Audubon Florida
The Advocate
A busy week for the Florida Legislature! With the last few meetings of many committees now in sight, the crush has begun to get bills through their committees of reference — or else they die before reaching the House or Senate vote. For example, this week the Infrastructure Strategies Committee (Chair, Rep. Bobby Payne (R-Palatka)) had a packed schedule with over twenty-two bills on the agenda.  We feature a few significant bills of interest in this week’s Advocate, in addition to updates on the biosolids bill, urban sprawl, and more.From all of us here at Audubon Florida, Happy Earth Day!
A sandy coastline of Apalachicola Bay.
Bill to Support Apalachicola Bay
Apalachicola Bay is one of the most productive estuaries in the state, and an economic and ecologically important contributor to the Gulf of Mexico. The bay once provided 90% of Florida’s oyster harvest, but those numbers have declined as the estuary has been starved of freshwater by Georgia and Alabama to the north, as well as impacted by pollution from stormwater and wastewater.

HB 0407

HB 0407, Apalachicola Bay Area of Critical State Concern, sponsored by Rep. Jason Shoaf (R-Port St. Joe), passed its last committee of reference this week. 

The bill sets aside $5 million over four years for this region and would require the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), to enter into “financial assistance agreements” with the City of Apalachicola to implement projects that improve surface water and groundwater quality within the Apalachicola Bay Area of Critical State Concern, a designation that is intended to protect resources and public facilities of major statewide significance, within designated geographic areas, from uncontrolled development that would cause substantial deterioration of such resources. The types of projects would include the construction of stormwater management facilities, central sewer infrastructure, as well as water reuse projects.

The Senate companion, SB 702, is sponsored by Sen. Corey Simon (R-Tallahassee) and is on the agenda for the next Fiscal Policy Committee next week.
Apalachicola Bay.
Wilson's Plover standing on a beach.
HB 1379 Addresses Water Quality, Land Acquisition
HB 1379, Environmental Protection, by Rep. Steele (R-Dade City) and Rep. Overdorf (R-Palm City) has passed its last committee of reference. This comprehensive bill contains several provisions requested by DEP and implements provisions of the Governor’s Executive Order 23-06.

The bill aims to improve requirements for several issues including wastewater, septic tanks, sanitary sewer services, and basin management action plans. HB 1379 expands the scope of the wastewater grant program and includes provisions targeting water quality improvements for the Indian River Lagoon, an estuary that has long been plagued with water quality issues and more recently by tragic manatee losses. Lastly, the bill expedites the process of acquisition of conservation land.

An amendment to the bill expands the land acquisition components by adding all of the provisions of the committee bill HB 7047, State Lands Acquisition, to HB 1379.  It 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.

Its Senate companion, SB 1632, sponsored by Sen. Brodeur (R-Sanford), was voted on favorably in the Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government, of which Sen. Brodeur is the Chair.
Wilson's Plover. Photo: Alex Busato/Audubon Photography Awards.
Brown-headed Nuthatch stands on a dark-hued tree trunk.
Protections in Biosolids Bill Stripped from the Legislation
A condensed HB 1405, Biosolids, by Rep. Tuck (R-Lake Placid), passed the Infrastructure Committee this week.

The policy language that would have prohibited DEP from authorizing land application site permits for Class B biosolids (sewage sludge) within the watershed or upstream of impaired waterbodies was stripped from the bill.  Retained in this bill was a grant program (subject to appropriation) that authorizes DEP to provide grants for projects that convert wastewater residuals to fertilizer and other uses.

Improvements to the grant program section would not just incentivize conversion to Class AA, but would also incentivize conversion to other uses, like Waste-to-Energy solutions, and includes a reporting program to ensure we know where these materials end up. SB 0880, by Sen. Brodeur, has been referenced to Appropriations.
Brown-headed Nuthatch. Photo: Michael Warren/Audubon Photography Awards.
Reddish Egret with its wings outstretched, standing in the water.
Designation of Brevard Barrier Area of Critical State Concern
An amended HB 1489, Designation of Brevard Barrier Island Area as Area of Critical State Concern, by Rep. Thad Altman (R-Indialantic)was passed favorably by the Infrastructure Strategies Committee. The amendment preserves current zoning and land use within this area by preventing redevelopment that would change the nature of this well-planned community.

HB 1489 designates a new area of critical state concern in Brevard County, encompassing the southern boundary of Melbourne Beach to the southern boundary of Sebastian Inlet Park. 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.

SB 1686, by Sen. Tom Wright (R-New Smyrna), is on the agenda in the Rules Committee next week.
Reddish Egret. Photo: Jean Hall/Audubon Photography Awards.
Red-eyed Vireo standing on a branch, with green in the background.
HB 111 Tackles Flooding from Climate Change
HB 111, Flooding and Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Studies by Rep. Hunschofsky (R-Parkland), passed the House with unanimous approval. 

