Audubon Florida
The Advocate
The House and the Senate continue to try to come together on a final budget. We’re happy to report that funding for water, Everglades, and resiliency appears to be in good shape. We continue to monitor these issues and more in the second-to-last week of the regularly schedule Florida Legislative Session.
A flock of flamingos in the water.
Budget Update
The House and Senate chambers issued budget allocations this week, which are nonbinding agreements on how much General Revenue each budget category has to spend as they enter into their respective budget conferences.

The House and Senate allocated more than $48 billion in General Revenue this year and the specific allocation for Agriculture & Natural Resources / Agriculture & Environment is approximately $13 billion. Budget negotiations began this week with budget conference committees meeting several times.

Funding for water, Everglades, and resiliency appears to be in good shape.  Stay tuned for details on funding for land conservation, the Rural and Family Lands Program, and the Florida Wildlife Corridor. House and Senate members on the various appropriations committees have “bumped up” the unresolved issues to budget chairs.

A final budget agreement must be reached by March 5 to meet the constitutionally mandated, 72-hour "cooling off" period if the Legislature is to end its session on time on March 8.
American Flamingos. Photo: Michele Murphy
Two Burrowing Owls on the ground.
Rules Committee Passes Two Senate Bills
This week in the Rules Committee (Chair, Sen. Mayfield (R-Melbourne)), two bills, SB 1364, Everglades Protection Area by Sen. Calatayud (R-Miami), and SB 484, Flood Disclosure in the Sale of Real Property, by Sen. Bradley (R-Fleming Island), passed favorably through their last committee of reference.

Thousands of homes across the state have experienced water damage more than once. While this number is growing, potential buyers and renters are prohibited from knowing flooding history under state rules. SB 484 changes that by requiring property owners to disclose to prospective buyers not just if they are in a flood-prone area but also whether the property has been damaged by flooding, whether flood-insurance claims have ever been filed, and whether owners had ever received federal assistance for flood damage. This bill provides transparency and holds sellers accountable for representing their properties in good faith. The House companion, HB 1049 by Rep. Hunschofsky (R-Coconut Creek), is scheduled on the House calendar.

SB 1364, which would require construction projects and zoning changes within two miles of the Everglades Protection Area to undergo the coordinated state review, was amended to apply only to Miami-Dade County. Unfortunately, the House companion HB 723 by Rep. Busatta Cabrera (R-Coral Gables) has not progressed far enough this session. With so much invested in Everglades restoration, it is critical that we protect and prevent encroachment around the Everglades Protection Area boundary.
Burrowing Owls. Photo: John Serrao
A white wading bird in greenery
Storm Resilience Bill Could Get Stalled
Mangroves and other types of living shorelines are the state's first line of defense against increasingly frequent and severe storms. They protect the areas behind them from wave action and erosion, and they provide habitat for a wide variety of bird and marine life.

New Bill Would Have Increased Mangroves
SB 1582 by Rep. Mooney (R-Key Largo) encourages local governments to replant and restore mangroves and requires the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to develop and enforce regulations regarding mangrove replanting and restoration, as well as to assess the efficacy of mangroves in reducing flood insurance premiums through a feasibility study.

The bill passed the House this week and has been sent to the Senate. Its Senate companion, SB 32 by Sen. Garcia (R-Miami), has been referred to the Rules Committee. Unfortunately, this good bill may not make it all the way through if the Rules Committee does not meet again.
Great Egret. Photo: Arnie Collens
A gray wading bird walking on the ground.
Bill Will Expand Water Quality Treatment Opportunities
SB 1532, Mitigation, by Sen. Brodeur (R-Sanford) passed the Senate and has been sent to the House. HB 1073 by Rep. Truenow (R-Tavares) is on the House calendar on second reading.

Both bills expand the scope of entities eligible to purchase water quality treatment “credits” from offsite water quality projects to meet permit conditions. Additionally, the bill authorizes private entities to solicit proposals to use conservation lands owned by local governments to create mitigation banks.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron. Photo: Arnie Collens
A small brown bird with a long bill near the water's edge.
Harmful Language Persists in Stormwater Ponds Bill
SB 738 by Sen. Burgess (R-Zephyrhills) passed the Senate this week. This bill contains provisions related to the slope for stormwater ponds as well as revisions to strict liability provisions related to certain spills. The slope provision was amended once more but still allows for less steep slopes.

We were hopeful that an amendment filed this week would have removed the concerning language (read more about it here) that revises current rules governing whether an individual may sue over damages to real and personal property (but not environmental harm). 

Unfortunately, the amendment fix was withdrawn, and the original harmful language remains.

The companion bill, HB 789 by Rep. Overdorf (R-Palm City), is on the House calendar on second reading.
Wilson's Snipe. Photo: John Serrao
Adult ducks with a raft of ducklings.
Bill to Limit Future Citizen-led Charter Amendments
SB 1420 by Sen. Burgess (R-Zephyrhills) and HB 1419 by Rep. Tuck (R-Sebring) are Florida Department of Commerce bills. (Note: The Department of Commerce is the new name for the “Department of Economic Opportunity” which includes the remaining growth management functions formerly housed in the “Department of Community Affairs.”)

SB 1420 was amended by Sen. Ingoglia (R-Springhill) to restrict citizen initiative charter amendments that propose to preempt any development order, land development regulation comprehensive plan, or voluntary annexation. A previous citizen initiative charter amendment resulted in the creation of a Rural Protection Area in Seminole County. In Orange County, preliminary steps are underway to seek a similar amendment establishing rural protection areas through a citizen-led Charter Review Commission. The language in SB 1420 only applies to county charter amendments that are not approved by county commissions themselves and is not retroactive, not impacting the validity of previous citizen-led charter amendment initiatives that successfully amended county charters before January 1, 2024. This would in effect “grandfather” the Seminole County Rural Protection Area. The full Senate adopted this provision, sending the bill to the House this week. SB 1419 is on the House calendar, on second reading.

Scrutiny of county charter amendments by the Legislature was triggered by the passage of three charter amendments on the Orange County ballot in 2020 that included controversial “Rights of Nature” type provisions. While not repealing those charter provisions, the provision inserted in SB 1420 seems aimed to prevent further such amendments proposed by citizens without county commission support.  

Wood Ducks. Photo: Peter Osman
black bear standing in front of a tree
Update on Bear Bill
HB 87, Taking of Bears, by Rep. Shoaf (R-Port St. Joe), and its Senate companion, SB 632, by Sen. Simon (R-Tallahassee), create the “Self Defense Act.” This broadly written bill exempts individuals from administrative, civil, or criminal penalties for using lethal force against bears to prevent imminent threat of death, serious injury to persons or pets, or substantial damage to dwellings, provided no lure was used to attract the bear.

We reported on this bill last week, read more about it here.

The House passed the bill on February 21 and sent it to the Senate for consideration. The Senate made a change to SB 632 to make clear the self-defense protections wouldn’t be available to people who lure bears with food or for purposes such as for training dogs to hunt bears. The amended bill has yet to be considered by the House.

We are keeping close tabs on the progression of this bill.  Audubon believes there are better solutions to the rising negative interactions between bears and people.
Black bear.
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