Audubon Florida
The Advocate
Week Seven of the 2021 Legislative Session saw progress on bills ranging from property taxes to utilities to the preservation of the Wekiva River. M-CORES repealer language progressed in the House. With this Session nearing its close, committees are finishing up their work — with the result that some bills won’t be heard this year. With only a few weeks left in Florida’s legislative session, we look forward to championing more bills to enhance Florida’s resilience and protect the environment for birds and people.
Brown Pelican. Photo: John Wolaver.
Resiliency and Taxation Relief for Homeowners
SB 1182, "Limitation on the Assessment of Real Property/Residential Purposes" by Senator Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), seeks to put forth a Florida Constitutional amendment that would prohibit ad valorem tax, or "property tax," from including the additional value to a property from enhancements that improve the property’s resistance to flood damage. This would reduce increases in taxation in areas affected by flooding where homeowners are attempting to prevent property damage to their own homes through improvements such as elevation, hardening, etc. The bill is now headed to its final stop in the Appropriations Committee. Its companion, HB 1377 filed by Rep. Chaney (R-St. Petersburg,) has passed all its committees of reference and is on the Special Order calendar next week. 

SB 1186, "Property Assessments for Elevated Properties," by Senator Brandes (R-St. Petersburg,) is similar to SB 1182 in that it requires an amendment to the Florida Constitution to prohibit increases in property value assessments for properties that voluntarily elevate in accordance with the National Flood Insurance Program and Florida Building Code. This would reduce potential increases to ad valorem, or "property tax," in areas impacted by persistent flooding which will grow as impacts from climate change worsen across the state. The State Revenue Estimating Conference estimates this will have a negative fiscal impact statewide of roughly $25 million annually after its first year. The bill is now headed to its final stop in the Appropriations Committee. Its companion, HB 1139, filed by Rep. Chaney (R-St. Petersburg) is on Special Order Calendar next week.

These bills represent efforts to alleviate tax burdens on property owners who seek to take personal responsibility in protecting themselves and their property from the impacts of climate change. In concert with SB 1954/HB 7019, "Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience," and their counterpart trust fund bills, these tax relief bills will help property owners prepare for and defend against floods and climate impacts.
Brown Pelican. Photo: John Wolaver.
Great Egret. Photo: Jean Hall/Audubon Photography Awards.
Little Wekiva River and Florida Wildlife Corridor
Senate Bill 976, filed by Sen. Brodeur (R- Lake Mary), calls for a study to investigate siltation damage of the Little Wekiva River. Sediment has filled the stretch of the river north of State Road 434, choking the riverbed with invasive plant growth and exacerbating flooding in the area. SB 976 requires the Department of Environmental Protection, in consultation with the St. Johns River Water Management District, Seminole County, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Department of Transportation (DOT), to conduct a study to identify the sources of the sedimentation. Fingers point to DOT’s $2.3 billion, multi-year project to repair Interstate 4 through Orlando. The Little Wekiva River is a stream in the Greater Orlando area, flowing northward and is a tributary of the Wekiva River, which later joins the St. Johns River, the longest river in the state of Florida. The Wekiva River and the Little Wekiva River have been designated National Wild and Scenic Rivers.

A Delete All amendment to the bill was filed this week with an important addition. The bill recognizes the Florida wildlife corridor as an existing physical and geographically defined area consisting of more than 18 million acres of land and creates incentives for conservation and sustainable development within this corridor.  The bill acknowledges the importance of ecological connectivity, wildlife corridors, and the protection of functionally connected networks of conservation lands.  

SB 976 is on the agenda for Senate Appropriations next week, its last committee of reference. HB 727, Wildlife Corridors, filed by Rep. Truenow (R-Tavares) is on Special Order Calendar next week.
Great Egret. Photo: Jean Hall/Audubon Photography Awards.
Roseate Spoonbill. Photo: Bill Dix/Audubon Photography Awards.
Fourteen Jurisdictions in Southwest Florida Join the Regional Resiliency Compact
We are excited to announce that all fourteen coastal jurisdictions in Southwest Florida have voted to join the Southwest Florida Resiliency Compact. With Collier County now joining the others as of April 12, the entire southwest Florida coast is taking this important step to augment the region’s ability to protect its natural resources and bolster its resilience in our changing climate.

“This area’s natural resources, economy, and communities will benefit from this united front against sea level rise and climate change,” said Julie Wraithmell, Executive Director for Audubon Florida.

The list of participating jurisdictions includes Collier County, Lee County, Charlotte County, City of Punta Gorda, City of Sanibel, City of Fort Myers, City of Cape Coral, Town of Fort Myers Beach, Village of Estero, City of Bonita Springs, Captiva Erosion Prevention District, City of Naples, City of Everglades, and City of Marco Island.

Cities and counties that join commit to collaboratively identifying and addressing the effects of climate change, such as sea level rise, intensifying hurricanes, and erosion. Members will share scientific data and planning tools, develop a unified action plan, and support one another as they prepare for, adapt to, and mitigate climate change impacts.

Regions that are organized into Compacts are better poised to demonstrate their readiness and capacity for state-coordinated efforts, including funding. Governor DeSantis’ proposed resilience budget tackles the challenges of sea level rise, intensified storm events, and localized flooding by establishing the Resilient Florida program which will provide $1 billion over four years to provide grants to state and local government entities.

Regional collaboratives are instrumental in both accelerating the state’s resilience work and serving as a conduit for future funds and programs.
Roseate Spoonbill. Photo: Bill Dix/Audubon Photography Awards.
American Widgeon. Photo: Walker Golder/Audubon Photography Awards
Property Tax Breaks May Diminish Funding Available for Conservation Purposes
SB 1584, "Taxation of Real Property Platform Transactions" by Senator Gruters (R-Sarasota), would reduce document stamp tax rates on homes bought and then sold within 75 calendar days for 110% or less of the original purchase value. The new rate would be based on the difference between the original purchase price and the price the new owner is paying. This may have minor impacts to trust funds that are supported through the document stamp tax, such as the Land Acquisition Trust Fund and (if the Governor signs SB 2514) the new Resiliency Trust Fund. SB 1584 is now headed to its final stop in the Appropriations Committee.
American Widgeon. Photo: Walker Golder/Audubon Photography Awards
Bald Eagle. Photo: Howard Arndt/Audubon Photography Awards
Reducing Transparency in Government Oversight of Utilities
SB 7066, "Public Records and Public Meetings/Public Service Commission,'' by the Regulated Industries Committee, passed unanimously in Rules this morning. The bill is on the Special Order Calendar next week.

HB 1311 filed by Rep. Payne (R-Palatka) has passed all three committees of reference.  The bill would allow the Public Service Commission, the agency that oversees most utilities in the state, to conduct closed-door meetings when topics of confidential or sensitive information are presented. This bill would allow intervening parties in hearings to petition for closure of the meeting to discuss sensitive and critical information, while still being recorded by a court recorder. Transcripts will be redacted of classified information and then available to the public. Utilities are concerned that they are unable to "compete" in the market if their confidential business information is discussed in a hearing. However, closing meetings hampers transparency, rendering these discussions exempt from public input. 
Bald Eagle. Photo: Howard Arndt/Audubon Photography Awards
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