Prior to the beginning of Florida’s legislative session March 7, we worried this would be the “session of sprawl.”
Unfortunately, that prediction is coming to pass.
Bills that will disempower citizens, handcuff local governments and result in more reckless development have sailed through committee hearings with little opposition. A few have already passed the full House or Senate and almost certainly will land on Gov. Ron DeSantis’s desk.
Meanwhile, many bills that might help our fragile waters have gone nowhere.
There is some good news. The worst bills of the session, House Bill 1197 and Senate Bill 1240, have not gotten hearings. Those bills would have prohibited virtually any local government attempt to regulate water quality or pollution control.
And a proposal to limit the impact of development within two miles of the Everglades Protection Area has already passed the Senate, while the House companion bill seems well on its way to passing.
In line with our 2023 Legislative Priorities, we offer the following update and analysis on key bills:
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. Here’s the status of water-quality bills pending in the Florida Legislature:
Implementation of the Recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force — SUPPORT
STATUS: Stalled; SB 1538 passed Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources following strike-all amendment eliminating most provisions; now in Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government.
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.
Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal System Inspections – SUPPORT
STATUS: Stalled/no hearings
(Caruso) would by 2025 require owners of onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems that are more than 5 years old must have the system inspected at least once every 5 years; also directs DEP to administer inspection program; inspections must be performed by qualified contractors.
Safe Waterways Act — SUPPORT
STATUS: Stalled; HB 177 approved by House Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee; now in Health Care Appropriations Committee; SB 172 no hearings.
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 — MONITOR
STATUS: Moving; HB 1405 committee substitute bill filed; passed by Water Quality, Supply & Treatment Subcommittee and Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and Infrastructure Strategies Committee; on House Special Order Calendar for April 25.
SB 880 committee substitute bill filed, passed Environment & Natural Resources Committee and Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government; now in Appropriations.
SB 880 (Brodeur) and HB 1405 (Tuck) would create a biosolids grant program for local projects that construct, upgrade, expand, or retrofit facilities that convert wastewater residuals to Class AA biosolids; also limits 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.
Mitigation Credits – MONITOR
STATUS: Stalled/no hearings
(DiCeglie) and HB 1197
(Duggan) – Where mitigation credits aren’t available in a basin, would allow the use of credits from a surrounding basin; authorizes some projects to use mitigation banks regardless of whether the projects are located within the mitigation service area.
Environmental Protection – MONITOR
STATUS: Moving; HB 1379 committee substitute bill passed the House 115-0 April 26, referred to Senate Fiscal Policy Committee; SB 1632 committee substitute bill headed to Senate vote after passing Fiscal Policy, its third committee stop.
(Steele, Overdorf) and SB 1632
(Brodeur) would provide the components of the Indian River Lagoon Protection Program; requires counties and municipalities with a BMAP in their jurisdiction to develop a list of projects to achieve pollution reduction milestones;
amends BMAP planning process to prioritize projects most likely to achieve the biggest load reductions; prohibits new onside sewage treatment and disposal systems within BMAPS in effect for Outstanding Florida Springs under some circumstances; authorizes DEP to make grants for nutrient-reduction projects.
Seagrass Restoration – MONITOR
STATUS: Moving; HB 1181 committee substitute bill filed; passed by Agriculture, Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee, Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and Infrastructure Strategies, now on House Special Order Calendar April 25; SB 724 committee substitute passed Environment and Natural Resources Committee and Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government; now on Senate Second Reading Calendar.
(W. Robinson) and SB 724
(Boyd) would establish a “Seagrass Restoration Technology Development Initiative” within FDEP, in partnership with Mote Marine Laboratory and the University of Florida to develop new technologies to restore seagrass; would create
a 10-year Florida Seagrass Restoration Plan, requiring the initiative to submit annual report to the Governor, Legislature, FDEP Secretary and FWCC Executive Director. Also establishes an Initiative Technology Advisory Council.
Office of the Blue Economy — MONITOR
STATUS: Stalled/no hearings
HB 527 (Skidmore) and SB 1484 (Pizzo) 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
STATUS: Stalled; HB 547 no hearings; SB 320 passed by Senate Environment and Natural Resources, now in Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government
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
STATUS: Stalled; HB 135 no hearings; SB 54 committee substitute bill passed Environment & Natural Resources Committee, now in Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government
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
STATUS: Moving; HB 827 passed Water Quality, Supply & Treatment Subcommittee and Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, now in Infrastructure Strategies Committee; SB 458 committee substitute bill filed, passed Environment and Natural Resources Committee, now in Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government
SB 458 (Rodriguez) and HB 827 (Basabe, Lopez, Garcia) would authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to provide grants to projects focused on water bodies listed as impaired.
