Florida Legislative Wrap-up: June 2023
by Kim Dinkins, Senior Conservation Associate
Florida’s 2023 legislative session concluded on May 5, and it was a bit of a mixed bag of environmental wins and losses.
On the plus side:
- Lawmakers passed legislation to increase assurances for meeting water quality improvement goals by increasing regulations for septic systems and tightening local government requirements for meeting Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) goals within local comprehensive plans. BMAPs are Florida’s way of planning and tracking projects to meet pollutant load reduction goals and are important tools for restoring aquatic ecosystems.
- The Indian River Lagoon—which has historically been extremely important, critical habitat for manatees—received some additional prioritization for water quality protections and, importantly, funding to implement projects.
- Additionally, the barrier islands of the IRL are slated to receive designation as an “Area of Critical State Concern” which will provide another layer of oversight for new development proposed on the islands. A program to develop, test, and implement technologies for successful seagrass restoration has been authorized as a partnership between Mote Marine Laboratory and the University of Florida, with recurring funding of $2 million. The intent is that these efforts will lead to faster and more resilient restoration of the seagrasses in the Lagoon to counteract the devastating seagrass losses over the past decade, which resulted in death by starvation of over 1,000 manatees between 2020 and 2022.
- Notably, this year’s budget allocates over $1.5 billion toward restoration and conservation projects, the largest amount in state history. Most of this funding will support land acquisition or conservation easements for the Florida Wildlife Corridor, Rural and Family Lands, and Everglades programs. All of this is good news for manatees since undeveloped lands are less likely to contribute to water quality degradation and natural shorelines provide better manatee habitat, including in inland areas.
For Save the Manatee Club and other organizations working to preserve Florida’s fragile waterways, this year’s legislative session has also been dubbed the “session of sprawl,” with the passage of several bills that decrease development project oversight.
- Despite Governor DeSantis’s call for better growth management coordination, he recently signed into law a bill that makes it more difficult for citizens to challenge harmful development projects. We are grateful for the support you showed asking him to veto this new law and hope that our efforts will pay off in the future.
- Another blow to Florida’s progress toward improving water quality is a last-minute proviso in the state’s budget that prohibits local governments from passing new fertilizer ordinances that contain “blackout periods,” or times when fertilizing is not allowed for at least the next year. It’s especially unfortunate because we believe the question of the effectiveness of such bans has been asked and answered many times over. In fact, 17 counties and over 115 municipalities have already enacted such bans, and studies show that they work.
In many ways, this year’s legislation and funding amounts provide unprecedented opportunities to protect Florida’s fragile habitat and aquatic ecosystems. However, conservation programs take time to build, and land acquisitions don’t happen overnight. We are hopeful that Florida’s legislature remains committed to preserving Florida’s land and waterways, regardless of how long it takes.