Audubon Florida
The Advocate
In this last legislative committee week of 2023, the slate of environmental bills for Session 2024 is taking shape. We've provided details below for several that may be cause for concern. This week committees also discussed the Governor's proposed budget released last week. We're also celebrating a wetlands policy win in Orange County and a conservation win in Miami-Dade. Read on for details!
Close up of female Northern Cardinal.
Audubon Dials in on Troubling Bills Ahead of 2024 Session
We are tracking and analyzing a number of bills filed early in the session that could negatively impact the protection of wetlands, the role of local government in environmental permitting, the ability of citizens and environmental groups to challenge inappropriate permitting decisions, and the permissible design of stormwater systems.

SB 738/HB 789, filed by Sen. Burgess (R-Zephyrhills) and Rep. Overdorf (R-Palm City), charge attorney fees to losing parties in challenges to permit decisions, place further criteria on retention pond design, and require a very expansive review of all coastal environmental permitting to come back to the legislature.

SB 406 by Sen. Anna Maria Rodriguez (R-Doral) contains specific restrictions on retention area designs. Sen. Burgess’ bill SB 664 requires that local governments establishing buffer zones associated with wetlands and water bodies pay landowners to acquire the buffer areas. HB 527 by Rep. Maggard (R-Dade City) has a similar result. Both of these bills also preempt local governments from having local programs regulating dredging and filling, tying the hands of local communities who want to be more protective of wetlands than the minimum state standards.

HB 267 by Rep. Esposito (R-Fort Myers), SB 684 by Sen. DiCeglie (R-Indian Rocks Beach), SB 812 by Sen. Ingoglia (R-Springhill), and HB 791 by Rep. Overdorf place restrictive timeframes on local government decisions concerning building and development permits. 

Audubon is meeting with sponsors to discuss the potential impacts these bills could have on natural resources and identify changes that could avoid these impacts. Stay tuned for opportunities to lend your voice to Florida's wetlands as these bills move through the legislative process in the new year.
Above: Northern Cardinal. Photo: Kenneth Heiar/Audubon Photography Awards. Below: American Flamingos. Photo: James Fillmore/Audubon Photography Awards.
American Flamingos in flight.
Appropriations Committees Discuss Governor's Budget
The House (Chair, Rep. Tom Leek (R-Ormond Beach)) and Senate (Chair, Sen. Doug Broxson (R-Gulf Breeze)) Appropriations Committees received briefings from Chris Spencer, Governor DeSantis’ Budget Director, on the Governor’s budget recommendations for FY 2024-25.

The $114.4 billion spending plan rolled out last week includes robust funding for water and Everglades restoration and represents a nearly four percent reduction from the current budget. These recommendations are a first step in the budget negotiations process that will occur during the state’s legislative session that starts on January 9.

See highlights from the Governor’s budget here. 

Additional budget proposal details available this week included important proposed budgets for natural resource programs at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, including:
budget table
Chipping Sparrow sitting on a blade of grass.
Good News for Wetlands in Orange County
The Orange County Commission voted unanimously on December 12 to improve the County’s wetlands ordinance, the first major revision since 1987.

Among the improvements are:

- New mitigation site monitoring requirements.
- A 100-foot upland buffer requirement for most projects.
- Clearer code language.
- Better categorization of wetlands types.
- Identification of types of minor wetland impacts that can be more quickly authorized through a short form process.

As a result of the new ordinance, most applicants can obtain faster approval for minor projects where approval has been routinely granted in the past, while major impacts proposed to wetlands in larger projects will receive more attention and better scrutiny with stronger criteria to actually protect wetlands. 

Audubon applauds the commission for passing the ordinance and Orange Audubon Society for their leadership on this issue.
 
Chipping Sparrow. Photo: Alexander Matos Rodriguez/Audubon Photography Awards.
Butterfly
Success! Tropical Audubon Society Helps Protect Rare South Florida Habitat
“Congratulations to Tropical Audubon for leading the charge to defend Miami-Dade's endangered pine rocklands in this grassroots battle! So glad to see their hard work prevail.” ~ Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell.

Click here to read the full story.
 
The habitat protected is critical for the Florida leafwing butterfly. NPS photo by Jimi Sadle.
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