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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
We saw bills move forward this week to protect the Everglades, improve water quality, and alter rules for biosolids (also known as sewage sludge). A last-minute amendment could jeopardize Everglades restoration.

Note: Last week our budget table contained an error for the House proposal for the Rural and Family Lands Program. They are proposing $50 million to fund this program. The correct version is available here.
Snail Kite holds a turtle in its talons, stands on a post.
Last-Minute Amendment Jeopardizes Everglades Restoration
SB 540 by Sen. DiCeglie (R-Indian Rocks Beach) and HB 359 by Rep. Duggan (R-Jacksonville), Local Government Comprehensive Plans, provide that the winning party in a challenge to a local comprehensive plan or plan amendment is entitled to attorney’s fees.  SB 540 passed the Judiciary Committee (Chair, Sen. Yarborough, (R-Jacksonville)) this week.

This amendment would help developers in Miami-Dade County build on land outside the urban development boundary on agricultural acreage important to future Everglades restoration projects to store and clean canal water currently polluting Biscayne Bay. Environmentalists recently scored a win with the Department of Economic Opportunity's ruling that the applicants had missed an important deadline – sending the project back to start its review process again.

DiCeglie's amendment retroactively changes the timeline the developers failed to meet, to automatically approve this controversial and harmful development.

SB 540 is now referred to Rules.  The House companion has made it through all three of its referenced committees.
Snail Kite. Photo: John Ruggeri/Audubon Photography Awards.
A sea turtle swimming in the ocean.
Designation of Brevard Barrier Island Area as an Area of Critical State Concern
The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (Chair, Sen. Rodriguez (R-Doral)) met on Monday. The committee heard several bills, including SB 1686 – Designation of Brevard Barrier Island Area as an Area of Critical State Concern –  sponsored by Sen. Wright (R-New Smyrna).

SB 1686

This bill would designate a new area of critical state concern in Brevard County, much like the Florida Keys, Apalachicola Bay, Big Cypress, and Green Swamp. The Brevard Barrier Island Area runs from the southern boundary of Melbourne Beach to the southern boundary of Sebastian Inlet Park. It is threatened by rapid development endangering the fragile Indian River Lagoon and the world’s largest loggerhead turtle nesting site at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.

The bill passed with unanimous approval and is now referred to the Rules Committee.  HB 1489, the House companion, is sponsored by Rep. Altman (R-Indialantic) and has been referred to its last committee stop, the Infrastructure and Strategies Committee.
Loggerhead sea turtles would benefit from the enhanced protections of Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.
Belted Kingfisher sitting on a branch with food in its bill. Green background.
Reducing Pollution, Improving Water Quality
The House Water Quality, Supply & Treatment Subcommittee (Chair Rep. Stevenson (R-St. Johns)) held its last meeting for the 2023 legislative session on Wednesday.

Among the bills heard was HB 1379, Pollutant Load Reduction, by Rep. Steele (R-Dade City) and Rep. Overdorf (R-Palm City).

This comprehensive bill aims to improve requirements for several issues including wastewater, septic tanks, sanitary sewer services, basin management action plans, the wastewater grant program, the Indian River Lagoon, and expediting the process of acquisition of conservation 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.  The bill passed with unanimous approval. 
Belted Kingfisher. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon.
A Wood Duck chick rides on its mothers back as the mother duck swims across a calm surface.
Biosolids Bill Still Needs More Improvements
At the meeting of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee (Chair Rep. Altman (R-Indialantic)), HB 1405, Biosolids, by Rep. Tuck (R-Lake Placid), passed favorably and is now referred to its last committee stop, the Infrastructure and Strategies Committee.

The Northern Everglades watersheds have long had a prohibition on land application of Class B biosolids. This bill would extend those same protections to the rest of the state’s watersheds that are impaired by nitrogen and phosphorus. That is a positive improvement.

However, Audubon testified that to work towards finding a more permanent solution to the growing problem of biosolids, the legislation needs provisions to allow grant funds for projects that would convert biosolids into non-fertilizer products such as energy, ash, etc. Additionally, we advocated for adding reporting requirements that will allow state agencies to track where these biosolids are being transported, where they are being used, and on which commodities they are being used. 

SB 0880 by Sen. Brodeur (R-Sanford)  is the Senate companion.
Wood Ducks. Photo: Peter Brannon/Audubon Photography Awards.
Glossy Ibis walks through shallow water.
Everglades, Conservation, and Rules in the House Agriculture, Conservation and Resiliency Subcommittee
Everglades Protection Area Bill Continues to Move

At the House Agriculture, Conservation and Resiliency Subcommittee (Chair, Rep. Buchanan (R-Osprey)), HB 0175, Everglades Protection Area, by Rep. Busatta Cabrera (R-Coral Gables), passed its first committee stop. The bill requires 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, to protect these important Everglades resources from sprawl.

SB 192, the Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Avila (R-Miami Springs) has passed its last committee of reference this week.

State Lands Acquisitions

PCB ACR 23-01, State Lands Acquisitions, also made it through the subcommittee. The bill attempts to speed up the state’s process for the acquisition of conservation lands and ensure consistent funding for this program. The bill would direct $100 million per year to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for Florida Forever. The bill prioritizes acquiring land at risk of development or within the footprint of the proposed 18 million-acre Florida Wildlife Corridor. This bill does not currently have a Senate companion.

Amendment to the Administrative Procedures Act

Administrative Procedures, HB 713, by Rep. McFarland (R-Sarasota), and SB 742 by Sen. Grall (R-Vero Beach), amends the Administrative Procedures Act. This Act directs agencies on how to undertake rulemaking; an authority delegated to them by the legislature.

The bill aims to reduce unnecessary or outdated rules and requires a fiscal burden analysis to be completed for every new administrative rule. It requires each agency to review and promulgate each rule every ten years. This last provision puts undue burden on state agencies that already complete an annual review of statutes and rules that are no longer necessary or appropriate.

A helpful amendment filed by Rep. Cross (D-St. Petersburg) was voted favorably on Monday. The amendment excludes areas within the coastal high hazard zones from being eligible for expedited permitting. This is to ensure that during redevelopment, we do not impact critical natural systems or put people in harm’s way. The bill adds guardrails to ensure human safety requiring adequate time for a comprehensive review of the permit application.

The bill passed favorably through this committee and is now referred to State Affairs, its last committee stop.
Glossy Ibis. Photo: Jodi Taylor/Audubon Photography Awards.
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