2024 Legislative Update - Week 4
Feb. 2, 2024
Budget proposals advanced this week, and a bad attorney's fee-shifting provision that would have stifled the public's ability to challenge permit decisions was taken out of a senate bill to match it's companion in the house. The Everglades Protection Area bills cleared their first committees.
House and Senate Budget Proposals Advance

The House Budget Proposal, PCB APC 24-01, and the Senate Budget Proposal, SB 2500, both advanced in their respective Appropriations Committees this week. The end of federal pandemic aid and shrinking revenue projections are leading to slightly smaller budget proposals, with the draft House budget totaling $115.5 billion, and the Senate’s proposed budget recommending $115.9 billion for a $400 million difference between the two chambers.
Environmental spending highlights from the proposed House budget include:

The Senate budget proposal includes:

  • $1.1 billion for Water Quality Improvement Programs and Everglades restoration
  • $416 million for conservation acquisition programs
  • $120 million for Flood and Sea Level Rise programs
The differences in budget proposals will be reconciled in joint budget committees during the last several weeks of session.
SB 738 by Sen. Danny Burgess thankfully followed the lead of the House companion, HB 789, this week by eliminating the provision to add the prevailing parties attorney’s fees up to $50,000 for citizen challenges to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Water Management District actions. These provisions merit being taken out of the bill for their threats to citizen engagement alone, but another key reason they were scrutinized is that they may have violated an agreement Florida entered into with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when the state assumed wetland permitting authority a few years ago. The agreement required fair access to the legal process, something that would have been greatly restricted by the provisions in these bills.
Unfortunately, SB 738 contains another troubling provision the House bill does not — it orders DEP to “increase efficiency” on issuing coastal development permits. This order could weaken environmental protections by putting pressure on permit review staff to approve complicated permits without the requisite time for a proper evaluation of potential environmental damage.

"Our coastal systems deserve appropriate and adequate reviews to ensure that they continue to provide their important storm resilience function," said SCCF Policy Associate Holly Schwartz. "Our coasts also face increasing threats from sea level rise, and this bill runs contrary to the millions of dollars our state and local governments have invested in our coasts to protect the people and wildlife that rely on them for environmental and economic support."

SB 738 passed by a vote of 7-2 and advances to its third and final committee, Senate Fiscal Policy, next. 
HB 723 by Rep. Demi Busatta-Cabrera passed its first committee stop, the House Agriculture, Conservation and Resiliency Committee, this week with a supportive unanimous vote. This bill was introduced last year but session closed before it completed its committee appearances. This bill proposes to lessen the impacts to and increase the level of protection to the Everglades by creating a 2-mile buffer zone to restrict development.

This bill and its Senate companion, SB 1364 by Sen. Alexis Calatyud, proposes to follow Florida’s coordinated review process rather than the expedited review process, in which the DEP would determine whether proposed development would adversely impact the Everglades Protection Area. The House bill applies to all counties surrounding the Everglades, but the Senate version only covers Broward, Dade and Monroe Counties. The Senate version has also passed its first committee of reference. Both the House and Senate version await to be scheduled in their next committee stops.
For next week's legislative committee meeting schedule and for more information on all of the bills we are tracking, please click on the SCCF Legislative Tracker link below.

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