Audubon Florida
The Advocate
With the passage of the budget and implementing bills on Friday, the 2021 Florida Legislative Session has officially closed. We had a packed week as bills pushed across the finish line and went to Governor DeSantis’ desk for signature. Though the session has ended, we are still watching which bills make it through the signature/veto stage.

Thanks so much for your advocacy on behalf of water, wildlife, habitat, and climate this Legislative Session. When we called, you lent your voice to this work and our team. Special thanks to Director of Policy Beth Alvi for her strategic leadership, our policy and science experts for their analysis (Charles Lee, Chris Farrell, Brad Cornell, Doug Gaston, and Dr. Paul Gray), strategy consultant Diana Ferguson for her insight, and communications stalwarts Erika Zambello and Renee Wilson for their endurance this session.

Read on for the summary of the budget and key bills, and stay tuned for our session round-up next week!
American Avocet. Photo: Adam Stunkel/Audubon Photography Awards.
$101 Billion Budget Proposed for Florida, Including $419 Million for Everglades, $400 Million for Florida Forever, $75 Million for Springs, and More
The Florida Legislature’s proposed budget is $101 billion and includes $6.7 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds. In January, Governor Ron DeSantis originally proposed a $96.6 billion budget, while the Senate's first proposal was $95 billion and the House’s proposal was $97 billion. Revenue estimates had exceeded expectations, and Republican leaders decided to also include COVID-19 relief money approved to help states.

Important new additions made to the budget using relief funds include (Back of the Bill):

$500 million for the new Resilient Florida Grant Program Trust Fund.

$500 million for the new Water Protection and Sustainability Program Trust Fund.

$40 million for Alternative Water Supply.

$50 million for the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Plan.

Additional funding for the following programs:

$50 million for beach management (on top of $100 million from state funds).

$300 million for Florida Forever (on top of $100 million from state funds). 

$25 million for springs (on top of $50 million from state funds).
American Avocet. Photo: Adam Stunkel/Audubon Photography Awards.
Total Appropriations for Environmental Priorities (state funding + federal relief funds):
Budget figures.
Glossy Ibis. Photo: John Wolaver.
Agriculture and Water Bills Head to Governor DeSantis
Farm Bill Signed

On Thursday, Governor DeSantis signed SB 88 by Sen. Brodeur (R- Lake Mary). This legislation expands farmers’ protection from nuisance suits. The bill, a top priority of Senate President Wilton Simpson, protects farmers and farming operations from people who move into rural communities and then file complaints. The sweeping legislation restricts certain types of civil lawsuits based on farming activities, requires plaintiffs to prove noncompliance with state or federal requirements, and limits who may file nuisance lawsuits against farmers. In addition, plaintiffs must provide clear and convincing evidence the farming activity does not comply with state and federal environmental laws, regulations, or best management practices. This may make it harder for Floridians to address agricultural pollution of wetlands and waterways.

DEP Rules Legislation Passes House

On Thursday, the House also passed HB 1309, which ratifies two Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rules. 

(1) The Biosolids Rule: Regulates the land application of sewage sludge.
(2) Central Florida Water Initiative Rule: Implements strategies to meet water demands that are in excess of the existing traditional groundwater sources and establishes consistent rules and regulations for the three water management districts to implement the results of the Central Florida Water Initiative. DEP had previously stated that water use would have to change in this rapidly growing region if they didn’t want to run out of water for consumption and the environment. Originally in SB 7062 (Sen. Brodeur, R-Lake Mary), this ratification was added to HB 1309 by the Senate.

Unfortunately, DEP agreed to settle with local governments challenging the rule because they were unwilling to limit their water consumption in the interest of protecting water supply. The much weakened rule cuts protections, conservation measures, and necessary permit changes. The result is far less effective than what is desperately needed in this fast growing region of the state. Click here to learn more.

HB 1309 will soon be on its way to Governor DeSantis who is anticipated to sign it into law.

Glossy Ibis. Photo: John Wolaver.
American Goldfinch. Photo: John Morrison.
Pirate Sand & Fill Mines Slammed by Legislature and Lake County Commission
Two related events this week may close a loophole that allowed land owners to dig sand and fill borrow pits without land use and environmental permit requirements.

In Lake County, within the Wekiva watershed, landowners had been digging sand and fill mines under the disguise of agricultural operations, and selling the material to Department of Transportation (DOT) contractors to use in roadbuilding.

Pleas to DOT by Audubon and local governments to stop the practice initially produced little result. However, this week the Lake County Commission unanimously denied an after-the-fact permit for the Whitewater Farms borrow pit west of the river.

At the same time, Audubon successfully worked with legislative committee staff to add language to SB 1194 that requires all future DOT contractors to provide assurances that any sand or fill material purchased originates from a borrow pit that has obtained all the required environmental permits.  

All DOT contracts, subcontracts, and purchase orders executed by contractors or subcontractors after July 1, 2021 must include specific requirements for compliance. The Legislature passed SB 1194 by Sen. Hooper (R-Palm Harbor).
American Goldfinch. Photo: John Morrison.
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