Audubon Florida
The Advocate
A busy and somewhat unusual Florida Legislative Session has come to a close. Audubon’s policy team pounded the pavement in Tallahassee to push good bills forward, to stop bad bills in their tracks, and to encourage full funding of environmental programs, conservation, and restoration. 

Local government home rule proved to be a theme of this session. As a conservation organization, we care that cities and counties have the power to protect and preserve special places within their borders. In Florida, we have a long history of state laws being the floor of such protections, but cities and counties have the additional ability to be more protective than the state. They can take into account special features or conditions within their communities, as well as issues that may not appear in other counties across our large state. 

Through a series of bills that have passed or await the Governor’s signature, this legislature has worked to preempt local governments, limiting local governments’ abilities to be more protective than the state. 

Read on for our main takeaways from the 2023 Florida Legislative Session. Thank you for staying up-to-date, for writing to your elected officials when your voice made the most difference, and for your continued support of Florida’s birds and the places they need.
Northern Mockingbird standing on a log.
Final Budget
House and Senate leaders voted on the state’s spending plan for fiscal year 2023-2024, totaling $117 billion, the largest in state history.  

This plan exceeds Governor DeSantis’ ask by $1 billion and also exceeds both the House and Senate’s initial proposals.  Highlights include over $1.6 billion for water and Everglades as well as over $1 billion for land acquisition programs. 

See budget highlights in last week’s edition of the Advocate here.
Northern Mockingbird. Photo: Dave Fox/Audubon Photography Awards.
Snowy Plover sits in a nest in the sand, you can only see its head.
Good Bills That Passed
Designation of Brevard Barrier Island Area as an Area of Critical State Concern, HB 1489,  by Representative Altman (R-Indialantic), and SB 1686, by Senator Wright (R-New Smyrna). HB 1489 will be sent to the Governor for signature.

The state has much to celebrate with the passing of this bill in both chambers. The bill provides greater protection to the Brevard Barrier Island Area by designating it as a critical area of state concern. These protections cannot come soon enough as 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. The bill was amended to specify that the designation may be removed if the Department of Economic Opportunity determines that all local land development regulations and local comprehensive plans — and the administration of such regulations and plans — are adequate to protect the Brevard Barrier Island Area.

Flooding and Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Studies, HB 111, by Representative Hunschofsky (R-Parkland) and SB 1170 by Senator Calatayud (R-Miami). HB 111 will be sent to the Governor for signature.

HB 111 and SB 1170 have passed both chambers and are in line to be sent to the Governor for final action. The bill requires a Sea Level Rise Impact Projection (SLIP) study for any publicly funded projects to evaluate the impact of sea level rise on construction. This bill expands the scope of existing legislation and would include not just projects built on the coast but also inland if they can be impacted by sea level rise and are in an at-risk area. 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 bills also expand funding to cover water management districts’ efforts supporting local government adaptation planning. 

Trails, SB 106, by Senator Brodeur (R-Sanford) and HB 915 by Representative Botana (R-Bonita Springs). SB 106 was sent to the Governor for signature.

SB 106 passed both chambers and was approved by the Governor on April 11. These bills expand the Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail Network and enhance coordination of the state’s trail system with the Florida Wildlife Corridor.

The Florida Wildlife Corridor extends from the Keys to the Panhandle and includes nearly 10 million acres of conservation land. The bill increases the annual amount allocated for the SUN Trail Network from $25 million to $50 million and allocates $200 million in nonrecurring funds to the Department of Transportation for the planning, design, and construction of the SUN Trail.

Environmental Protection, HB 1379, by Representative Steele (R-Dade City) and Representative Overdorf (R-Palm City) has passed both chambers and goes next to the Governor for final action. 

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 in the Indian River Lagoon, an estuary that has long been plagued with water quality issues and more recently by tragic manatee losses. The bill includes changes to requirements of comprehensive management plan elements and expands prohibitions on septic tanks in basin management action plans already in effect for Outstanding Florida Springs to all BMAPs. Lastly, the bill expedites the process of acquisition of conservation land. 
Snowy Plover. Photo: Veryl Witmer.
Close up of a Red-shouldered Hawk.
Bills That Died
Bills We Wished Made it Through

Everglades Protection Area, SB 192, by Senator Avila (R-Miami Springs) and HB 175 by Representative Busatta Cabrera (R-Coral Gables). 

The bill stalled in the House and did not make final passage despite a unanimous vote through on the Senate floor. This bill would have required any comprehensive plan or plan amendment changes that apply to land within two miles of the Everglades Protection Area to follow the more rigorous state coordinated review process and would have required the change to be reviewed by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for consistency with Everglades restoration. The bill required DEP to work with the Department of Economic Opportunity to eliminate or mitigate adverse impacts and would have required the local government to modify proposed plans or plan amendments so as not to conflict with Everglades restoration.

Audubon was disappointed with the outcome and thanks the sponsors for their commitment to Everglades restoration.

Bad Bills That Died

Land and Water Management, HB 1197, by Representative Maggard (R-Dade City) and SB 1240 by Senator Burgess (R-Zephyrhills).

