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Audubon Florida
The Advocate
On Monday of this second-to-last week of the Florida Legislative Session, formal budget talks between the House and Senate began. As the week progressed, conference committees met to work out differences within each of their assigned budget silos. The state constitution requires that lawmakers from both chambers agree on a balanced budget.

Other bills are rapidly approaching the finish line, including legislation that will impact storm recovery, land acquisition, water quality, and more.
Florida Scrub-Jay stands on a bare branch.
Final Budget Negotiations
The Florida Constitution requires the Florida Legislature to develop and pass a balanced state budget annually. Indeed, this is the only bill that legislators are required to pass each year. 

The state budget — formally known as the General Appropriations Act — must be balanced. Near the end of each legislative session, Joint Budget Conference Committees are formed to negotiate over differences between the House and Senate budget bills.  The result of these budget negotiations is filed as the Conference Committee Report. The budget is then delivered to the governor for review and approval.

The House and Senate have been allocated $45.42 billion in general revenue for the budget this year, including $1.56 billion for Agriculture & Natural Resources/ Agriculture & Environment.

Most of the budget negotiations between the House and Senate conference committees concluded on Thursday. The chairs of the House and Senate appropriations committees will work through the remaining discrepancies and the final budget must be published early next week as state law requires a 72-hour "cooling off" period before lawmakers can vote on the budget.

The regular session is expected to adjourn on Friday, May 5, 2023.
Florida Scrub-Jay. Photo: Myrna Erler Bradshow/Audubon Photography Awards.
A Tricolored Heron walks through shallow water.
Brevard Barrier Island Area of Critical State Concern Nears Finish Line
Good news! HB 1489,  Designation of Brevard Barrier Island Area as Area of Critical State Concern, by Rep. Altman (R-Indialantic) and SB 1686, by Sen. Wright (R-New Smyrna), cleared both chambers and may soon be headed to the governor to be signed into law. 

Why This Matters

The bill provides greater protection to the Brevard Barrier Island Area by designating it as a critical area of state concern. These protections cannot come soon enough as this area 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.


A late amendment added to the bill specifies that the designation may be removed if the Department of Economic Opportunity determines that all local land development regulations and local comprehensive plans — and the administration of such regulations and plans — are adequate to protect the Brevard Barrier Island Area. 
Tricolored Heron. Photo: Tara Tanaka/Audubon Photography Awards.
Hurricane debris piled up on a beach, with the ocean in the background.
Natural Disaster Relief Bill May Hamper Land Planning Best Practices
Natural Emergencies, SB 250, by Rep. Martin (R-Ft. Myers), and House companion bill HB 7057, by Rep. Giallombardo (R-Cape Coral), streamlines recovery efforts for local governments and sets out rules for what local governments can and cannot do after a natural disaster.

Why This Bill?

After Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole devastated parts of the state last year, the Senate Select Committee on Resiliency expressed interest in streamlining and expediting hurricane recovery efforts. Many of the provisions in these bills were recommended by State Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie.

What’s in the Bill?

The bill proposes a series of provisions aimed at helping communities recover from future storms, ensuring that people are able to remain on their property as they rebuild, requiring quicker approval of building permits, and establishing temporary housing for disaster relief workers. The bill also sets aside funding for local government emergency loans.

Unfortunately, the bill also says that counties and municipalities within the disaster declaration for Hurricane Ian or Hurricane Nicole cannot adopt more restrictive procedures for proposing amendments to their comprehensive plans or land development regulations. They also cannot make it more difficult to issue a development permit or development order before October 1, 2024.

Our Take

As Floridians build back their communities after devastating storms, it is critical that best practices for land planning are incorporated to reduce the risk of chronic flooding in communities especially in the face of sea level rise.

SB 250 was voted on favorably by the Senate.
Debris after a Florida hurricane.
Brown Pelican in flight.
Saltwater Intrusion Vulnerability Assessments
SB 0734, Saltwater Intrusion Vulnerability Assessments, filed by Sen. Polsky (D-Boca Raton), builds on SB 954 passed in 2021, which authorized local governments to form regional resilience compacts to plan for the resilience needs of communities.

