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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
The Florida House and Senate released their budget proposals this week, promising billions for land and water conservation. Now the work begins to ensure these proposals are realized and funds are spent where they can do the most good for Florida’s special places and native species. Bills focused on biosolids, water quality, Everglades health, and more passed their respective committees. In South Florida, another Everglades groundbreaking shows that restoration momentum is flowing into the River of Grass.

Below image: Snowy Egret. Photo: Beth Schultz/Audubon Photography Awards.
Snowy Egret with its bill open.
Florida House and Senate Announce Proposed Budgets
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and the Senate Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government proposed their respective budgets this week. While we see substantial funding for the environment in these proposals, we know this is just one step in negotiating the final budget.

The Senate’s environmental budget totaled $9.7 billion. Funding for the Everglades and the Indian River Lagoon were a big focus in the budget (more details in table below), with more than $1 billion allocated towards water and Everglades restoration. To assist the Department of Environmental Protection’s permitting programs carry out essential functions, 33 new full-time positions have been proposed. Despite a shortfall of $700 million in Land Acquisition Trust Funds due to a slowing down of document stamp revenue, a General Revenue allocation helped bridge the gap.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee shared highlights of their FY 2023-2024 proposed budget as well. The proposed budget is $6.8 billion, including $1.6 billion for water resources and Everglades restoration (see below).

While the Governor makes budget recommendations, the House and Senate ultimately consider those recommendations and then propose their own allocations, negotiating disagreements in committees until reaching consensus with final passage.  

Budget Highlights:
table with House and Senate budget proposals
Yellow-throated Warbler sitting on a branch, with a green background.
A Busy Week in the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources
Everglades Protection Legislation Clears Next Hurdle

Everglades Protection Area, SB 0192, by Sen. Avila (R- Miami Springs) will require comprehensive plans and amendments covering land within two miles of the Everglades Protection Area to follow the more rigorous State Coordinated Review Process instead of the Expedited State Review Process. It passed its second committee of reference, the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (Chair, Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral)) on Tuesday.  The bills has now been referred to Rules.  The House companion, HB 175, was filed by Rep. Busatta Cabrera (R-Coral Gables).
Yellow-throated Warbler. Photo: Mark Eden/Great Backyard Bird Count.
Sandhill Crane flys in the sky.
Florida Forever Program Acquisition Changes

SB 1476, State Acquisition of Lands, by Sen. Corey Simon (R-Tallahassee) will require the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to disclose otherwise confidential appraisal reports to private landowners or their representatives during acquisition negotiations.

In addition, the bill requires that the contract state that the final purchase price must be the fair market value as determined by the highest appraisal. While the policy of the last administration to offer only 90% of appraised value for acquisitions was harmful to the state’s ability to broker deals, the current administration has ended that unfair practice. At the same time, it is important for the state to have the ability to negotiate a fair price for taxpayers. We will continue to work with sponsors to ensure landowners are treated fairly and the state has the ability to negotiate competitively.

The bill passed favorably through this committee and is referred to the Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government. The House companion, HB 1271, was filed by Rep. Canady (R-Lakeland).

Tackling Water Pollution

SB 1632, Environmental Protection, by Sen. Brodeur (R-Sanford) and HB 1379 by Rep. Steele (R-Dade City) are comprehensive bills that aim to improve requirements for several issues including wastewater, septic tanks, sanitary sewer services, basin management action plans, the wastewater grant program, Indian River Lagoon, and the acquisition of state land. The bill largely tackles wastewater as a major source of pollution, and takes aim at improving wastewater infrastructure to limit nutrient pollution.

These bills contain several provisions requested by DEP and implement provisions of the Governor’s Executive Order 23-06. SB 1632 was well received in committee and passed with unanimous approval.
Sandhill Crane. Photo: Diana Douglass/Audubon Photography Awards.
American Coot stands next to water.
Biosolids Bill Moves Forward, But Needs More Improvements
The House Water Quality, Supply and Treatment Subcommittee (Chair, Rep. Cyndi Stevenson (R-St. Johns)) heard presentations and bills related to water quality on Wednesday.

Biosolids Bill

Rep. Tuck (R-Lake Placid) presented HB 1405, Biosolids. The bill prohibits DEP from authorizing land application site permits for Class B biosolids (sewage sludge) within the watershed or upstream of impaired waterbodies unless the applicant can demonstrate that the nutrients in the biosolids will not increase nutrient loadings in the impaired watershed. The bill also authorizes DEP to provide grants within the wastewater grant program for projects that convert wastewater residuals to biosolids.

The bill was voted favorably through the committee.

Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of this change could be to drive the conversion of more Class B biosolids to Class AA — the latter of which has just as many algae bloom-fueling nutrients, without any restrictions on or tracking of where they are used. Audubon Florida is advocating for improvements to the bill that would not just incentivize conversion to Class AA, but would incentivize conversion for other uses, like Waste-to-Energy solutions, as well as creating a tracking program to ensure we know where these materials end up.

SB 0880 by Sen. Brodeur is the Senate companion.
American Coot. Photo: Hui Sim/Great Backyard Bird Count.
Brown Pelican floats on the surface of the water.
Sea Level Rise in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, Chaired by Rep. Thad Altman (R-Indialantic), unanimously passed Flooding and Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Studies, HB 0111, filed by Rep. Hunschofsky (R-Parkland).

The legislation requires a Sea Level Rise Impact Projection (SLIP) study for any publicly funded projects to evaluate the impact of sea level rise on construction, built on the coast but also inland if the projects can be impacted by sea level rise and are in an at-risk area.

The Senate companion was filed as SB 1170 by Sen. Calatayud (R-Miami).
Brown Pelican. Photo: Donald Quintana/Audubon Photography Awards.
A group of people standing in a semicircle with shovels in hand.
Everglades Restoration Groundbreaking
This week, the South Florida Water Management District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Miami-Dade County, and many federal, state and local officials broke ground on the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Project - Cutler Wetlands Component. This project will improve the health of Biscayne Bay and will aid in wetland rehydration - building coastal resiliency and improving water quality in this area of Miami-Dade County. The Cutler Wetlands Component is the final part of the five-part Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands Project.

Kelly Cox, Audubon Florida's Director of Everglades Policy and co-chair of the Everglades Coalition, gave remarks during the program.

“For years, our advocates, our agencies, our elected officials, and our scientists have called for change, and that's exactly what this project aims to do,” Cox said. “It aims to provide needed change for Biscayne Bay, and this effort is not just important for birds and wildlife, but for those of us who live and work here.”
Photo: SFWMD
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