At the beginning of Florida’s 2024 Legislative session, things looked grim.

One pair of bills (House Bill 527/Senate Bill 664) took direct aim at protections for Florida’s vital wetlands. Another pair (HB 789/SB 738) sought to disenfranchise citizens who lost a challenge to a Florida Department of Environmental Protection or water management district decision. Pro-sprawl bills proliferated like, well, sprawl. And looming over it all was the prospect of a last-minute sneak attack on “strong” urban fertilizer ordinances, further extending a ban on new fertilizer limits at the local level.

But the wetlands bills never got any hearings and died. The “sneak attack” on fertilizer ordinances never came.

Senate Bill 738 passed but House Bill 789, sponsored by Rep. Toby Overdorf, which would have saddled citizens who lost a permit challenge with the “prevailing party” legal fees (and more), got defanged before going down to defeat.

Thanks to many Friends of the Everglades and other allies who contacted lawmakers, that bill had the “prevailing party” language stripped out, along with another provision requiring “holistic reviews” of the coastal permitting process, which would have traded “efficiency” for less oversight. Then a third provision in the bill — which would have prohibited citizens from suing polluters for personal injury or economic damages if the event that caused the injuries was duly permitted or authorized by a government agency — generated pushback, with hundreds of Friends of the Everglades’ supporters contacting legislators to demand the proposal be scuttled.

And that’s what happened: while SB 738 passed the full Senate, HB 789 never got a vote in the House — and died. It’s evidence that our grassroots advocacy can have tangible impact.

There were other victories this year. A pair of bills that would have shrunk the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve failed (HB 957/SB 1210), as did another pair that would have preempted all regulation of single-use containers at the local level (HB 1641/SB 1126). Meanwhile a good bill that makes it illegal to intentionally release balloons passed (HB 321).

But not all news from the state Capitol was encouraging. A bill that would have added a layer of oversight for development proposals near the Everglades Protection Area failed for the third year in a row (HB 723/SB 1364). And several pro-sprawl bills passed, including legislation (HB 267 and SB 812) that seeks to expedite the residential building permit process, ostensibly leading to even faster growth and less oversight.

New FDEP stormwater regulations were ratified (SB 7040); while legislators touted them as “game-changers,” in reality they contain so many exemptions and “presumptions of compliance” that they won’t make anywhere near the difference they might have.

On the budget side, some $700 million was allocated for Everglades restoration projects, but just $100 million — well below historic norms — was set aside for Florida Forever Funding, the state’s award-winning land conservation program.

And one curious project that could have major ramifications for Lake Okeechobee got funded. The South Florida Water Management District was ordered by lawmakers to work with Florida Gulf Coast University on a $2 million study of the “health and ecosystem” of Lake O. The conclusions, which will be reported to Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders before the 2025 session, could make recommendations about lake levels and other strategies that could “benefit” the lake — and the sugar industry which wields so much authority over lake management decisions. This is separate from another $25 million FGCU is receiving to study impaired rivers.

The bottom line this legislative session: We defeated the worst proposals through effective grassroots advocacy and collaboration with allies. But much work remains, as polluting industries continue to lobby for favors from Tallahassee lawmakers.