SCCF provides legislative update on Week 8
The 2021 Legislative Session adjourned on April 30 after approving a record $101.5 billion budget. The $9.3 billion increase over last year’s $92.2 billion budget is attributed to COVID-19 related impacts. Of the anticipated $10.2 billion Federal American Rescue Plan funds expected to come to Florida, $6 billion was utilized to support this budget. Because state revenues were stronger than predicted, legislators opted to put the remainder of the stimulus funds into savings for a total of $6 billion in budget reserves.
For the environment, the budget includes $522 million for Everglades Restoration projects and $400 million for the Florida Forever Land Acquisition Program ($300 million of which is non-recurring funding from Federal stimulus dollars). Funding for the newly created Resiliency Grant Trust Fund Program will receive $500 million to address flooding and sea level rise, and the Water Protection and Sustainability Program will receive $500 million to distribute grants to local communities for septic to sewer and wastewater infrastructure projects. $100 million in funding was approved to address the environmental disaster at Piney Point.
Below are some of the bills that the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation was tracking during the 2021 legislative session:
– Passed: SCCF opposed SB 268/HB 735 Preemption of Local Occupational Licensing as this will limit local government’s ability to require training for professional fertilizer applicators or other licensing measures to protect water quality.
– Passed: SB 2516 — $50 million for Water Storage North of Lake Okeechobee. This bill directs Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells to be utilized for water storage for agricultural water supply north of Lake Okeechobee.
– Passed: Local project funding of $750,000 for Sanibel Sewer Phase IV Expansion Project.
– Failed: SB 1522/HB 1225 — Implement Recommendations of the Blue/Green Algae Task Force. This bill was watered down through the amendment process, but would have required septic tank inspections every five years and would require a focus on Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) to prioritize projects “in areas likely to yield maximum pollutant reductions.”
GROWTH MANAGEMENT, LAND USE
– Passed: SB 100 Highway Projects (MCORES Partial Repeal) SCCF had strongly opposed the MCORES toll roads since its passage in 2019 not only for the environmental destruction they would have wrought but for their lack of demonstrated need and exorbitant cost. This bill eliminates the Southwest connector alignment which would have had a devastating impact to the natural resources in our area, but it does retain funding to expand existing roads and may impact environmentally critical lands in the northern central regions of Florida.
– Passed: HB 1101/HB 421/SB 1876 — Relief from Burdens of Real Property Rights. This bill expands the scope of private property rights laws that could result in costly litigation to local governments resulting in a chilling effect that will prevent communities from enforcing comprehensive planning measures.
– Passed: SB 856/HB 839 State Preemption of Energy Infrastructure Regulation — Originally this bill sought to preempt local governments regarding policies that had to do with siting fracking pipelines, energy transmission lines, solar power fields and electrical charging stations. This bill was amended from its first overreaching version but still preempts local government from certain fuel retailer (gas station) siting, development or redevelopment.
– Passed: SB 88/HB 1601 Farming Operations, also referred to as the Right To Farm bill by proponents and the Right to Harm bill by it opponents. The key components of the bill 1) Maximize lawsuit amounts to the “fair market value” of the plaintiff’s property, 2) limits the distance in which residents can file suits against farms for violations to just half a mile from the source, 3) adds “particle emissions” as a result of normal “farming operations,” which would excuse farms for creating harmful smoke and dust pollution and 4) creates opportunities for absolute protection from lawsuits in certain cases, as long as state and federal regulations are not explicitly being broken. This bill has already been signed by the governor.
– Passed: SB 776/HB 783 Racketeering of Aquatic and Wild Animal Life — revises the term “racketeering activity” to include language that gives more options to Florida Wildlife agencies to prosecute wildlife trafficking crimes which have caused increasing problems across Florida, and specifically on Sanibel.
– Failed: SB 406/HB 209 Big Cypress Basin would have revised the boundary of the South Florida Water Management District related Big Cypress Basin to include Southern Lee County.
– Failed: SB 722/HB 333 Everglades Protection Area would have prohibited oil/gas wells within the Everglades Protection Area.
As of April 30, many of the bills have yet to be presented to the governor for his signature. According to Article III of the Florida Constitution, the governor has 15 days to either sign or fail to veto any bills presented to him once session has adjourned.
SCCF’s Legislative Tracker at www.sccf.org/our-work/environmental-policy is being updated to reflect the outcome of the session and includes a link to the governor’s 2021 Bill Actions Webpage with the latest action on the bills presented to him. The SCCF will send out a complete 2021 legislative analysis this summer before the start of the new state fiscal year starting on July 1.
Holly Schwartz is environmental policy assistant for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. Founded in 1967, the SCCF is dedicated to the conservation of coastal habitats and aquatic resources on Sanibel and Captiva and in the surrounding watershed. For more information, visit www.sccf.org.