Florida’s annual 60-day legislative session begins March 7. In line with our 2023 Legislative Priorities, we offer the following analysis of bills that have been filed.
Demand cleaner water, now
Restore more wetlands, send more clean water south oil
Smarter, controlled development
Stop sugarcane burning
Priority: Demand cleaner water, now
Poor water quality is the root cause of blue-green algal blooms and red tide, seagrass loss, manatee die-offs and other harmful outcomes. Improved water quality will safeguard marine life, human health and Florida’s economic vitality. To achieve this goal, we recommend the following positions on bills pending before the Legislature:
Implementation of the Recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force — SUPPORT
HB 423 (Cross) and SB 1538 (Stewart) would require the inspection of onsite sewage treatment systems; require estimated pollutant load reductions in basin management action plans (BMAPs) to meet or exceed requirements; require BMAPs to provide and re-evaluate mitigation and elimination strategies and require new or revised plans to list projects likely to lead to a reduction in pollutants. These recommendations were among those proposed by the state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force.
Safe Waterways Act — SUPPORT
HB 177 (Gossett-Seidman) and SB 172 (Berman) would require owners of “public bathing places” to notify county health departments when contamination by fecal bacteria is detected and require health departments to close bathing places if necessary to protect public health. It also would mandate warning signs be posted and require the creation of a statewide database to report waterways contaminated by fecal bacteria.
Biosolids — SUPPORT
SB 880 (Brodeur) and HB 1405 (Tuck) would limit the land application of Class B biosolids within the subwatershed of nutrient-impaired water bodies unless it can be demonstrated this would not add to nutrient loading; expands FDEP wastewater grant program.
Office of the Blue Economy — MONITOR
HB 527 (Skidmore) would establish an “Office of the Blue Economy” within the Department of Economic Opportunity and require the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research to conduct a biennial review of the “blue economy,” based on its ocean and coastal resources.
Land Acquisition Trust Fund — MONITOR
HB 547 (Sirois) and SB 320 (Harrell) provide a $50 million annual appropriation for projects related to the Indian River Lagoon Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, authorize the state Department of Environmental Protection to make project grants, and require coordination with the water management districts.
Land Acquisition Trust Fund — MONITOR
HB 135 (Mooney) and SB 54 (Rodriguez) would require an annual $20 million appropriation from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire land within the Florida Keys Area of Critical State Concern to promote the protection and restoration of Florida Bay, the Florida Keys and nearshore marine ecosystems, including coral reefs. Funding could not be used for wastewater management projects or programs.
Management and Storage of Surface Waters — MONITOR
HB 371 (Killebrew) and SB 910 (Burton) exempts some environmental habitat creation, restoration and enhancement and water quality improvement projects on certain agricultural lands and government-owned lands from regulation under state law governing the management and storage of surface waters.
Wastewater Grant Program — MONITOR
SB 458 (Rodriguez) would authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to provide grants to projects focused on water bodies on the state’s list of verified impaired waterways.
Seagrass Restoration Technology — MONITOR
SB 724 (Boyd) would establish the Seagrass Restoration Technology Development Initiative within the Department of Environmental Protection; provide for funding; require the creation of a 10-year Florida Seagrass Restoration Plan; establish the Initiative Technology Advisory Council as part of the initiative, and more.
Priority: Restore more wetlands, send more clean water south
Harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee remain a periodic threat to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries; high water levels threaten the ecology of the lake itself, and the southern Everglades and Florida Bay still don’t receive enough clean freshwater. More land is needed south of Lake Okeechobee to create wetlands to store and clean water, then move it south. The National Academies of Sciences has concluded more man-made wetlands may be needed, in addition to the planned EAA Reservoir project, so phosphorus levels in water sent to the Everglades will meet court-ordered limits.
No current bills address the creation of additional stormwater treatment areas south of Lake Okeechobee.
Priority: Smarter, controlled development
Florida’s 1985 passage of the Growth Management Act was a milestone for smart planning. But the 2011 Community Planning Act effectively gutted growth management in Florida, eliminating the Florida Department of Community Affairs and removing crucial checks and balances over local planning decisions. To make things worse, the Legislature has penalized citizens who try to enforce their communities’ comprehensive plans.
Florida needs to re-establish the bipartisan consensus for a common-sense state role in growth management. Unfortunately, this year is threatening to be a “session of sprawl,” with numerous bills poised to weaken growth management. Some helpful bills also have been filed.
Everglades Protection Area — SUPPORT
HB 175 (Busatta-Cabrera & V. Lopez) and SB 192 (Avila) would require comprehensive plan and plan amendments regarding certain lands within two miles of the Everglades Protection Area to follow a state-coordinated review process; require the state Department of Environmental Protection to review any proposed changes for adverse impacts and work with local governments to prevent or address those impacts. The bill would also prohibit the adoption of small-scale development amendments for properties in or near the Everglades Protection Area.
