Dear FCC Members,
The dust from the 2016 legislative session has begun to settle, and I wanted to update you on the fate of the bills the FCC brought to your attention earlier this year.
If you are subscribed to FCC’s news briefs, then you know that it has been a tough year for Florida’s waters. Our springs, rivers, estuaries, and bays are suffering from nutrient pollution associated with septic tanks and fertilizers. Improper management of fresh water flows has disrupted delicate ecological balances in the Apalachicola Bay and Floodplain as well as the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Rivers. As demand for freshwater increases with development and population growth, our springs and rivers are drying out before our eyes. This session, the Legislature passed a water bill which will do little to solve these problems and, in many ways, makes it more difficult to care for Florida’s water bodies in a sustainable way. The quick passage of this bill into law was predetermined by powerful political players and the public will need to stand together next legislative session to fight for real solutions like those offered by a 2014 springs bill that the FCC helped to write.
The environmental community was instrumental in killing bills that would have regulated “fracking” in Florida. These bills would have stripped the rights of local governments to prohibit “fracking” and related operations from taking place within their jurisdictions. At a time when Florida’s fresh water resources are so stressed, it would have been unwise to prevent local governments from protecting their water supplies by banning practices which remove excessive amounts of potable water from the water cycle and threaten to contaminate local water sources. We will need to be vigilant next session as the poor ideas in these defeated bills are likely to return to fight us again.
This year’s state lands bill illustrated the desire of our state government to dispose of conservation lands and make them more profitable. This bad bill was passed by the Legislature, but was significantly improved through the advocacy of environmentally-conscious citizens like yourselves. We were able, for example, to remove language in the bill that would have allowed Florida Forever funds to be used for local water infrastructure projects, rather than land conservation, before the bill’s passage.
After the overwhelming passage of The Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment, also known as Amendment 1, we were very disappointed with this year’s appropriation for the Florida Forever program. The state’s preeminent conservation land acquisition program was given only $15.2 million, a fraction of the program’s $300 million historic allocation. Conservation land acquisition is key to preserving Florida’s last remaining natural places, critical to maintaining Florida’s quality of life and conserving our wildlife and water resources. Because of the significance of preserving ecologically important parcels of land, the FCC has been working with local governments to urge the Legislature to allocate at least $300 million from Amendment 1 funds for the Florida Forever program annually. Martin County, Broward County, Bay County, Leon County, and the Town of Surfside have joined the FCC in this effort and we hope that others will follow suit.
The FCC was not actively engaged in the other pieces of legislation we informed you about previously, but, in case you’re curious, here is what happened with those bills:
- SB 1400/HB 1159 would have created the Water Oversight and Planning Board. These bills died in committee.
- SB 658/HB 851 would have repealed the ban on the land application of septage. These bills died and the ban will go into effect on June 30, 2016.
- SB 570 would have eliminated state park entrance fees for a year. This bill died in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
- SB 7000 would have removed the requirement for DRIs to go through the “state coordinated review process” if the proposed land use was consistent with the relevant comprehensive plans and zoning requirements. The House never took up this bill.
- HB 1361 amended existing DRI regulations as well as reduced the acreage required for a development to qualify as a Sector Plan. 1000 Friends of Florida was instrumental in making positive changes to this bill’s language before it was signed into law.
- SB 584/ HB 929 originally dealt with flood prevention and mitigation. These bills died.
- The Legislature passed The Florida Keys Stewardship Act (HB 447). The bill provides funding for land acquisition, water quality improvement, alternative water supply, and projects which mitigate the negative impacts of new development on hurricane evacuation times in the Florida Keys.
- The Legacy Florida bill was signed into law by the Governor. The bill was amended to provide a minimum of either $200 million or 25% of Amendment 1 funds (whichever is less) for CERP, $50 million or 7.6% (whichever is less) for springs, and $5 million for Lake Apopka.
- SB 1674 would have imposed a fine on those leaving out wildlife attractants in high human-bear conflict areas. This bill died in the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee.
- The Florida Black Bear Habitat Restoration Act (SB 1096/HB 1055) included several measures to protect natural food sources for black bears. These bills died in committee.
- SB 838/ HB 639 would have blocked implementation of the Clean Power Plan in Florida. These bills died in committee.
- The Legislature passed a bill (CS/HJR 193) which placed a good solar amendment on the August 30 primary ballot. The proposed amendment will provide tax breaks to businesses who use renewable energy devices.
- SB 306/ HB 143 would have allowed limited coastal municipalities to participate in a pilot project to regulate or ban plastic bags. These bills died in committee.
- HB 561 allows for the reorganization of DEP. It was signed into law by Governor Scott. Specifically, the legislation allows The Office of the Secretary to establish new offices and establishes the Division of Water Restoration Assistance.
I want to sincerely thank you for standing with the Florida Conservation Coalition this legislative session. The political system can inspire cynicism and creating positive change for the environment is not easy. Making a difference will require all of us who care about our natural resources to unite and leverage our collective strength, working to tear at the fabric of the status quo and elevate ideas of a more sustainable future. The FCC is grateful for your engagement.