2015 Legislative Wrap Up

Saving Special Places • Building Better Communities

Check out 1000 Friends’ 2015 Legislative Wrap Up Broadcast and PowerPoint.

Amendment 1 and Conservation Budget:

On June 19, 2015, the Florida Legislature passed its budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, among other things slashing the state’s environmental budget by nearly $50 million from last year. the final budget allocation for Amendment 1 included:

• $17 million to Florida Forever for land acquisition
• $45 million for springs protection and restoration
• $75 million for Everglades restoration

Despite 4.2 million Floridians voting in favor of increased funding for land and water conservation, these allocations are far below what the voters of Florida intended when they voted “yes” on Amendment 1 last November.

Instead of funding land acquisition, springs protection and Everglades restoration the legislature chose to use over $230 million from Amendment 1 funds to pay existing agency operating expenses. These expenses have historically been funded through general revenue or other trust funds. Now those costs have been moved over to Amendment 1, leading to a net loss in environmental funding.

Florida voters did not approve Amendment 1 just to reorganize bookkeeping on conservation spending. They approved Amendment 1 to acquire important conservation lands, protect our imperiled springs, restore the Everglades, remove pollution sources and provide greater recreational and tourism opportunities on our public lands.

The Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper and Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida have filed a legal complaint alleging that the Florida Legislature failed to meet the requirements of Amendment 1.

On June 23, Governor Scott signed the state budget into law, but not before vetoing more than $400 million. Among the vetoes were $5 million for best management practices to protect springs and $2.5 million for Regional Planning Councils.

Legislation that Passed:

Community Planning Legislation Signed By Governor and Effective Immediately

CS/CS/SB 1216 – Senate Bill 1216, the omnibus growth management bill, passed the full Florida House and Senate the week of April 20 and has been signed into law by the Governor. Click here for a detailed summary of its provisions. Thanks to the hard work of 1000 Friends’ members and staff, a number of damaging provisions opposed by 1000 Friends were removed from the bills. This includes language that would have stripped local governments of the ability to make land use and density decision on agricultural lands, would have required local governments to amend their comprehensive plans by adding a private property rights element, and limited concurrency fees in certain situations. We want to thank Community Affairs Committee Chairman Senator Wilton Simpson who sponsored the bill. He deserves credit and appreciation for his excellent work with stakeholders to greatly improve this legislation as it moved through the committee process. The regional planning councils, sector planning and connected-city corridors program provisions all were amended to address the concerns of 1000 Friends and our conservation allies.

The bill includes provisions:
• Replacing the Development of Regional Impact program with the state coordinated review process
• Clarifying that amendments to sector plans must go through state coordinated review
• Modifying the sector planning process
• Creating the connected-city corridor pilot program in Pasco County
• Eliminating one of Florida’s eleven regional planning councils and limiting the duties of the remaining planning councils
• Exempting small local governments that use less than one percent of a public water utility’s total permitted allocation from having to amend its comprehensive plan in response to an updated regional water supply plan

Click here for more detailed information on what is contained in the bill. Thank you for your calls, emails and support which made the difference this session.

Flood Insurance Reform Signed by Governor and Effective July 1

CS/CS/CS/SB 1094 Brandes – This legislation expands on the redevelopment component of the coastal management element to require that it include development and redevelopment policies, strategies and engineering solutions to reduce flood risk in coastal areas (including the related impacts of sea-level rise). The element must also encourage best practices development and redevelopment principles, strategies and engineering solutions that result in the removal of coastal property from flood zone designation. Additionally the element must identify site development techniques and best practices that may reduce losses due to flooding and claims made under flood insurance policies. The bills also include provisions requiring property appraisers to submit elevation certificates to the Division of Emergency Management and provide certain criteria for customized flood insurance. 1000 Friends joined with the Florida Wildlife Federation in seeking amendments to clarify the intent of the bill.

SLAPP Suits Passed Legislature Signed by Governor and Effective July 1

CS/SB 1312 (Simmons) – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) — This bill makes it the “public policy of the state” that persons and corporations not engage in SLAPP suits. They prohibit the filing of SLAPP suits and define “free speech in connection with public issues.” They allow for the payment of damages if a person violates this section.

