Governor DeSantis has made environment and water-related issues a top priority for Florida – committing $2.5 billion to environmental spending over his four-year term.
With environmental issues being a major aspect of the last campaign cycle, some of the 2019 legislative session's bills of interest were:
FRACKING (FAILED) – CS/HB 7029 (Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee) and CS/SB 7064 (Agriculture Committee) both would have banned the oil- and gas-drilling technique known as “fracking”. Fracking is an issue that has been around for several sessions and that was widely discussed during the 2018 campaign season. Neither bill passed its respective Chamber due to varying criticisms such as the vagueness of the legislation and perceived loopholes that could still permit similar chemical-based drilling techniques. It is expected that proponents of the legislation will file similar bills next year.
RED TIDE (PASSED) – CS/CS/HB 1135 (Grant, M.) and SB 1552 (Gruters) provide $3 million annually to fund research and a statewide initiative to combat red tide following the devastating effects of the condition experienced in South Florida last summer. The legislation will establish the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative as a joint venture between the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and the Mote Marine Laboratory. The Legislature overwhelmingly supported the effort, delivering a major win on one of Governor DeSantis’ key campaign promises.
WASTEWATER (FAILED) – SB 1568 (Rodriguez, J.) would have placed strict restrictions on the practice of deep well injection for domestic wastewater discharge, which has long been criticized by environmental interest groups. Specifically, the legislation sought to prohibit the construction of new deep injection wells or the expansion of existing wells for domestic wastewater discharge. Further, it would have immediately reduced capacity for domestic wastewater deep well injection and ultimately would effectuate a phase-out of the technique statewide, including a related process of discharging domestic wastewater through ocean outfalls. This bill died without being heard by any committee of reference.
RECYCLABLE MATERIALS (PASSED, BUT VETOED BY GOVERNOR DESANTIS) – CS/SB 816 (Perry) and CS/CS/HB 771 (Overdorf) require local governments to address the contamination of recyclable material in contracts for the collection, transportation, and processing of residential recyclable waste. The legislation also creates a moratorium, expiring July 1, 2024, prohibiting local governments from adopting or enforcing an ordinance or other local regulation relating to single-use plastic straws. Despite passing the Legislature, Governor DeSantis vetoed the legislation citing the local plastic straw ban pre-emption component and suggesting that such issues should be handled at the local government level.
PLASTIC BAGS (FAILED) – SB 694 (Rodriguez, J.) was another bill aimed at curbing the use of single-use plastics. It would permit coastal municipalities with populations of less than 100,000 citizens to establish pilot programs to regulate or ban disposable plastic bags. The programs would have been tasked with collecting data on the effectiveness of the ban and issuing a report back to the Legislature by April 1, 2022. Similar to prior efforts in previous legislative sessions, the bill died without a single committee hearing.
WATER QUALITY IMPROVEMENTS (FAILED) – CS/CS/SB 1758 (Mayfield) and HB 1395 (Raschein), dubbed the “Clean Waterways Act”, represented an effort to bring comprehensive and significant reform to current law relating to water quality, wastewater treatment facilities, and environmental policy implementing required basin management action plans under the state’s total maximum daily load (TMDL) program. A major component of the legislation was the transfer of state regulation of septic tanks from the Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection, a move long sought by environmental activists. Despite significant debate and movement throughout the committee process, the legislation ultimately died without reaching the floor in the House or the Senate.
In addition to policy initiatives, environmental funding was also front and center in Tallahassee during the 2019 session. Going into the annual budget-making process, Governor DeSantis requested a $625M appropriation from the Legislature for Everglades restoration and protection of water resources. Budget writers in the House and Senate surpassed this amount by $30M in the state 2019-20 fiscal year spending plan. This sizeable investment has been lauded on both sides of the political aisle and by environmental activists across the state.
Environmental policy continues to be a major issue across the state, demanding the attention of voters and legislators alike. We expect many of the issues above to return in the 2020 legislative session as the Florida Legislature continues to press forward in search of policies that protect Florida’s fragile environment but meet her needs for growth and economic development. Governor DeSantis and his team are at the table as well, delivering a renewed focus from the Executive Branch on these issues.