These bills would have prevented any local governments from adopting laws, regulations, rules, or policies relating to water quality or quantity, pollution control, pollutant discharge prevention or removal, and wetlands. They would have significantly impaired local governments’ ability to satisfy legal obligations under state and federal law to meet water quality and other requirements. Both bills died in their first committees, in no small part due to Audubon’s vigilant EagleWatch advocates in Pasco County sounding the alarm about a development that would have harmed wetlands and an eagle’s nest. 

HB 1167 by Representative Duggan (R-Jacksonville) and SB 1702 by Senator DiCeglie (R-Indian Rocks Beach).

These bills would have allowed the release of credits to a mitigation bank prior to a demonstration of meeting the mitigation success criteria established in a permit. They also would have authorized the use of mitigation credits outside the immediate basin before the mitigation bank meets success criteria specified in the permit. Both bills died in their first committees.

Loss of wetlands in Florida is reaching a critical point.  Wetlands clean water, recharge our dwindling water supply, and provide habitat for myriads of species. Proper mitigation practices are key to prevent further losses.
Red-shouldered Hawk. Photo: Lorenzo Cassina/Audubon Photography Awards.
Marsh Wren stands on reeds.
Weakened Biosolids Bill Heads to the Governor
HB 1405 passed both chambers and goes next to the Governor for final action. Language we reported on early in the session that would have ended the spreading of biosolids was removed from HB 1405, leaving only a grant program for Class B biosolids conversion that was not funded. We are glad the conversation about biosolids and their impacts on water quality continues; Class B and AA biosolids need additional regulation so that Florida can address our harmful algal bloom problems. 
Marsh Wren. Photo: Nathan Rolls/Audubon Photography Awards.
Least Tern feeds a chick on the beach.
Bill to Reduce Local Community Power Sent to Governor
Local Government Comprehensive Plans, SB 540, by Senator DiCeglie (R-Indian Rocks Beach) and HB 359 by Representative Duggan (R-Jacksonville) passed both chambers and SB 540 was sent to Governor DeSantis this week for final action.

The legislation says that the winning party in a challenge to a local comprehensive plan or plan amendment is entitled to attorney’s fees.

This would have a chilling effect on the ability of community members to challenge poor city and county land-use decisions and fight sprawl in their own communities. The risk of an unsuccessful challenge will prove too great for most citizens and public interest nonprofits, dealing a devastating blow to a community’s ability to hold their local governments accountable for bad development decisions. This will have implications for Florida natural resources ranging from the Everglades to the Apalachicola, the Indian River Lagoon to North Florida’s springs.

Audubon Florida and 31 Audubon chapters in Florida sent a letter to Governor DeSantis asking for a veto of SB 540 to preserve this important avenue for citizens to protect their community’s character and natural resources. 

Note: Earlier in this session, language was added to both bills that would help developers in Miami-Dade County build on land outside the Urban Development Boundary on agricultural acreage important to future Everglades restoration projects. Fortunately, Everglades supporters were successful in advocating for its removal.

Least Tern. Photo: Kathy Cline/Audubon Photography Awards.
American Avocet wades through calm water, with its reflection beneath.
Additional Concern Over Power of Local Communities to Govern Themselves
Local Ordinances, SB 170, by Senator Trumbull (R-Gulf Breeze) and HB 1515 by Representative Brackett (R-Vero Beach) passed both chambers and SB 170 will soon be sent to the Governor for final action. This bill requires local governments to issue a business impact statement prior to the passage of any new ordinance and would allow businesses in Florida to sue local governments to block enforcement of local laws that could hurt their business.

On a positive note, the attorney’s fee provision was narrowed to apply only to ordinances that are considered “arbitrary or unreasonable” and includes several exemptions, including those ordinances required to comply with state and federal law and any ordinances relating to growth management. A last minute amendment clarifies that local governments that publish notice of an ordinance can continue the ordinance to a future meeting without republishing as long as, at the first meeting, the date, time, and place of the subsequent meeting are decided.
American Avocet. Photo: Robert Amoruso/Audubon Photography Awards.
Sandhill Crane in flight over water.
Smart Growth Challenged
Land Use and Development Regulations, SB 1604, by Senator Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill) was signed into law by the Governor on May 5. HB 439 by Representative McClain (R-Ocala) was the House companion.

In its original filed version, the bill had several elements of concern for smart growth advocates, however it was greatly improved as it moved through the process.  This legislation revises local comprehensive planning requirements by increasing the two required planning periods to a 10-year and 20-year period (up from from five and 10).

In addition, the bill:

-  Was a vehicle for language addressing the ongoing dispute between the state and the former Reedy Creek Improvement District. 

- Lays out certain procedures for the Department of Economic Opportunity to use when local governments remain out of compliance with comprehensive planning updates.

-  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.

Very late in the process, the House added language that also revised the electric substation approval process. 
Sandhill Crane. Photo: Virginia Short/Audubon Photography Awards.
Florida Manatee under the water.
Moving Forward
Remember, advocacy doesn't die with Sine Die, the end of the legislative session. Though the end of session is filled with pomp and circumstance and ceremonial hanky drops, the real work starts now.

After legislation becomes a bill, it then goes to the agency that's responsible for implementing the legislature's intent. Agencies develop or modify programs in order to fulfill the legislators’ intent, and they have to undertake rulemaking that involves regular public input and engagement. Stay tuned for ways your voice for Florida’s special places and wildlife can be heard!
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