As detailed below, the 2023 legislative session was a mixed bag. Our state legislators filed a number of concerning bills that counter the positive policy solutions for which the Conservancy of Southwest Florida advocates. Direct attacks on sound growth management and water quality policies were at the center of a number of proposed bills this session, inconsistent with the Governor’s recent Executive Order 23-06.
However, there is some positive news regarding funding in the state budget for the Florida Wildlife Corridor, Everglades Restoration, land acquisition, and water quality improvements.
The Conservancy thanks all who responded to our e-advocacy alerts to protect the water, land, wildlife, and future of Southwest Florida.
SB 540 Local Government Comprehensive Plans
Comprehensive plans are the backbone of how our communities grow. Their strength lies in citizen engagement, including the ability for our communities to enforce changes to those comprehensive plans.
SB540, with its fee-shifting provision, will create a chilling effect on individuals and organizations who want to defend good planning policy, but cannot afford to take on the real and significant risk of losing and having to pay attorney fees for both the local government and third-party intervenors.
Today, when Florida desperately needs good growth plans, this new law could not have happened at a worse time. What happens on the land directly impacts our wetlands, waterways, and water quality. This law affects not just comprehensive plans, but the natural resources upon which we all depend. We strongly opposed this bill and called for a veto; unfortunately, the bill was signed by Governor DeSantis at the end of May.
SB 172/HB 177 Safe Waterways Act
We were disappointed that the Safe Waterways Act did not move through again this year. This common sense bill would advance the Florida Healthy Beaches program and protect beachgoers by improving public notification when beach waters are impaired by fecal bacteria.
We hope to see this bill filed again next year and support legislation to fill gaps that currently exist in water quality testing, reporting, and public information.
SB 1240/HB 1197 Land and Water Management
While the bill failed this session, it would have preempted local governments from establishing policies and rules to protect local water quality, including pollution control, pollutant discharge prevention or removal, and wetlands protections.
We oppose such preemption bills. Instead, we support the local government’s authority to implement more stringent policies than state standards to protect water resources, such as adopting more stringent local fertilizer ordinances, which were also under attack this session.
State Stormwater Rule Updates
With the water quality promises of the Governor’s Executive Order 23-06, we must not forget about past Executive Orders and legislation aimed at protecting and restoring Florida’s waterbodies and our economy and wildlife that depend on clean water. One of which is an update of the state stormwater rule.
After a proposed rule update was not adopted in 2010, we were hopeful that a renewed process, required by the 2020 Clean Waterways Act, would move forward stringent and proactive updated stormwater treatment standards. Stormwater runoff is one of the most significant sources of nonpoint pollution to Florida waterbodies and this nutrient loading can stimulate harmful algal blooms.
The Conservancy has advocated for stormwater regulatory reform for nearly two decades and continued these efforts over the last year by actively participating in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s rulemaking process. Unfortunately, after modifications were made to the proposed rule language in response to last-minute objections from the regulated industry, the final stormwater rule falls short of the regulatory changes necessary to meaningfully improve water quality and protect our waters, many of which are already impaired.
After years of advocating for an updated stormwater rule, we are disappointed in the final language.
This final rule also requires legislative ratification and did not receive a bill this session. Not only was the rulemaking a missed opportunity, but without a ratifying bill, Florida will have to wait another year for such modest stormwater reform, while population and development pressures continue to increase.
We will continue tracking the rule into the 2024 legislative session.