mechanism, SB 198/HB 349 would in effect make coastal development easier – which could lead to even greater loss of seagrass than Florida has already seen.
Safe Waterways Act – SUPPORT
SB 604 (Berman) and HB 393 (Hinson) would require, rather than merely authorizing, county health departments to monitor public bathing places and post notices any time bacteria from fecal matter is found to be elevated. Current law does not require the state or local governments to inform residents of the threat.
Implementing the recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force – SUPPORT
SB 832 (Stewart) and HB 561 (Goff-Marcil) would enact additional measures originally recommended by the Governor’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force, including a mandated assessment of the cost-effectiveness of the state’s Basin Management Action Plans, or BMAPs; and mandatory septic tank inspections at least once every five years.
Like 2020’s Clean Waterways Act, this measure does not require the adoption of all the task force recommendations. Nonetheless, these additional measures would be beneficial.
High-tech algae cleanup – NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
SB 834 (Brodeur) and HB 421 (Truenow) would authorize the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to procure “innovative” technology to physically remove and reduce blue-green algae blooms from impacted waterways.
While originally recommended by the state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force, this measure should be augmented to require that all new technologies be evaluated by a panel of experts to ensure no long-term harm is done to the water being cleaned.
Agricultural Practices – SUPPORT
SB 904 (Farmer) and HB 807 (Rayner) would revise the definition of “best management practice” and require, rather than merely authorize, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to devise and adopt rules to reduce pollution statewide and penalize those who don’t follow them.
As rising nutrient levels continue to impair waters throughout the state, it’s clear current “best management practices” aren’t effective enough — and stricter enforcement may be key to cleaner water.
Nutrient Application Rates – OPPOSE
SB 1000 (Albritton) and HB 1291 (McClure) would allow the application rate of agricultural fertilizers to be “tailored” on the basis of several factors, including “market conditions.” Producers implementing rate tailoring would also be presumed to be in compliance with state water quality standards.
Producers would be required to hire a “certified professional” to recommend the rate of application, but that recommendation could ultimately result in more nutrients on the ground and in the water. Moreover, the “presumption of compliance” with clean-water rules mustn’t be expanded, but reined in.
Development of Current of Former Agricultural Land – OPPOSE
SB 1210 (Albritton) and HB 909 (Payne) would create a presumption that pesticides used in agricultural operations are being applied correctly and in compliance with state regulations; it also exempts agricultural lands that meets certain requirements from further regulation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), among other provisions.
As with SB 1000, we oppose the expansion of the presumption of compliance; and the state’s regulatory authority over potential environmental problems should not be diminished.
Priority: Prohibit oil drilling in the Everglades and Big Cypress
The Stop Fracking Act – SUPPORT
SB 208 (Farmer) would define “extreme well stimulation,” including fracking and acidizing, prohibit it and stop the Florida Department of Environmental Protection from issuing permits authorizing it.
The same bill was introduced last session by Farmer and died in committee.
Priority: Strip “particle emissions” from the list of protected farming practices
Farming Operations – SUPPORT
SB 1102 (Farmer) and HB 6085 (Eskamani) would revise the definition of “farm operation” and “nuisance” for the purposes of the Florida Right to Farm Act, removing “particle emissions” from the list of protected activities.
Florida’s revamped “Right to Farm” bill (SB 88), passed in 2021, protected the sugar industry from lawsuits related to pre-harvest sugar cane burning, which can blanket the Glades region with ash and inflict respiratory distress and other ailments on Glades residents. Friends of the Everglades believes their health must take precedence over sugar industry profits.
Priority: Fully fund Florida Forever
Gov. Ron DeSantis’s proposed 2022 budget would dedicate $660 million to Everglades restoration and another $300 million for water quality projects; yet it dedicates just $100 million to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for Florida Forever, well short of the $300 million Friends of the Everglades believes should be a baseline.
Priority: Support legal rights for the natural environment
Legal Rights of the Natural Environment – SUPPORT
HB 6003 (Eskamani) would remove provisions prohibiting local governments from recognizing or granting certain legal rights to the natural environment, or granting such rights relating to the natural environment to a person or political subdivision.
This should not be dismissed as a “tree-hugger” bill, as the measure raises a key issue: Should polluted water and ecosystems have standing in court? This bill also would help protect home rule for local governments and voters.
Priority: Stop the assault on home rule
Supermajority Vote for Legislative Preemption – SUPPORT
Senate Joint Resolution 152 (Farmer) proposed amendments to the State Constitution to require a supermajority vote of each house to approve a general law preempting a subject of legislation to the state.
Friends of the Everglades believes individual municipalities and counties are far better equipped to understand and respond to the will of local constituents than state government, and Farmer’s proposal should get a fair hearing.
Local Ordinances – OPPOSE
SB 280 (Hutson) and HB 403 (Giallombardo) would require local governments to prepare a business impact statement before passing any measure that could have a detrimental economic effect on local businesses; it also authorizes the courts to assess and award attorney fees, costs and damages in certain civil actions filed against local governments and would require local governments to suspend enforcement of some ordinances.
This goes beyond mere preemption, and is clearly designed to prohibit local governments from responding to the will of local constituents with bans or plastic bags, plastic straws or similar measures.
Business Damages Caused by Local Government – OPPOSE
SB 620 (Hutson) and HB 569 (McClure) would allow local businesses to claim damages from a county or municipality if the local government enacts ordinances or charter provisions that reduce revenues or profits by 15 percent or more.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, publicly backed the measure in December, saying local officials too often “want to take people’s rights and businesses away from them. We’re not going to let them.” But like SB280/HB403, this measure would undermine home rule by making local governments afraid to govern for fear of lawsuits.
State Renewable Energy Goals – SUPPORT
SB 366 (Berman) and HB 81 (Eskamani) would revise the definitions of the terms “biomass” and “renewable energy”; prohibit the drilling or exploration for, or production of, oil, gas, or other petroleum products on the lands and waters of the state; and require that all electricity used in this state be generated by renewable energy by a specified date, among other provisions.
In the Republican-dominated Legislature these measures may struggle to attract significant support, but climate change and rising sea levels prove the need for a better renewable energy strategy, as articulated in these bills.
About Friends of the Everglades:
Friends of the Everglades was founded in 1969 by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of the seminal book The Everglades: River of Grass. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving America’s Everglades and its interconnected ecosystems. We are proud to advocate on behalf of supporters across the Greater Everglades region.