Challenges to development Orders — SUPPORT
HB 843 (Cross) and SB 816 (Polsky) require a prevailing party to show that the challenge to a development order was frivolous before the prevailing party is entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees and costs; prohibits a prevailing party in a challenge to a comprehensive plan from an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs; provides that intervenors are not entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees and costs and may not recover certain attorney fees and costs.
Land and Water Mangement — OPPOSE
HB 1197 (Maggard) and SB 1240 (Burgess) would prohibit municipalities and counties from establishing their own regulations pertaining to water quality, water quantity, pollution control, pollution discharge or removal, and wetlands, including any delineation; all would be preempted to the state. Hugely problematic bills that do not appear to “grandfather” existing ordinances; could invalidate fertilizer bans and other clean-water measures already in place in dozens of Florida cities and counties.
Land Development Initiative and Referendum Processes —OPPOSE
HB 41 (Garcia) and SB 856 (Rodriguez) would prohibit local initiatives or referendums on land development regulations. State law already prohibits such challenges to comprehensive plan or map amendments except those specifically authorized in a local charter provision enacted before 2011. HB 41 would essentially expand this to any local push to change land development rules, and make it retroactive.
Local Government Comprehensive Plans — OPPOSE
HB 359 (Duggan) and SB 540 (DiCeglie) would require the losing party in challenges to local government comprehensive plans or plan amendments to pay the prevailing party’s attorney fees and court costs. This could be a significant burden for the average citizen, and scare them away from challenging comprehensive plan amendments that lead to more development and more sprawl.
Public Construction — OPPOSE
HB 383 (Griffitts) and SB 346 (DiCeglie) mandates an application for approval of a development or development order (including zoning changes) shall be deemed approved by the municipality after 180 days unless both parties agree to extend the deadline, effectively prohibiting local governments from taking extra time needed to scrutinize development orders or zoning changes. Companion bill to SB 346.
Land Use and Development Regulations — OPPOSE
HB 439 (McClain) and SB 1604 (Ingoglia) would facilitate additional development and sprawl by eliminating the ability of local governments to reject a special magistrate’s recommendation under the Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Act; redefining “sprawl” as only “unplanned” development requiring the extension of public facilities by local government; eliminating “community goals and vision” from consideration when developing comprehensive plans or plan amendments; expanding the definition of “agricultural enclave” from 1,000 residents to 1,000 residential units; and prohibiting denial of a development order for failure to meet level of service standards.
Local Ordinances — OPPOSE
SB 170 (Trumbull) would require local governments to prepare business impact estimates before enacting a proposed ordinance; require local governments to suspect enforcement of an ordinance that is subject to legal action; and authorize courts to assess and award attorney fees, costs and damages in some civil actions filed against local governments. Should local government win the case, it would not be permitted to collect court fees and costs.
Residential Building Permits — OPPOSE
HB 671 (Esposito) and SB 682 (DiCeglie) would shorten the time local governments have to approve or deny building permits from 30 business days to 9 calendar days; would also shorten the time local governments have to request additional information from applicants, and require local jurisdiction to reduce permit fees under certain circumstances. Companion bill to SB 682.
Building Permit Applications to Local Government — OPPOSE
HB 765 (Roth) requires a local government to post and update permitting information on its website; revises the time frame during which a local government must request additional information and approve or deny an application; and prohibits a local government from requesting additional information from, and imposing additional requirements on, an applicant other than those posted on its website.
Priority: Stop Sugarcane Burning
Sugarcane growers regularly burn fields to facilitate harvest, causing smoke and ash to blanket nearby communities, which contributes to health problems like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Sugarcane burning represents an environmental injustice, acutely affecting low-income communities of color in the Glades region.
No current bills address any aspect of sugarcane burning.
Regulation of Single-Use Plastic Products — SUPPORT
HB 363 (Mooney) and SB 336 (Rodriguez) would authorize coastal communities to establish pilot programs to regulate single-use plastics and requires FDEP to submit updated retail bag reports to the Legislature.
Land Acqusition Funding — MONITOR
HB 559 (Roth) would require at least $350 million annually be allocated from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to the Florida Forever program; allow Florida Forever to use bonds to finance land acquisition; increase funding for the Florida Department of Agriculture to acquire agricultural land via perpetual conservation easements and prohibit the use of Florida Forever funding for administrative expenses.
Mangrove Replanting and Restoration — MONITOR
HB 561 (Mooney, Basabe) and SB 100 (Garcia) would require FDEP to establish rules for mangrove planting that address erosion in areas of critical state concern, protect barrier and spoil islands, assist Everglades restoration and Biscayne Bay revitalization efforts.
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.