Audubon Florida
The Advocate
The 2024 Florida Legislative Session has officially begun! Stay with us with weekly Advocate newsletters as we work to improve or stop bad bills and pound the pavement in Tallahassee to support legislation to protect birds and the places they need.
Roseate Spoonbill with wings outstretched, landing on tall grass
Attorney Fee Bill Could Have a Chilling Effect on Environment Protection
At the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee meeting on Wednesday, (Chair, Sen. Rodriguez (R-Doral)), members discussed a bill that would place roadblocks in front of Florida community members trying to protect their local environment.

SB 738, Environmental Management, filed by Sen. Burgess (R-Zephyrhills), with House companion HB 789, filed by Rep. Overdorf (R-Palm City), passed the committee with a 5-2 vote.

The bill allows for “the prevailing party in challenges against the Department of Environmental Protection or a water management district to be entitled to reasonable costs and attorney fees.” The bill effectively shuts off citizens from participating and trying to protect Florida’s environment, discourages civic engagement, and renders due process irrelevant when agency actions are in question.

Nonprofit organizations and individuals have been essential in enforcing the state’s environmental regulations when the agencies have failed to do so—some of the most impactful environmental progress on Everglades and water policy has been made because of the ability of citizens to question state agency decisions.

Audubon is working with partners and sponsors to remove the harmful provisions in this bill.
Roseate Spoonbill. Photo: Barbara Houston/Audubon Photography Awards.
balloon in the sky
Balloons and Fleet Management Receive Support in Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee
At the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, members also discussed two additional bills that could have a positive impact the environment.

Balloons

Millions of balloons are released in the United States each year. Most commonly, these balloons fall along coastlines, beaches, and into waterways. Balloons contribute to plastic pollution problems and harm marine life when accidentally ingested.

SB 602, Release of Balloons, filed by Sen. DiCeglie (R-Indian Rocks), with House Companion HB 321 (Rep. Chaney (R-St. Pete Beach)), is designed to crack down on balloon pollution in Florida. The outdoor release of balloons inflated with a gas that is lighter than air would be banned. The bill passed with unanimous support.

Fleet Improvements

SB 650, filed by Chair Rodriguez, with House companion HB 803 (Rep. Cassello (D-Boynton Beach)), renames the natural gas fuel fleet vehicle rebate program as the alternative fuel fleet vehicle rebate program; this expands the scope to include rebates for fleet vehicles powered by other alternative fuels, rather than only for fleet vehicles fueled by natural gas. Incentives such as this one help diversify the types of clean energy used in vehicle fleets. The bill passed with unanimous support of the members.
Cooper's Hawk in a tree.
DEP Discusses Protective Rules for Stormwater, Biosolids, and More
The House Water Quality, Supply and Treatment Subcommittee (Chair, Rep. Stevenson (R-St. Johns)) received an update on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rulemaking progress by Deputy Secretary Jessica Kramer.

Why It Matters

Over the last two years, DEP has engaged in rulemaking that is meant to be more protective than current law, as mandated by SB 712 passed in 2020 as well as HB 1379 that passed last year. Topics included biosolids, septic tank certifications and setbacks, wastewater collection system inspections, and stormwater permitting updates.

Stormwater Rule Needs Ratification

The stormwater rule updates adopted in 2023 by DEP require legislative ratification. Florida’s existing stormwater rules are more than forty years old and are simply not protective enough. The new rule, while more protective, also provides flexibility in stormwater infrastructure choices looking towards innovations like Green Infrastructure and Low Impact Development options to meet permit requirements.

Unexplained Delays in Increasing Septic Tank Setbacks

Committee member Rep. Cross (D-St. Petersburg) asked DEP if the agency had completed updates to Florida rules ensuring septic tanks are far enough from water bodies to avoid contamination. The Legislature mandated this update in its 2020 legislation, and last session DEP testified that it would be completed by the end of Summer 2023. In response, Deputy Secretary Kramer reported the work was not yet complete and the agency is collecting and reviewing data to get this task completed. 
Cooper's Hawk. Photo: Sharron Crocker/Audubon Photography Awards.
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