Seagrass Restoration Technology — MONITOR
SB 724 (Boyd) and HB 1181 (Robinson) 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.
Floating Vessel Platforms and Floating Boat Lifts – OPPOSE
STATUS: Moving; HB 847 committee substitute passed Water Quality, Supply & Treatment Subcommittee agenda and Infrastructure Strategies Committee, now on House Special Order Calendar April 25; SB 1082 passed Environment and Natural Resources and Community Affairs and Rules committee, now on Second Reading Calendar.
(DiCeglie) – Prohibits local governments from requiring a permit for vessel platforms not attached to a bulkhead; local government may only require a one-time registration of the platforms and owners would be permitted to “self-certify” compliance with all relevant rules.
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
STATUS: Moving; HB 175 passed Agriculture, Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee; now in Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee; SB 192 passed by Senate April 11. committee substitute passed Community Affairs, Environment and Natural Resources and Rules committees, now on Special Order calendar.
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; DEP must coordinate with the Department of Economic Opportunity, local governments and Indian tribes to mitigate any adverse impacts. Committee substitute for SB 192 was amended to limit the scope of the bill to proposed plans and plan amendments in Miami-Dade County.
Challenges to development Orders — SUPPORT
STATUS: Stalled/no hearings
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
STATUS: Stalled/no hearings
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
STATUS: Moving; HB 41 committee substitute passed Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee and State Affairs committees, now on Special Order Calendar; SB 856 stalled, no hearings.
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
STATUS: Moving; HB 359 committee substitute passed all three committee stops; on House Second Reading Calendar; SB 540 committee substitute passed Community Affairs, Judiciary and Rules committees, approved by full Senate April 19.
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. SB 540 committee substitute bill included provision deeming comprehensive plan amendments automatically approved 180 days after second public hearing or the amendment is deemed withdrawn; but amendment was scuttled before bill approved by Rules Committee.
Land Use and Development Regulations — OPPOSE
STATUS: Moving; HB 439 committee substitute passed by Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee and Commerce Committee and State Affairs; SB 1604 passed Community Affairs and Rules committees, now on Second Reading Calendar.
HB 439 (McClain) and SB 1604 (Ingoglia) revise local comprehensive planning requirements and prohibit local governments from requiring specified building design elements for residential dwellings in planned unit developments, master planned communities, and communities with a design review board or architectural review board. HB 439 also removes a list of primary indicators used to determine if a plan or plan amendment encourages or discourages urban sprawl, instead requiring local governments to discourage sprawl by planning for future growth. Earlier provisions redefining “sprawl” and “urban service areas” in both bills were removed in committee substitute bills.
Local Ordinances — OPPOSE
STATUS: Moving; HB 1515 passed all three committee stops, on House Second Reading Calendar; SB 170 has already been approved by the full Senate.
SB 170 (Trumbull) and HB 1515 (Brackett) 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
STATUS: HB 671 Moving; SB 682 Stalled; HB 671 committee substitute passed Regulatory Reform & Economic Development Subcommittee agenda, now in State Administration & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee
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.
Building Permit Applications to Local Government — OPPOSE
STATUS: Stalled/no hearings
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
STATUS: HB 363 withdrawn; SB 336 stalled/no hearings
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.
Hunting and Fishing – MONITOR
STATUS: Moving; HJR 1175 committee substitute passed Agriculture, Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee and Infrastructure Strategies Committee, now on House Special Order Calendar April 25; SB 1234 committee substitute passed Environment and Natural Resources Committee, now in Judiciary.
(Anderson, Barnaby and Maggard) and SB 1234
(Brodeur) – Proposes amendment to State Constitution to preserve in perpetuity hunting & fishing and the taking of fish and wildlife
as public right, and makes hunting, fishing, and the taking of fish and wildlife the preferred means of responsibly managing and controlling fish and wildlife.
Land Acqusition Funding — MONITOR
STATUS: Stalled/no hearings
HB 559 (Roth) and SB 928 (Stewart) 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
STATUS: Stalled; HB 561 no hearings; SB 100 passed by Environment and Natural Resources and Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government; now in Rules.
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.