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Florida Post-Legislative Session Wrap-Up

Florida’s sixty day legislative session officially came to a close on March 8, 2024. Thousands of bills were filed, and Surfrider’s network engaged with the process every step of the way. While there were good bills and bad bills on the agenda, we are brimming with pride for every single one of our chapters, members, and volunteers who took action for Florida’s ocean, waves, and beaches during this session. Whether it was sending postcards to legislators to support a new bill aimed at incentivizing and facilitating mangrove replanting and restoration, traveling to Tallahassee to meet with their elected officials to discuss Surfrider’s priority bills and funding for Florida Healthy Beaches Day, picking up the phone and calling specific legislators to support or oppose bills during the committee process, or sending emails to oppose bad preemption bills, our network made Surfrider’s presence known at the Capitol this session. 

While Surfrider reviews every bill that is filed to analyze its potential impacts on Florida’s coasts, we had several proactive priorities that we advocated for long before session started to prime lawmakers during committee weeks in the hopes they would pass during this session. For the 2024 legislative session, our network focused on prohibiting intentional balloon releases, strengthening beach water quality monitoring and public notification, and incentivizing mangrove replanting and restoration. We are so thrilled that two out of three of our priority bills passed and are awaiting the Governor's signature! Let’s take a deeper dive into the bills Surfrider tracked and where they landed when all was said and done March 8th. 

Clean Water

One of Surfrider’s leading priorities for clean water has been addressing deficiencies in funding and law governing the Florida Healthy Beaches Program. This small but critical public health program housed within the Department of Health provides the beachgoing public with the information they need to make informed decisions for themselves and their families about whether or not it is safe to swim. The program experienced a 50% funding cut in 2011 that has never been fully recovered, and with few requirements on how the public is informed, beachgoers, surfers, and ocean recreationists in Florida have been vulnerable to getting sick, or worse, when they swim or recreate in the ocean in Florida. 

That’s why Surfrider has been advocating for HB165/SB338 Sampling of Beach Waters and Public Bathing Spaces, aka ‘Safe Waterways Act’ for three years alongside partners at Calusa Waterkeeper. While the bill barely saw favorable committee action in year’s past, this year’s iteration of the bipartisan bill, led by Representative Peggy Gossett-Seidman and Representative Lindsay Cross, and Senator Lori Berman and Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, made it across the finish line and passed both chambers in the final weeks of session. The bill’s passage is a major victory for beachgoers everywhere and Surfrider is encouraging the Governor to urgently sign this bill. 

In addition to this proactive victory, HB527/SB664 Land and Water Management, a bill that would have made local wetland protections prohibitively expensive for counties and municipalities and established more preemption on dredge and fill activities, never saw the light of day. In light of the recent Supreme Court decision on wetlands, Surfrider has been tracking legislation that would undermine local wetland protections. While this bill would have made local wetland protections all but impossible, it never had a chance and died at the end of session. 

Plastic Pollution 

Surfrider has been focused on addressing the state’s balloon release laws and removing confusing language that allows for individuals to release up to ten helium filled balloons each day for several sessions. Balloon litter is one of the deadliest types of marine debris for birds and other ocean life, and poses a threat to Florida’s waterways, wildlife, and even cattle industry. HB321/SB602 Release of Balloons has been filed in previous years, with no traction. In 2024, the bill, filed by Representative Chaney and Representative Mooney, and Senator DiCeglie, removes these provisions and defines intentional balloon releases as litter, subject to the same fines and penalties as any other type of litter. 

Thanks to the advocacy of a coalition of ocean advocates seeking to address plastic pollution in Florida, including Surfrider Foundation, Sea Turtle Conservancy, Oceana, and Ocean Conservancy, this bill passed with little opposition during the 2024 session. This legislation will close a confusing loophole in state law and prevent unnecessary balloon litter from clogging the state’s beaches and harming ocean wildlife. Our network celebrates this victory and is urging the governor to sign this legislation into law. 

A thorn in the side of advocates seeking to address the root cause of plastic pollution in Florida has been the existing preemption on the regulation of most single use items that has left local governments and the state, paralyzed by inaction. While efforts to overturn this preemption have been unsuccessful for the larger part of the last decade, a big, bad expansion of this preemption was filed at the beginning of the session. HB1641/SB1126 Regulation of Auxiliary Containers filed by Representative Yeager and Senator Martin. The bill would have expanded the existing preemption to preempt all single use and reusable bags, cups, bottles, containers, and wrappings sourced from plastic and other materials. Surfrider fought this bill alongside partners at Florida Springs Council, Sierra Club, Oceana, and Sea Turtle Conservancy. The opposition to this bill was so great that it was temporarily postponed from committee agendas in the House and Senate, and the bill officially died on the last day of session. 

Coasts and Climate 

It is no secret that Surfrider is leaning into nature-based solutions to address the climate crisis, and Florida is home to so many natural features that are ripe for carbon sequestration, flood mitigation, and erosion protections. With so many types of nature-based solutions available in the Sunshine State, Surfrider’s network has been advocating for laws to increase and incentivize their implementation. This session, the focus has been on mangroves, and promoting their restoration in suitable habitats and coastal areas throughout Florida. 

HB1581/SB32 Mangrove Replanting and Restoration by Representative Mooney and Senator Garcia would have done just that. With significant support from Surfrider and other organizations invested in nature-based climate solutions, the bill passed the House, but did not make it across the finish line in the Senate. While this bill will not become law in 2024, with the support galvanized this year, we are optimistic about the prospects for a mangrove replanting and restoration bill in Florida for the 2025 session. 

While support for nature-based solutions was high, there were several bills introduced that would have negatively impacted our coasts with varying degrees of support from the legislature. First and foremost was HB789/SB738 Environmental Management, a bill with several troubling provisions for the coastal and environmental community. Initially, the bill revived language Surfrider had previously opposed aimed at making it easier to build in coastal areas impacted by hurricanes and storm events, as well as a fee-shifting provision for losing parties in environmental challenges. These two troubling provisions were removed, but given opposition by some groups regarding the remaining provisions, the bill died at the end of session. While this bill did not ultimately pass, HB1647/SB1526 Local Regulation of Nonconforming Structures, a bill that would restrict local governments from removing structures in risky coastal areas and requiring them to rebuild to maximum density, did pass. While the bill was significantly amended, it still includes some troubling provisions for our coasts and is a step in the wrong direction in light of sea level rise and climate change. 

Unfortunately, this year’s budget also included yet another extension of the Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Grant Program. While Surfrider has vehemently and vocally opposed the use of public funds for private armoring, the legislature continues to extend this program and use of funds that could be better served supporting the state’s resilience and climate adaptation efforts. Surfrider continues to oppose the use of tax dollars for private seawalls, and will continue to monitor this program’s implementation moving forward. 

Many of these bills, including the state budget, are awaiting the Governor’s signature. While Surfrider is advocating for urgent action to sign HB165 Sampling of Beach Waters and HB321 Release of Balloons into law, there is a significant gap in time before the Governor is required to sign legislation into law. Legislation passed by both chambers must first be transmitted to the Governor for consideration to be signed into law, he then has 15 days to sign, veto, or neither. If he does neither, the law quietly becomes law without his affirmative signature on July 1. All laws signed also go into effect on July 1, 2024. 

We thank all of our advocates for their efforts to influence a better future for Florida’s beaches during the 2024 legislative session, and we are excited to keep the momentum going in 2025.