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Impact Zone: 2024 Committee Week Five

The days are ticking away as we approach the 2024 legislative session. Agendas for the first committee week of December were light on bills, but there were a number of presentations relevant to our ocean, waves and beaches and a committee stop for one of Surfrider's 2024 priorities. 

Surfrider was up at the Florida Capitol this week to speak at a press conference with sponsors of the bipartisan Safe Waterways Act. Florida Policy Manager Emma Haydocy spoke alongside bill sponsors Senator Lori Berman (D - Boynton Beach), Representative Peggy Gossett-Seidman (R - Highland Beach), and Representative Lindsay Cross (D - St. Petersburg) about the urgency of this bill and the need to better protect Florida beachgoers by improving the state's bacteriological sampling of beach waters and public notification. The bill has been co-introduced in the Senate by Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez (R - Doral). Check out this coverage from the Capitol. 

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The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources convened to hear several bills and appoint or reappoint members to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Water Management Districts. One of Surfrider's priority bills for 2024, SB32 Mangrove Replanting and Restoration, was heard and passed unanimously through the committee with than amendment that would further incentivize the use of mangroves for living shorelines, as resiliency projects subject to funding by the Resilient Florida Program, and includes a study by the Office of Insurance Regulation to determine the value of mangroves and other nature-based solutions for flood risk reduction to reduce flood insurance premiums of the inclusion of mangroves as a part of the Community Ratings System for the National Flood Insurance Program. The committee also voted favorably on a bill focused on waste reduction and recycling by Senator Stewart (D-Orlando), saltwater intrusion vulnerability assessments by Senator Polsky (D - Boca Raton) and heard a presentation from the Department of Environmental Protection on the ongoing stormwater rulemaking. 

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Environment and General Government convened to hear the Governor's budget recommendations, which were released this week. Funding for the environment, ecosystems restoration, and targeted water quality improvements met expectations and went largely unquestioned. Senator Tina Polsky (D - Boca Raton) did follow-up on the notably reduction in funds for the Resilient Florida Program, which have dropped near threefold since the program was established in 2021. Even with the reduction in funding, it was raised that all counties in Florida should have their vulnerability assessments completed by the end of FY2024-25. 

The Water Quality, Supply and Treatment Subcommittee met to hear a harrowing presentation relating to PFAS in Florida's waterways. The outlook is grim, and there is much work to be done to ensure that Florida's addresses emerging contaminants like PFAS to protect public and environmental health. 

As we approach the close of 2023, what started as a trickle of 2024 legislative session bills is now a downpour. Surfrider policy staff will be hard at work in the last few weeks of the year to review bills with a fine tooth comb and map out how the Florida network can engage to support key policy priorities and vocally oppose bad bills. Here are a few on our radar this week:

SB698 Regulation of Single Use Plastic by Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez (R - Doral) would allow coastal communities of a certain size to regulate plastic as a part of a pilot study, and report findings back to the legislature. While this bill is not a full repeal on the preemption of the regulation of most plastics, it is a step in the right direction to reducing plastic waste in Florida. There is no house companion at this time. 

SB602 Release of Balloons by Senator Nick DiCeglie (R - St. Petersburg) is the Senate companion to HB321. This version of the bill repeals provisions of the state balloon law that allow for the intentional release of up to ten helium filled balloons a day, removes exceptions for biodegradable balloons, and updates Florida's litter law to include intentionally released balloons as a type of litter, subject to the same fines and enforcement as any other type of refuse. Addressing intentional balloon release is priority campaign for Surfrider's Florida network. 

SB608 Dredging and Beach Restoration Projects by Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez (R - Doral) is the Senate companion to a bill aimed at requiring third party environmental analysis of the impacts of dredging and beach renourishment projects. This bill would help ensure that our waves, reefs and ocean recreation would not be adversely impacted by these projects. 

SB664 Land and Water Management by Senator Danny Burgess (R - Zephyrhills) is the Senate companion of to HB527, a the bill would preempt the regulation of dredge and fill activities to the state and require municipalities to acquire any additional wetland buffers beyond what is established by the DEP. This bill represents yet another attempt to take home rule over local watershed activities and protections away from municipalities and counties. Surfrider opposes this legislation. 

SB 738 / HB 789 Environmental Management  by Senator Danny Burgess (R-Zephyrhills) and Representative Toby Overdorf (R - Palm City) would have a chilling effect on citizen suits over environmental decisions: the prevailing party in certain actions against DEP or water management districts would be entitled to "reasonable" costs & attorney fees. The bill also includes a requirement that nonindustrial stormwater management systems be designed with side slopes that meet certain minimum design requirements and requires DEP and water management districts to conduct " holistic" reviews of their respective agency's coastal permitting processes and permit programs. Surfrider opposed the coastal permitting review language last session, as it has the potential to make it easier to build along Florida's already crowded coasts and negatively impact coastal ecosystems. 

Next week marks the final committee week before the 2024 session!  We'll be watching the outcome of the first committee stop for HB321 Release of Balloons and reviewing the deluge of legislation being filed to close out the year. Keep an eye out next week for the final installment of the Impact Zone of 2023! 

Don't forget to sign-up to advocate for our ocean, waves and beaches in Tallahassee at Florida Healthy Beaches Day!