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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
We have officially passed the halfway mark of the 2023 Legislative Session! This week's activities at the Capitol were abbreviated as members returned home to their districts for Passover and Easter. Before they left, however, committees made progress on development, dredging, and non-motorized trail bills, as well as advancing an important bill to protect the Everglades from sprawl.
House Wren sits on the edge of an orange jar.
New Investment in Long-distance, Non-motorized Trails
SB 106 (Sen. Brodeur (R-Sanford)) and HB 915 (Rep. Botana (R-Bonita Springs)) authorize the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) — using a $200 million appropriation — to establish a program to:

- Recognize local communities located along or in proximity to one or more long-distance, non-motorized recreational trails as "trail towns."

- Authorize the Greenways and Trails Council to prioritize and recommend regionally significant trails for inclusion by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in the Florida Shared Use Non-motorized Trail Network.

- Develop criteria for prioritization of trails connected to the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

- Dedicate $50 million of the motor vehicle registration transaction fees to FDOT for the Shared-Use Non-motorized Trail Network.

- Require the Division of Tourism Marketing to promote the Florida Greenways and Trails System and the Florida Shared-Use Non-motorized Trail Network.

- Assist local communities in the promotion of these trails to maximize their value as economic assets.

SB 106 had its third reading in the House this week. The bill has been enrolled and will be sent to the governor’s desk for signature. 
House Wren. Photo: Nevia Cashwell Virginia/Great Backyard Bird Count.
Cedar Waxwing sitting on a bare branch.
Septic Tank Improvements from the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee
At the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee (Chair, Sen. Rodriguez (R-Miami)) meeting this week, SB 1538, Implementation of the Recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force (Sen. Stewart (D-Orlando)), received its first hearing. 

The bill, as filed, mandated that owners of septic tank systems had to have their system tested at least once every five years to identify any failure within the system. The bill also required DEP to administer this inspection program, with a county-by-county implementation plan phased in over 10 years, prioritizing areas with springs.

Unfortunately, the committee adopted a strike-all amendment that stripped these inspection requirements from the bill, limiting it to monitoring requirements for the effectiveness of Basin Management Action Plan projects greater than $1 million.

The bill passed favorably and is referred to Senate Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government. The House companion, HB 423, was filed by Rep. Cross (D-St. Petersburg) and has not yet been heard in committee.
Cedar Waxwing. Photo: Laura Frazier/Audubon Photography Awards.
Two American White Pelicans flying in a blue sky.
Dredging and Development Bills Move Forward
The Community Affairs Committee (Chair, Sen. Calatayud (R-Miami)) met this week to hear several bills.

Good Dredging Bill Weakened

In order to minimize damage to coral reefs and marine life during dredging projects, SB 1072 (Sen. Rodriguez (R-Miami)) and HB 979 (Rep. Gossett-Seidman (R-Highland Beach)) as originally filed would have required dredging projects for deep-water ports and beach projects to complete a habitat equivalency analysis as a condition of maintenance dredging permits issued by DEP. The bill required that any analysis to determine the adverse impacts of the activity on the natural habitat be conducted by an independent contractor selected by the local government in a manner prescribed by DEP.

Last week, however, the House bill was amended to exempt deepwater ports from this requirement – making this bill less protective. An amendment filed this week by Sen. Rodriguez aligns the bill with its House companion and exempts deepwater port dredging from the bill.

The bill passed Committee this week and is referred to the Community Affairs Committee.

Land Use and Development

Conservation groups have raised concerns about SB 1604 (Sen. Ingoglia (R-Springhill)) and its companion HB 439 (Rep. McClain (R-Ocala)) because in their original filed versions, these bills hampered the ability of local governments to make amendments to or update their comprehensive plans. The bills contained several problematic provisions that would have loosened the reins on urban sprawl and reduced decision making power on the local and community level.

Last month, an amendment to the bill in the House Local Administration, Federal Affairs and Special Districts Subcommittee (Chair, Rep. Persons-Mulicka (R- Ft. Myers)) softened some of the bill's harsh limitations on local governments and removed certain unconstitutional provisions.

This week in the Senate Community Affairs Committee, SB 1604 was further amended. The new version actually returns to the definition of sprawl used before this legislative session. The bill featured significant improvements, and we thank the senate sponsor and chair for these good amendments. Audubon continues to monitor this bill as it heads to the Judiciary Committee.
American White Pelicans. Photo: Dan Dietrich/Audubon Photography Awards.
Great Egret feeding a fuzzy egret chick in a stick nest.
Everglades Protection Bill Progressing with Audubon Support
SB 192, Everglades Protection Area, by Sen. Avila (R-Miami Springs), passed its second committee of reference in the Senate and heads next week to the Senate floor.

This bill 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, which will protect these important Everglades resources from sprawl.
Great Egrets. Photo: Joseph Mahoney/Audubon Photography Awards.
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