The 2022 Florida Legislative Session has reached the halfway point, and it’s shaping up to be one of the most environmentally contentious sessions in recent history. 

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson shocked the environmental community Feb. 4 when his chamber filed a toxic stew of measures that ultimately could undermine efforts to create a more equitable Lake Okeechobee management plan. Simpson is defending the measures, while Gov. Ron DeSantis and his appointees on the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board are crying foul — which means the second half of session is going to be intense. 

But there is  a glimmer of good news: Some of the legislative proposals we believe could further harm Florida’s fragile waters appear to have stalled.

To keep you informed about Tallahassee policy that impacts our environment, Friends of the Everglades offers a mid-session update on the bills we’re tracking:

Senate Bill 2508
Seagrass Mitigation
Farming Operations
Safe Waterways Act
High-tech Algae Cleanup
Agricultural Practices
Nutrient Application Rates
Development of Current of Former Agricultural Land
The Stop Fracking Act
Supermajority Vote for Legislative Preemption
Local Ordinances
Business Damages Caused by Local Government
State Renewable Energy Goals
Full Fund Florida Forever

Senate Bill 2508 – OPPOSE
Introduced — unexpectedly — on Feb. 4, this “budget conforming bill” had just one committee stop, before the Senate Appropriations Committee Feb. 9. Friends of the Everglades and dozens of other opponents were there to testify against the measure, but it passed, 16-4.
Here’s a list of every senator who advanced it.

Among other things, this bill would lock in benefits to water supply users under the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM), degrading environmental benefits of the new plan and making downstream estuaries more susceptible to toxic algae blooms. It would allow public utilities to pay the state for expedited “dredge and fill” 404 wetland permit reviews if they serve a “public purpose,” and would spread thin state funding for critical Everglades restoration projects.

Moreover, the bill would handcuff the South Florida Water Management District, effectively requiring the agency to insist the Army Corps manage Lake Okeechobee for the benefit of Florida’s powerful sugar industry, and the agriculture industry in general, in order to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding. South Florida Water Management District officials said they weren’t consulted, or even informed the legislation would be filed — which led to a public tongue-lashing from Governing Board members at their Feb. 10 meeting.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has blasted the measure, saying SB 2508 “is being rammed through the budget process, short-circuiting public engagement leaving affected agencies in the dark.”

There is currently no House companion bill, and SB 2508 will become part of the budget negotiation process. Friends of the Everglades will continue to monitor the measure’s progress.

Seagrass mitigation banks – OPPOSE
This dangerous measure appears to be on its deathbed.

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.

Friends of the Everglades has been vocal in our opposition to these bills, which scientists say is likely to result in a net loss of seagrass. Given the inherent difficulty of successfully planting seagrass, and the catastrophic effect the loss of seagrass has already had on Florida’s marine habitat — especially manatees — these bills represent a risk Florida cannot afford to take.

SB 198 cleared the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee but has been in the Community Affairs Committee since Jan. 20 and has not yet been slated for a hearing. HB 349 cleared its first committee in December, but has been in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee ever since with no movement.

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.

These bills are a response to the expanded “Right to Farm” act passed last session, which protected Florida’s powerful sugar industry from lawsuits related to the burning of sugarcane fields prior to harvest. Those “burns” generate particle emissions that can trigger health problems in the nearby Glades communities.

Unfortunately, neither bill has had a hearing.

Safe Waterways Act – SUPPORT
This pair of bills, SB 604 (Berman) and HB 393 (Hinson), should be no-brainers — but the Legislature has showed no sense of urgency, and so a relatively simple way to safeguard public health could fall by the wayside.

The bill would require, rather than merely authorizing, county health departments to monitor public bathing places – swimming spots and other recreational locations – and post notices any time bacteria from fecal matter is found to be elevated.

Floridians should have the right to know if their swimming hole is contaminated. But SB 604 just had its first committee hearing — and HB 393 hasn’t even been slated for one.

There’s still time, but time is running out.

High-tech algae cleanup – NEEDS REVISION
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.

Friends of the Everglades could support this measure if it’s amended to include guardrails. Currently the bills do not require that the “innovative” technology be proven effective and safe; we advocate a peer review or similar process to ensure these technologies don’t have unintended consequences. That’s exactly what members of the state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force have recommended.

Florida needs to make sure any algae-killing technologies — which can include biological and geochemical treatments — are safe and cost-effective. This bill doesn’t go far enough in that regard.

HB 421 cleared its first committee hearing Feb. 8 and is now in the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee. SB 834 cleared its first committee hurdle in late November, and has been in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government ever since, with no movement.

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.

This is a common-sense measure that is not moving in the Florida Legislature.

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.

The measures are aimed at helping Florida’s beleaguered citrus industry, but would result in more fertilizer being used to boost yields — and the likelihood of more runoff full of nutrient pollution gets into our waterways.

Albritton has significant clout in the Senate and his measure has cleared all three of its committee stops. The House bill just passed its first committee stop and has been referred to the State Affairs Committee, where it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Development of Current of Former Agricultural Land – OPPOSE
SB 1210 (Albritton) and HB 909 (Payne) would give the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection exclusive jurisdiction in setting standards or procedures for evaluating environmental conditions and assessing potential liability for the presence of contaminants on certain agricultural lands; it 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 meet certain requirements from further regulation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), among other provisions.

Friends of the Everglades has opposed the measures, as we’re concerned with attempts to limit regulatory authority where contaminants could further harm our waters and all who use them. But SB 1210 has cleared its first two committee stops and is now in Appropriations; HB 909 has cleared its first committee and will next be considered by State Affairs. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.

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 bill, which has no House companion, has not yet had a hearing.

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; in other words, it would preserve local control over local governments.

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.

These bills go beyond mere preemption, and SB 280 has already passed the Senate; HB 403 has passed its first committee stop and is in the Civil Justice & Property Rights Committee, which has not yet scheduled a hearing.

The bills appear to be a response to last year’s successful efforts by Key West residents to limit the size of cruise ships at their local port — which the Legislature later preempted.

It has not yet had a hearing.

Business Damages Caused by Local Government – OPPOSE
SB 620 (Hutson) and HB 569 (McClure) allows businesses to sue for damages if a local ordinance or voter-backed referendum costs their business 15% or more of its profits.

Seen as a significant blow to home rule, the measures faced widespread opposition, and Hutson subsequently watered down his bill, requiring a business to be operating in a city or county for three years before it could sue. But if those who sue are successful, they can recover up to seven years of lost profits. The amendments also gave local governments some options to avoid damages.

The Senate bill, a priority of Senate President Wilton Simpson, passed the full Senate in a late January party-line vote. The House bill passed its first two committee stops and is now in the Judiciary Committee, where a hearing has not yet been scheduled.

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.

Neither bill has had a hearing.

Fully Fund Florida Forever – NEEDS IMPROVEMENT
SB 1816 (Stewart) and HB 1377 (Roth) would guarantee at least $100 million annually for Florida Forever, the state’s signature land preservation program; the measure would also extend the retirement date of bonds issued to fund land acquisition.

Friends of the Everglades believes the annual baseline for land acquisition should be $300 million; the revenue source, documentary stamp taxes on real estate transactions, is soaring, so the money is available.

Nonetheless, the minimum guarantees in these bills would be an improvement on the current situation, where Florida Forever funding is based on the whims of the Governor and Legislature.

SB 1816 passed the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources and is now in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government. HB 1377 has not yet had a hearing.

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.