Why This Matters

As climate change drives extreme storm and rainfall events as well as rising sea levels, stormwater infrastructure is frequently overwhelmed. Improving existing stormwater infrastructure and incorporating green infrastructure into development design will reduce flooding and protect both wildlife habitat and communities.

HB 111

This bill directs the Resilient Florida Grant Program at DEP to provide money for local governments to conduct feasibility studies and cover permitting costs for nature-based solutions to flooding and sea-level rise. The bill also expands funding to cover water management districts’ efforts supporting local government adaptation planning.  

SB 1170, sponsored by Sen. Calatayud (R-Miami), was voted on favorably by the Fiscal Policy Committee (Chair, Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast)) on Thursday.
Red-eyed Vireo. Photo: Randy Richard/Audubon Photography Awards.
Tufted Titmouse standing on a branch.
Land Acquisition Remains a Legislative Focus
This session has seen a host of bills relating to land acquisition programs. The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, the Florida Wildlife Corridor, and the Florida Forever Program have put the spotlight on the many avenues the state has to protect land and put it into conservation. 

SB 1476, State Acquisition of Lands, by Sen. Simon (R- Tallahassee), and its companion HB 1271, by Rep. Canady (R-Lakeland), would amend the state’s land acquisition process to require DEP to disclose appraisal reports to private landowners or their representatives during acquisition negotiations. The bills would require private landowners or their representatives to maintain confidentiality of appraisal reports, and would allow the final purchase price be the fair market value as determined by the highest approved appraisal. 

However, unlike HB 7047 and the provisions in SB 1379, this bill does not allocate specific funding to the Florida Forever Program. 

HB 1476 passed the Senate Appropriations Committee onAgriculture, Environment, and General Government (Chair, Sen. Brodeur (R-Sanford)), and has been referred to the Committee on Fiscal Policy.

We Need Land Acquisition Done Right

Since 2001, more than 800,000 acres have been protected through the Florida Forever Program, which enjoys broad public support statewide. Investment in land conservation is the best way to protect and restore our springs and rivers, coasts, and the Everglades.
Tufted Titmouse. Photo: Enola Wagner/Great Backyard Bird Count.
Snail Kite in flight.
Sprawl Bill Advances Despite Environmental Concerns
HB 0439, Land Use and Development Regulations, by Rep. McClain (R-Ocala), and its Senate companion, SB 1604, by Sen. Ingoglia (R-Springhill), have been racing towards passage, with substantial amendments as they’ve gone through their committees of reference. The original versions of the bills had several elements of concern for smart growth advocates:

- Relaxing the definitions of density and urban sprawl.

- Expanding what would qualify for growth management exemptions as agricultural enclaves.

- Eliminating cities’ and counties’ ability to deny a development application because of insufficient infrastructure like roads, schools, or wastewater facilities.

- Limiting the ability of local governments to be heard in court if applicants appeal their permit denials.

SB 1604 was amended in its last two committees to address that vast majority of the concerns. This bill is now on the Senate calendar on second reading.  As amended, SB 1604 revises local comprehensive planning requirements by increasing the two required planning periods to a 10-year and 20-year period, from five and ten, and prohibiting local governments that fail to update their comprehensive plans in accordance with the 7-year evaluation and appraisal process from initiating or adopting any publicly initiated plan amendments.

Additionally, the bill prescribes certain procedures for the Department of Economic Opportunity to apply when local governments remain out of compliance with comprehensive planning updates. The bill also prohibits local governments from requiring specified building design elements for residential dwellings in planned unit developments, master planned communities, and communities with a design review board or architectural review board created on or after January 1, 2020. 

This week, HB 0439 was also amended to:

- Allows developers of an affordable housing project to expand the project onto an adjacent parcel, regardless of its existing land use category. There are implications to consider if the adjacent property is conservation land.
- Revise the electric substation approval process.

These bills have also become the vehicle for language addressing the ongoing dispute between the state and the former Reedy Creek Improvement District with the addition of the following provision: The bill says an independent special district cannot comply with the terms of a development agreement executed within three months of a law modifying the way that the governing body of the special district selects its members, and requires the new governing body to vote on whether to seek re-adoption of such development agreement within four months of taking office. These provisions expire on July 1, 2028, unless reviewed and reenacted by the Legislature.

The bill takes effect on July 1, 2023, except for the provisions concerning independent special districts, which take effect upon becoming law. 

HB 439 was passed by the State Affairs Committee (Chair, Rep. Lawrence McClure (R-Dover)) this week while SB 1604 was passed by the Rules Committee (Chair, Sen. Mayfield (R-Vero Beach)).
Snail Kite. Photo: Bob Branham/Audubon Photography Awards.
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