Private Property Rights Signed by Governor and Effective July 1

CS/HB 383 (Edwards)– Amends the Bert Harris Act to create a new avenue for property owners to recover damages based on an “unconstitutional exaction”. The committee substitute was moved favorably by the House Civil Justice Subcommittee on February 10th. CS/HB 383 rewords the definition of “property owner” to require the owner is “directly impacted by” the action of the governmental entity at issue. It also amended the proposed language in Section 70.45 to require the government entity can demonstrate the conditions imposed have a rational nexus to a legitimate public purpose, rather that the originally proposed legitimate state interest.

Legislation that Failed:

Water Policy/Springs Protection

1000 Friends and conservation allies ended up opposing SB 918 and its companion, HB 7003. Despite Sen. Dean’s best efforts and intentions, lobbyists for regulated industries and agriculture managed to turn SB 918, the Senate water bill, from a bill that protected Florida’s springs to one that threatened all Florida waterbodies. Last year, during a Committee meeting on proposed springs legislation, Senate President Andy Gardiner told industry lobbyists, “You’re not going to study us to death on this one and you’re not going to run out the clock… Members come and go, but good policy stays, and I believe this is something we will be able to be proud of.” Unfortunately, Senate Bill 918 failed to meet President Gardiner’s call. The House started the water debate by passing a 94-page bill on the third day of session with only one committee hearing at which DEP said it hadn’t even finished reviewing the bill. It was full of gifts for agriculture and industry, but almost empty on good policy to protect our waters. The Senate took up the House’s bad policy language while, at the same time, weakening the good springs protections measures found in earlier drafts of SB 918:

Lake Okeechobee/Everglades/Estuaries – SB 918 abandoned the existing water quality permitting program which regulates pollutants entering and discharging from Lake Okeechobee. These pollutants affect the health of Lake Okeechobee and contribute to the terrible algae blooms on Florida’s east and west coasts, like the algae bloom spotted this weekend heading from the Lake to the St. Lucie Estuary.

State Water Policy – SB 918 continued to rely on ineffective stakeholder-driven Basin Management Action Plans and Best Management Practices to improve water quality and adopts state water supply policy founded on the fantasy that no matter how many people come to the state, there will always be a way to provide them with whatever water they desire. Most troubling, to accomplish this goal the legislature planned to spend taxpayer money on private water supply projects for large agricultural corporations and utilities and to tie the hands of water management districts if they try to limit water withdrawals and protect our waters.

Springs – Springs legislation proposed at the beginning of the 2014 legislative session was championed by environmental groups because of its strengthened environmental standards, ambitious deadlines, new regulatory prohibitions, and significant funding. Unfortunately, a year and a half later, most of these protections were stripped away. The final bill would have done very little to accelerate the restoration of Florida’s iconic, but highly degraded, springs.

Water Conservation – SB 918 prioritized unsustainable surface water withdrawals over sustainable water conservation. If we as a state do not live within our water means, any environmental gains from springs protection will be lost.
This was not a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good, but of a good bill ruined by the influence of special interests. The good news is that Senate President Gardiner and Sen. Dean have another year. Florida can do the right thing for our water in the 2016 session.

Land Application of Septage

SB 648 (Evers) and HB 687 (Drake) — These bills would have repealed the ban on spreading the effluent pumped out of septic tanks onto lands across our state, which is set to go into effect on January 1, 2016 with damaging ramifications for the health of Florida’s springs, rivers, and lakes. 1000 Friends, and other conservation groups from across the state worked to uphold the ban and protect Florida’s world class springs. Representative Drake filed an amendment to HB 687 which would delay the ban on the land application of septage from going into effect until 2018, but would not repeal it. The legislation did not pass and the ban on the land application of septage will go into effect on January 1, 2016.

Oyster Fishery and Resource Management

SB 814 (Dean) and HB 781 (Stone) — These bills would have created the Natural Coast Oyster Alliance to develop a comprehensive strategy for recovery and management of oyster fisheries. Neither bill passed this session.

Growth Management – Private Property Rights Element

HB 551 (Perry) and SB1424 (Evers) — Would have required local governments to address the protection of private property rights in their comprehensive plans; requiring comprehensive plans to include a property rights element that addresses certain objectives; requiring counties and municipalities to adopt land development regulations consistent with this element within a specified time frame.