As we feared, the 2023 Legislative Session turned out to be the “Session of Sprawl,” as Florida lawmakers advanced legislation that facilitates inappropriate, environmentally damaging development proposals.

Lawmakers passed several bills disempowering citizens, handcuffing local governments, and making it easier for reckless development to sprawl across the landscape:

In line with our 2023 Legislative Priorities, we offer the following update and analysis on key bills:

  • The worst bill of the session, Senate Bill 540, will, if signed into law, require citizens who challenge a local comprehensive plan amendment and lose to pay legal fees incurred by the “prevailing parties,” which could include deep-pocketed developers. This could end citizen challenges in Florida, paving the way for more reckless development. Friends of the Everglades and other conservation groups across Florida have asked Gov. DeSantis to veto the bill.
  • After it appeared two bills that would have prohibited citizen initiatives or referendums on land development regulations had petered out, Senate Bill 718 was amended to include the same bad language and passed both chambers.
  • Senate Bill 170 makes it easier for businesses to sue local governments over ordinances that impact the bottom line, potentially invalidating rules designed to protect the environment.
  • And in the final week of session, a measure was surreptitiously slipped into a budget-related bill to prohibit counties and municipalities from adopting tough new fertilizer ordinances in the coming year.

Numerous good bills got watered down, died in committee or never even got a hearing;

  • House Bill 423 and Senate Bill 1538 sought to implement additional recommendations from the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, but HB 423 never got a hearing, while SB 1538 died in committee.
  • House Bill 177 and Senate Bill 172, the “Clean Waterways Act,” would have required the owners of “bathing places” to warn county health departments when the water was contaminated with fecal bacteria. Neither bill advanced.

House Bill 175 and Senate Bill 192 would have added a layer of state oversight for comprehensive plan amendments within two miles of the Everglades Protection Area; but the bills were amended and watered down; SB 192 passed the Senate but died before the House voted on it.

There was some mildly good news out of Tallahassee this spring, too. The Legislature passed measures to boost septic-to-sewer conversions, and took small steps to address Florida’s biosolids problem (although the methods raise more questions than they answer). 

And, importantly, some of the most egregious dirty-water bills died without so much as a single hearing — after we and environmental allies sounded the alarm.

The state’s $117 billion budget — the largest in Florida history — included $1.6 billion for water and Everglades projects and more than $1 billion for land acquisition programs. But, as always, the devil is in the details of government spending. For example, $50 million of the Everglades funding is for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Plan (LOWRP), which features scientifically questionable Aquifer Storage and Recovery wells. The EAA Reservoir project got $64 million, despite lingering questions about whether it will be able to operate as intended.

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
Other Priorities

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: FAILED; HB 423 no hearings; SB 1538 died in committee.

HB 423 (Cross) and SB 1538 (Stewart) would have required 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: FAILED; No hearings.
HB 1425 (Caruso) would by 2025 have required owners of onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems that are more than 5 years old to have the system inspected at least once every 5 years; also directs DEP to administer the inspection program; inspections must be performed by qualified contractors.

Safe Waterways Act — SUPPORT
STATUS: FAILED; HB 177 died in 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: PASSED; Signed into law by Gov. DeSantis June 27.

HB 1405 (Tuck) creates a biosolids grant program for local projects that construct, upgrade, expand, or retrofit facilities that convert wastewater residuals to Class AA biosolids. A provision to 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 was removed via strike-all amendment. Concerns remain because the bill does not require land application of Class AA biosolids to be tracked/monitored.

Mitigation Credits – MONITOR
STATUS: FAILED; HB 1197 no hearings; SB 1702 died in committee.
SB 1702 (DiCeglie) and HB 1197 (Duggan) – Where wetland mitigation credits aren’t available in a basin, would have allowed 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: PASSED; House & Senate passed committee substitute for HB 1379, now awaits Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature; SB 1632 laid on the table/refer to HB 1379.
HB 1379 (Steele, Overdorf) provides the components of the Indian River Lagoon Protection Program; bans new septic tanks in areas with Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs); dedicates $100 million annually to FDEP from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for the acquisition of lands through the Florida Forever Program; and authorizes FDEP to make grants for nutrient-reduction projects.
Seagrass Restoration – MONITOR
STATUS: PASSED; SB 724 passed by House & Senate, awaiting Gov. DeSantis’ signature; HB 1181 laid on table/refer to SB 724.
SB 724 (Boyd) establishes 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: FAILED; No hearings for either HB 527 or SB 1484

HB 527 (Skidmore) and SB 1484 (Pizzo) would have established an “Office of the Blue Economy” within the Department of Economic Opportunity and required 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: FAILED; HB 547 no hearings; SB 320 died in committee.

HB 547 (Sirois) and SB 320 (Harrell) would have provided a $50 million annual appropriation for projects related to the Indian River Lagoon Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, authorized the state Department of Environmental Protection to make project grants, and required coordination with the water management districts.

Land Acquisition Trust Fund — MONITOR
STATUS: FAILED; HB 135 no hearings; SB 54 died in committee.

HB 135 (Mooney) and SB 54 (Rodriguez) would have required 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.

Management and Storage of Surface Waters — MONITOR
STATUS: FAILED; HB 371 no hearings; SB 910 died in committee

HB 371 (Killebrew) and SB 910 (Burton) would have exempted 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: FAILED; HB 827 and SB 459 died in committee.