As coastal communities face saltwater intrusion resulting from sea level rise, this bill requires the state’s 35 coastal communities (using grant funds from DEP) to complete saltwater vulnerability assessments by July 1, 2024 and to provide these reports to DEP and the water management districts to complement ongoing community vulnerability assessments. These assessments will allow the state to improve planning for community water supply needs in the face of our changing climate. 

The bill passed with unanimous support in the Senate.  The House companion (HB 1079 by Rep. Cross (D-St. Petersburg)), however, has not received a hearing this session.
Brown Pelican. Photo: Roselyn Pierce.
Pied-billed Grebe on the water.
House and Key Committee Approve Bills That Tackle Wastewater, Land Acquisition, Permitting
The House unanimously approved HB 1379, Environmental Protection, 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, and the Indian River Lagoon. HB 1379 also expedites the process of acquiring conservation land. The bill largely tackles wastewater as a major source of pollution and takes aim at improving wastewater infrastructure to limit nutrient pollution.

HB 1379 contains several provisions requested by DEP to implement provisions of the Governor’s Executive Order 23-06. 

A similar measure, SB 1632, by Sen. Brodeur (R-Sanford) passed the Fiscal Policy Committee this week with the addition of a concerning amendment that requires DEP and the water management districts to review and report on their permitting process (by July 1, 2024) to increase efficiency and remove redundancies within each process — with a focus on permit approval times.

Permitting delays most often come from a lack of sufficient permitting staff to manage the workload. Too often, the only way regulators  can process permits faster without additional staff is to reduce the rigor of their review — at the expense of the natural resources that regulations were designed to protect. At a time when Floridians are increasingly concerned about red tide and harmful algal blooms, coastal erosion and dwindling drinking water supplies, most would agree that threats to our resources require more scrutiny, not less. 

This bill was placed on special order calendar scheduled for next week.
Pied-billed Grebe. Photo: Ira Rappaport/Audubon Photography Awards.
Osprey flys away from an Eastern Kingbird.
Land Acquisition Measure Makes It Through the House
The House also voted unanimously to pass HB 7047, State Land Acquisition, by the Agriculture, Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee.

The bill ensures consistent funding of $100 million annually to the Florida Forever Program, requires DEP to disclose appraisals during negotiations to the sellers, and allows DEP or the Board of Trustees to acquire parcels for the full value as determined by the highest appraisal.

The bill will next be sent to the Senate. The provisions in HB 7047 are also included in HB 1379 and SB 1632.
Osprey and Eastern Kingbirds. Photo: Gordon Ellmers/Audubon Photography Awards.
Green Heron walks on a rope, with water in the background.
Growth Bill Passes
This week, the Senate passed SB 1604, Land Use and Development Regulations, by Sen. Ingoglia (R-Springhill) with a 27-13 vote. 

This bill and its House companion HB 439 by Rep. McClain (R-Ocala) in their original filed versions had several elements of concern for smart growth advocates.

In addition,  SB 1604 was also amended to be a vehicle for language addressing the ongoing dispute between the state and the former Reedy Creek Improvement District. 

Growth management bills such as these limit the ability of cities and counties to protect themselves from sprawl and hamper the ability of local governments to make decisions that are appropriate for them.

SB 1604 is in Messages to the House, while HB 439 is on the calendar for second reading.
Green Heron. Photo: Michael Kullen/Audubon Photography Awards.
Deflated orange balloon on the ground.
Balloon Bill Deflates
SB 1512, by Sen. Pizzo (D-Hollywood) and HB 91 by Rep. Chaney (R-St. Pete Beach), Release of Balloons, will not move forward.

These bills would have expanded a prohibition on the intentional release of balloons inflated with a gas that is lighter than air (i.e. helium) other than those released by governmental organizations or those released for specific or meteorological purposes. 

Birds, turtles, and other wildlife often accidentally ingest these balloons, while birds get entangled in their strings. Unfortunately, neither proposal received a hearing this session and the bills will not move forward.
Balloons can harm birds, turtles, and other wildlife.
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