We have passed the halfway point in the 2020 Legislative Session! This week, Everglades stakeholders from around the state arrived in Tallahassee to advocate for Everglades restoration funding, stronger water protections, land use planning, and climate change resilience. Audubon is working with legislators to pass additional water and climate bills while ensuring appropriations for our most important land conservation programs, including Florida Forever and Rural and Family Lands.
Audubon Florida
Audubon Advocate | Your Policy Update
Birds in the Everglades. Photo by Mac Stone.
Birds in the Everglades. Photo by Mac Stone.
Audubon Attends Everglades Action Day
On February 11, members of Audubon Florida staff, chapter leadership, and Audubon Florida’s Conservation Leadership Initiative (CLI) program joined 60+ advocates from the Everglades Coalition for Everglades Action Day in Tallahassee. Each year, the Everglades Coalition brings together people from all parts of Florida to collectively meet with legislators and discuss the ecological and economic importance of a healthy Everglades ecosystem.

Our CLI students had the opportunity to get face-to-face time with their state representatives and senators, share their personal experiences, and sharpen their advocacy skills at the Capitol. The elected officials took note of our students’ professionalism, passion, and commitment, praising them and encouraging them to continue championing the issues that are important for them and for Florida.

Altogether, the Everglades Coalition met with nearly 70 legislators from across the state, urging them to support the following priorities:

1. Robust funding for Everglades restoration.
2. Stronger protections for all waters, including stopping pollution at its source, implementing the recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force, and strictly regulating the use of biosolids.
3. Reinstating statewide and regional land use planning that supports smart growth and increased funding for Florida Forever.
4. Protecting investments in Everglades restoration from the impacts of climate change through an expansion of renewable energy and energy and water efficiency and banning advanced well-stimulation treatments, including fracking and fracking-like activities.
The Gulf of Mexico
Water: Civil Penalties, Septic Tanks, Wastewater
On Monday, the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee approved the appointments of Drew Bartlett for Executive Director of South Florida Water Management District and Ron Bergeron for the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board as well as Hugh Thomas for Executive Director of the Suwanee River Water Management District. Congratulations to these hard-working public servants.

HB 1363 by Representative Fine (R-Brevard) and its Senate companion SB 1450 by Senator Gruters (R- Sarasota) unanimously passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday. This legislation would increase various statutory penalties for violations of environmental laws, including:
  • Increasing the civil penalties for several pollutant discharge violations. Governor DeSantis, as part of his legislative initiative last September, called for a 50 percent increase in fines for environmental violations.
  • Changing both the amount and the duration of penalties for violating the State’s environmental laws. For violations that currently impose a penalty for each day during which a violation occurs, the bills specify that each day the violation occurs or is not remediated constitutes a separate offense.
Water Quality Improvements HB 1343, sponsored by Representative Payne (R-Palatka) and Representative Ingoglia (R- Spring Hill), was heard in the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. This comprehensive water quality bill requires the transfer of the septic tank permitting and inspection program from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). HB 1343 requires DEP to update its stormwater permitting rules, imposes new requirements on wastewater, septic tanks, and agriculture, and adds new requirements for BMAPs; the state’s water quality restoration plan. The bill requires legislative ratification if biosolids rules are adopted by DEP. The bill received a unanimous vote in committee on Tuesday. Next stop is State Affairs for HB 1343 and Senate Appropriations for SB 712.

There are differences to be reconciled between Senator Mayfield’s (R-Vero) SB 712 and Representative Payne’s HB 1343. These differences will begin to be addressed since we are now past the half-way point in the legislative session. Audubon will be working closely with the bill sponsors to ensure that the final product will improve the regulation and management of our precious water resources.
Mangrove trees
Climate: Renewable Energy, Sea-Level Impact Projections, Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
HB 5401, filed by the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, is a budget-conforming bill that transfers the Office of Energy within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services by a type-two transfer to the Department of Environmental Protection.

This bill, among other things, requires DEP to administer the Florida Renewable Energy and Energy-Efficient Technologies Grants Program, develop policy for requiring grantees to provide royalty-sharing or licensing agreements with state government for commercialized products developed under a state grant, administer the Florida Green Government Grants Act, administer information gathering and reporting functions, administer the provisions of the Florida Energy and Climate Protection Act, advocate for energy and climate change issues, and provide educational outreach and technical assistance in cooperation with the state's academic institutions and be a party in the proceedings to adopt goals and submit comments to the Public Service Commission. The House passed this bill on Thursday with a vote of 76-40.

SB 0178, Public Financing of Construction Projects by Senator Rodriguez (D-Miami), took another step forward in the legislative process this week. This bill requires a Sea-Level Impact Projection (SLIP) study to be conducted for any state-financed construction in coastal areas. The bill requires DEP to adopt rules establishing standards for the SLIP studies, and the standards must include certain requirements for how the studies will be conducted and the information they must contain. On Thursday in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government, Senator Rodriguez introduced an amendment to align the bill with its House companion (HB 0579), removed previous links to other resiliency bills, and amended its effective date. The bill passed the committee with 9 yeas and one nay.

SB 7018, Electric Vehicle Charging Station Infrastructure, by the Infrastructure and Security Committee and Senator Lee (R-Brandon), requires the Public Service Commission, together with the Department of Transportation and the Office of Energy within the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, to develop and recommend a plan for the development of electric vehicle charging station infrastructure along the State Highway System. The bill also requires the plan to include recommendations for legislation. Senator Lee introduced the amendment, which generated much discussion in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government.
Dune Trail at Little Talbot Island State Park
Budget: Environment, Conservation Easements, State Parks
The House and the Senate released their budget proposals in the last week of January 2020. Both the House and Senate exceeded the Governor’s request of $625 million for the environment however, the distribution left some programs like state parks wanting. Both chambers heard their respective budget bills on the floor this week. The House’s proposal, HB 5001, includes $646.8 million for environmental projects while the Senate’s proposal, SB 2500, is $639 million, of which almost $480 million is in recurring funds.

Budget negotiations begin next week between the House and Senate in conference committees to pass a final budget before the March 13 end of the Legislative Session.

Here is a reminder of some of the major categories of environmental resource and water funding proposed in each of the budgets.
The two chambers will have to bridge a major difference in land acquisition and management (Florida Forever), with the House wanting to spend $20 million and the Senate proposing $125 million. Additionally, the Senate, alone, has allocated $8.7 from Land Acquisition funding to the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. This important conservation-easement program preserves green space in Florida while keeping farms on the tax rolls. Florida has acquired more than 50,000 acres of agricultural conservation easements under the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program at the Florida Department of Agriculture.

Funding proposed by both chambers for state parks is much lower than was requested by Governor DeSantis. It’s important to understand that funding for state parks is distributed into three parts:
  • One-quarter of the funding goes toward land management like prescribed burns and eliminating invasive species;
  • Another quarter is spent on restoration work;
  • The other 50 percent of the funding goes toward park improvements and maintenance.
In 2018, our award-winning state parks generated $2.4 billion and created more than 33,000 jobs. Audubon will be making sure our legislators keep these important programs in mind as they work through budget negotiations.
The Florida Everglades. Photo by Ian Shive.
Audubon Celebrates Unprecedented President’s Everglades Budget Recommendation
The Trump Administration released its budget for FY2021 on Monday. Despite a large number of cuts to key environmental programs, the President’s budget raised the bar at $250 million for the construction of Everglades restoration projects. Last year, Congress approved H.R. 1865, containing $200 million for Everglades restoration for FY2020. President Trump is now proposing an increase of $50 million over last fiscal year’s levels, making his $250 million request a record-breaking federal budget for Everglades restoration. 
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