2024 Legislative Update - Week 3
Jan. 26, 2024
The third week of Florida's Legislative Session saw a key positive change to a very bad bill, shortcomings on a bill ratifying stormwater regulations, and a lot of controversy over a bill preempting local governments from regulating plastics.
Environmental Management – HB 789 by Rep. Toby Overdorf was passed unanimously in the House Water Quality, Supply and Treatment Subcommittee. The passage came after the deletion of the prevailing party attorney’s fee provision requiring the losing party of any challenge to Department of Environment Protection (DEP) or Water Management District actions to pay up to $50,000 in legal fees.

The state already passed the same bad provision to apply to citizen suits to comprehensive plan, zoning, and development order challenges. HB 789 was unanimously supported at the committee meeting by many of the state’s water quality advocacy groups — more for what wasn’t in the bill than what was. Prior to this change, HB 789 had been the identical companion to SB 738 which still includes the attorney’s fees provision. Although this is a win for citizens' rights in the House, SB 738 is on the agenda for Senate Judiciary — its second committee of reference — on Monday, Jan. 29.
Ratification of Stormwater Rules – SB 7040 passed the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee by a vote of 7-0 this week. Sen. Harrell introduced the bill by saying the rule-making process was originally required by the sweeping 2020 water quality bill SB 712. Three years later, the updated stormwater rules will only address discharges from new developments, not existing developments. The updated rules will also not require post-construction monitoring as some water quality advocates had supported.

Sen. Harrell also spoke about the State’s $2.4 billion dollar commitment to fund targeted water quality improvement projects over the past six years. She also stated the importance of this rule moving forward as 40% of our state’s waters are currently too polluted for swimming or fishing. The general consensus of the committee was that it is better to stop pollution at the source rather than engaging in expensive clean-up afterwards. And, that with these updated rules, some protection is better than none. SB 7040 moves to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government next.

The House version of the Stormwater Rule, Proposed Committee Bill (PCB WST 24-01) will be heard in the House Water Quality, Supply and Treatment Subcommittee on Monday, Jan. 29.
Ratification of Auxiliary Containers HB 1641 by Rep. Brad Yeager was heavily debated in the House Agriculture, Conservation and Resiliency Committee this week and ultimately passed by a vote of 11-7. HB 1641 preempts local governments from regulating re-usable or single-use plastics or packaging and requires any such regulation be done by the state. In response to growing concerns regarding the impact of retail plastic bags on the environment, the Legislature passed HB 7135 in 2008, which, in part, required DEP to analyze the need for new or different regulation of auxiliary containers, wrappings, or disposable plastic bags used by consumers to carry products from retail establishments. DEP’s analysis was submitted to the legislature in 2010. In 2021, the legislature requested an update. DEP submitted the new recommendations in December 2021. Local governments are prohibited from enacting any rules, regulations or ordinances related to the use of auxiliary containers until the legislature adopts DEP’s study recommendations.
Unfortunately, as pointed out by several committee members that oppose this bill, the Legislature has yet to adopt any of DEP’s recommendations regarding re-usable and single use plastics. Springs advocate Ryan Smart testified that some of Florida's State Parks already prohibit the use of single use plastics and that this bill could remove their authority to do so. Other natural resource advocates pointed out that recent surveys show that plastics manufactures would be willing to accept increased fees and that they acknowledge the market is demanding solutions. Some committee members and advocates argued that this bill is in direct conflict with the state’s own studies and recommendations. Smart ended his testimony by stating that this bill condemns Florida to a future swimming in plastic. The identical senate bill, SB 1126, has cleared its first committee and is headed for Senate Community Affairs next.
Issues are heating up as we enter Week 4. Please expect Action Alerts requesting you to contact your legislators on several of these issues in the coming weeks! 
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