Audubon Florida
Audubon Advocate | Your Policy Update
With the passage of the state budget, the 2019 Legislative Session came to a close on Saturday. It was a bumpy year, but with your help, we rallied behind good ideas and fought back against ideas that threatened Florida’s birds and the places they need.  This sustained effort was critical right up until the buzzer. As is often the case, harmful amendments to substantive bills started flying on Thursday and Friday last week.  Audubon action alerts raised the alarm on several bad amendments that would be harmful to natural resources and good governance, and gave the environment a voice.  Read on for details of how our priorities fared. The lessons learned from this Session will have direct application in just a few short months, when committees for the 2020 Legislative Session meet in late Fall.  

In addition to our advocates and volunteers, special kudos to Audubon’s legislative team for their hard work this Session, including Beth Alvi, Joshua Romero, Celeste De Palma, Charles Lee and Diana Ferguson. 

P.S. – Be sure to share the Audubon Advocate with your family and friends on social media!
White Ibis
Conservation Winners and Losers in Appropriations
Thanks to the hard work of Audubon staff, advocates, and partners - Everglades, water, springs, coastal resiliency and modest Florida Forever funding remained in the budget when it crossed the finish line. 

Governor DeSantis called for landmark funding for Everglades Restoration and water protection in an executive order on his second day in office. With support from Audubon and advocates like you, and leadership from the Legislature, the final budget included:

Over $360 million for Everglades protection and restoration, including,
  • $32 million for Restoration Strategies
  • $145.5 million for Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan
  • $107.8 million for the Everglades Reservoir (almost $44 million more than required, which will allow the urgently needed reservoir development to be accelerated)
  • $40 million to complete the Tamiami Trail Project, to move water south to the parched national park
  • $5 million for Dispersed Storage 
  • $32.8 million for the Northern Everglades and Estuary Protection Program
In addition, the Legislature appropriated:
$50 million to the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project as well as $10 million for innovative technologies to combat or treat harmful algal blooms and nutrient enrichment in Florida’s waterbodies including Lake Okeechobee. 

$50 million for restoration of Florida’s freshwater springs—this will combine with another $50 million appropriated during the 2018-19 Legislative Session that the Legislature failed to release.  These funds are now available to be used towards much needed springs restoration.  

$25 million for water quality projects that help meet water quality restoration goals (“Total Maximum Daily Loads,” or TMDLs).

$25 million for water quality projects to target sources that contribute to Harmful Algal Blooms.

$40 million for alternative water supply projects to help communities implement conservation and reuse programs.

$5.5 towards coastal resiliency planning in the face of climate change.

Land Conservation
$33 million for Florida Forever, the state’s conservation land buying program.

While we are disappointed at the modest funding appropriated to land conservation this year after $100M in 2018, we must at the same time acknowledge the difference made by your emails and participation. The House originally offered only $20M and your pressure helped the Senate move the House up to $33M. We will continue to work over the coming months to find standard bearers in the Legislature to ensure greater funding next year (Hint: you will have a role in this. Stay tuned!).  
Eastern Meadowlark
Major Roadways Bill Passes House and Senate and Heads to the Governor
Despite widespread opposition from many groups, a bill to create a $1.3 billion multi-use corridor plan won approval by the House on the second-to-last day of session. The bill creates three regional corridors – the Southwest-Central Florida Connector from Collier to Polk County; the Suncoast Connector from Citrus to Jefferson County; and the Northern Turnpike Connector from the north end of the Florida Turnpike to the Suncoast Parkway. 

This top priority of Senate President Galvano was a runaway train all Session. Audubon policy staff worked diligently throughout the process to embed three important features in the road planning process:  Inclusion of an advisory task force; Prioritizing land use and natural resource protections; and Ensuring smart growth planning.  Audubon was successful in working with the bill sponsor Senator Tom Lee (R- Brandon) to incorporate these protective amendments into the final version of the bill. These provisions will give conservation advocates stronger footing in the planning process for these roads, in the event that Governor DeSantis signs the bill. 
Water Quality Bill Gains Traction But Doesn’t make the Finish Line
With the water quality problems the state experienced last year, we all hoped good water quality legislation would pass this year.  Several bills were filed early in session but didn’t make it all the way through.  HB 973 by Rep Payne (R-Palatka) went through many iterations and ended up as a comprehensive water quality bill that included improvements like the transfer of the septic program from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection, regulation and management of the disposal of wastewater sludge, and creation of a grant program for water-quality projects. The bill passed out of its committees but died without passage at the end of Session.  Audubon was supportive of many ideas to improve water quality protection during Session this year and looks forward to working to resurrect many of them for another try in the 2020 session. 
Peregrine Falcon
Tree Bill Passes That Does Not Protect Trees
HB 1159 by Representative LaRosa passed both chambers and goes next to the Governor for final action.  As filed, the bill would have encouraged property owners to trim their trees just before, during and immediately after a storm, and could have had significant negative consequences to public safety and natural resource protection.  However, as passed, the bill was significantly improved but is still problematic.  The bill prohibits a local government from requiring a permit or from requiring mitigation for the pruning, or removal of a tree on residential property if the tree presents a danger to persons or property, as documented by a certified arborist or licensed landscape architect. In addition, the bill doesn’t include any special protections for heritage trees. Not only do native trees provide essential habitat for birds and wildlife in urban areas, but they help sequester carbon and mitigate heat island effects, critically important benefits in this time of a changing climate.
Black Skimmer
Barrier to Citizens’ Ability to Put Amendments on the Ballot Heads to Governor
The House and Senate each filed committee bills this session that would make it more difficult for citizens to petition for changes to the Florida Constitution.  HB 7111 and SB 7096 stalled in the last weeks of session, and Audubon was hopeful they would fail to pass. Unfortunately, the House amended the substance of these bills onto HB 5 in a last-minute maneuver.  These changes are onerous and will make it very difficult for citizens to initiate constitutional amendments. As we’ve mentioned previously, this bill makes it harder to get citizen-led initiatives like 2014’s Water and Land Legacy Amendment (Amendment 1) on the ballot.
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