| SB 2508 Could Drastically Change Florida's Conservation Programs|
|A Senate Appropriations Committee bill, SB 2508 - Environmental Resources, will soon be on its way to Governor DeSantis for his signature despite minimal opportunities for public review. |
Late last evening, the Joint Appropriations Conference Committee released a revised version of SB 2508. This budget-related bill has the potential to significantly slow down Everglades restoration and will change the face of the successful Rural and Family Lands Program by circumventing transparency procedures the public needs to have confidence in Florida's land-buying programs.
Thanks to the advocacy of hundreds of Audubon members and tireless work by Audubon staff, the bill has undergone multiple revisions to mitigate several harmful provisions, but concerning provisions remain. For example, language that would have hamstrung the South Florida Water Management District’s ability to utilize funds for Everglades restoration projects was removed from the bill due to push back from House leadership.
The revised bill also doubles back on plans to codify the water shortage management rule in Florida statutes – a provision that would have prioritized agricultural water needs above Everglades restoration. A positive change, this revision would instead allow the South Florida Water Management District more flexibility in modifying and updating those rules.
Unfortunately, the bill would still upend the Rural and Family Lands Program, setting it up as a competitor to the Florida Forever program without transparency or accountability.
Currently, the state protects land using three tools: (1) Florida Forever uses a rigorous, science-based, and transparent process to buy or place easements over ecologically important areas; (2) Florida Communities Trust buys parks that are the cornerstone of many communities; and (3) Rural and Family Lands Protection Program (RFLPP) easements protect agricultural buffers from development. SB 2508 would leave land purchase and pricing decisions under the Rural and Family Lands Program to the sole discretion of the Department of Agriculture without science-based guidance or technical oversight by the state’s Acquisition and Restoration Council. The bill would also redirect essential funding needed to preserve Florida's habitat, water quality, and resilience from Florida Forever and Florida Communities Trust. Instead, the bill would radically expand a program without the transparency and accountability taxpayers need to have confidence that properties are acquired based on their merits.
While some of the Conference Committee changes to the bill are laudable, the bill will cause irreparable harm to one of Florida's most critical conservation tools.
There is no word yet on how the Governor will address this bill when it reaches his desk.