SB 458 (Rodriguez) and HB 827 (Basabe, Lopez, Garcia) would have authorized the Department of Environmental Protection to provide grants to projects focused on water bodies listed as impaired.

Floating Vessel Platforms and Floating Boat Lifts – OPPOSE
STATUS: PASSED; Committee substitute bill for HB 847 passed House and Senate and awaits Gov. DeSantis’ signature; SB 1082 laid on table/refer to HB 847
HB 847 (Stark) prohibits local governments from requiring a permit for vessel platforms not attached to a bulkhead; also allows local governments to establish by ordinance minimum wake boating restricted areas within 500 feet of certain sewage pumpout facilities at a public or private nonresidential marina.

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: FAILED; HB 175 died in committee; committee substitute for SB 192 passed Senate but was not voted on in the House.

HB 175 (Busatta-Cabrera & V. Lopez) and SB 192 (Avila) would have required comprehensive plan and plan amendments regarding certain lands within two miles of the Everglades Protection Area to follow a state-coordinated review process, required 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; and required FDEP to 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: FAILED; Neither HB 843 nor SB 816 had a hearing.

HB 843 (Cross) and SB 816 (Polsky) would have required a prevailing party to show that the challenge to a development order was frivolous before the prevailing party was entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees and costs; prohibited a prevailing party in a challenge to a comprehensive plan from an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs; provided 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: FAILED; Neither HB 1197 nor SB 1240 had a hearing.

HB 1197 (Maggard) and SB 1240 (Burgess) would have prohibited 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.

Land Development Initiative and Referendum Processes — OPPOSE
STATUS: PASSED; Gov. DeSantis signed SB 718 into law June 29.

SB 718 (Yarborough) prohibits 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.

Local Government Comprehensive Plans — OPPOSE
STATUS: PASSED; Committee substitute for SB 540 passed the Senate and House and awaits Gov. DeSantis’ signature amidst veto campaigns from conservation groups; HB 359 laid on table/refer to SB 540.

SB 540 (DiCeglie) requires the losing party in challenges to local government comprehensive plans or plan amendments to pay the prevailing party’s attorney fees and court costs.

Land Use and Development Regulations — OPPOSE
STATUS: PASSED; SB 1604 signed into law by Gov. DeSantis May 5; HB 439 laid on table/refer to SB 1604.

SB 1604 (Ingoglia) extends required planning periods for local governments and prohibits governments that fail to update comprehensive plans from initiating or adopting public plan amendments; also prohibits local government architectural or design review boards created after January 2020 from applying land development regulations relating to building design to single family or two-family dwellings, and includes provisions related to Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District. Earlier provisions redefining “sprawl” and “urban service areas” in both bills were removed in committee substitute bills.

Local Ordinances — OPPOSE
STATUS: PASSED; Gov. DeSantis signed SB 170 into law June 26.

SB 170 (Trumbull) requires local governments to prepare business impact estimates before enacting a proposed ordinance; requires local governments to suspend enforcement of an ordinance that is subject to legal action; and authorizes courts to assess and award attorney fees, costs and damages in some civil actions filed against local governments. Exceptions in the law include ordinances required for compliance with federal or state law or regulation; ordinances relating to the adoption of budgets or budget amendments; and ordinances required to implement a contract or an agreement, among others.

Residential Building Permits — OPPOSE
STATUS: FAILED; Both HB 671 and SB 682 died in committee.

HB 671 (Esposito) and SB 682 (DiCeglie) would have shortened 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: FAILED; No hearings

HB 765 (Roth) would have required a local government to post and update permitting information on its website; revised the time frame during which a local government must request additional information and approve or deny an application; and prohibited 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 withdrawn; SB 336 no hearings

HB 363 (Mooney) and SB 336 (Rodriguez) would have authorized coastal communities to establish pilot programs to regulate single-use plastics and required FDEP to submit updated retail bag reports to the Legislature.

Hunting and Fishing – MONITOR
STATUS: PASSED; HJR 1157 passed by House and Senate, awaits Gov. DeSantis’ signature; SB 1234 laid on table/refer to HJR 1157
HJR 1175 (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: FAILED; No hearings for either HB 559 or SB 928

HB 559 (Roth) and SB 928 (Stewart) would have required at least $350 million annually to be allocated from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to the Florida Forever program; allowed Florida Forever to use bonds to finance land acquisition; increased funding for the Florida Department of Agriculture to acquire agricultural land via perpetual conservation easements and prohibited the use of Florida Forever funding for administrative expenses.

Mangrove Replanting and Restoration — MONITOR
STATUS: FAILED; HB 561 no hearings; SB 100 died in committee

HB 561 (Mooney, Basabe) and SB 100 (Garcia) would have required 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.

Appropriations — OPPOSE
STATUS: Veto campaigns underway to convince Gov. DeSantis to veto line item 146 in the state budget.

SB 2500 contains a line prohibiting local governments from adopting or amending fertilizer application ordinances that propose a key summer blackout period for the next year. Conservation groups are asking DeSantis to veto the proviso following line item 146 regarding a $250,000 grant for UF/IFAS to study seasonal fertilizer restrictions and the associated preemption.

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.