Stay in the know about wildlife, water quality, and ecosystems on Sanibel and Captiva Islands and in Southwest Florida

Tracking Week 5 of Legislative Session

April 12, 2021
There are four weeks left for Florida’s 2021 legislative session. These are the highlights from the fifth week:
Florida Forever: The House has recommended $100 but the Senate is proposing $50 million. SCCF is advocating for a $100 million appropriation for the Florida Forever land acquisition program.
Water Quality and Ecosystem Restoration Bills heard in the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources were SB 1668 – Seagrass Mitigation Banks, which proposes the creation of a seagrass mitigation program similar to the land-based mitigation program that allows developers to purchase mitigation credits in exchange for construction impacts to environmentally sensitive properties. This proposal has a couple of weak spots. First, proposed mitigation banks may not be located in areas with the water quality needed for the survival of the seagrass. The other concern is that seagrass is located in waters considered sovereign submerged land owned by the state; therefore, the benefit to citizens by allowing use by for-profit enterprises is a matter of debate. This bill and its House companion, HB 1335, both have two committee stops before being considered by their full chambers. 
Another water quality-related bill is SB 1522 – Implementation of the Blue Green Algae Task Force Recommendations. This bill had been watered down through the amendment process, but two important features survived: the requirement of septic tank inspections at every five years and requiring a focus on Basin Management Action Plans (BMAP’s) to prioritize projects “in areas likely to yield maximum pollutant reductions.” The bill has two committee stops left. The House version, HB 1225, has not yet been heard in committee. 
The House Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee addressed wildlife trafficking. HB 783 Racketeering of Aquatic and Wild Animal Life revises the term “racketeering activity” to include “certain actions relating to the illegal taking, killing, wounding, sale, purchase, or possession of wild animal life, freshwater aquatic life, or marine life, and related crimes.” This language pinpoints the issue of wildlife trafficking, which has caused problems across Florida (including on Sanibel), and creates additional tools to prosecute criminal organizations for animal-related crimes for monetary gain. 
According to the bill analysis, there is a significant black-market trade in Florida’s wildlife, freshwater aquatic life, and marine life. This includes eggs, body parts, and products. Trafficking in wild species is the fourth most profitable transnational crime behind the drug and arms trades and human trafficking. Criminal organizations are often involved in more than one illegal trade. 
The bill was unanimously supported 15-0 and has one more committee stop. The Senate version, SB 776, was also unanimously supported by the full Senate, and has a high likelihood of passing. 
Also discussed was the contentious HB 1601 Farming Operations. This bill, along with Senate companion SB 88, aims to strengthen the protections granted to Florida’s farms from “nuisance” lawsuits. In a clash between sprawl and traditional farming, proponents of the bill argue that as Florida becomes more crowded, people will increasingly live in more rural areas, so additional protections are needed to prevent frivolous lawsuits against farms for traditional practices.
However, the bill’s language has created much concern among environmental and civil rights groups. Its ambiguity creates opportunities for absolute protection from lawsuits in certain cases, as long as state and federal regulations are not explicitly being broken. It also limits the radius in which residents can file suits against farms for violations to half a mile from the source. It also excuses “particle emissions,” such as smoke and dust, as a result of normal “farming operations.”
Multiple amendments were suggested to reduce ambiguity and focus the bill’s language on the stated purpose of helping farms avoid unnecessary litigation, but they were all voted down. Numerous representatives and public groups spoke out against the bill because it can curtail public recourse, but it passed 14-4. This bill has one final committee stop and its Senate companion has been approved by the full Senate 37-1. 
Subcommittee meetings have ended and bills that have not yet been heard are unlikely to pass this session unless they are amended onto other legislation. Stay tuned for upcoming Action Alerts as these bills progress.
Please visit the 2021 SCCF Legislative Tracker for an easy guide to the environmental legislation filed this session. 


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