It's been a busy week in Florida's capital city. This week, appropriations subcommittees in both chambers rolled out their initial budgets. Today, the House and Senate released their first budget drafts. This kicks off the budget process and starts negotiations between the House and Senate. Check out this edition of the Audubon Advocate to learn more about conservation funding proposals, what happened in the Constitution Revision Commission, movements in key water policy changes, and more.
A Flurry of Activity on Funding for Florida Forever, Rural and Family Lands, and Florida Communities Trust
Bradley's Strong Investment in Land Conservation Advances
On Wednesday, Senator Bradley's good Senate Bill 370 (SB 370), which would provide $100 million annually for Florida Forever, advanced in the Florida Senate. Audubon expects the full Senate to vote on SB 370 next week.
Rep. Caldwell Introduces Complex Bill on Florida Forever, Starts the Conversation in House
On the House side, GAC2 was approved as a committee bill. The bill revises the Florida Forever Trust Fund formula so that Florida Forever, Rural and Family Lands, and Florida Communities Trust each receive one-third of the allocation. However, water management districts are removed from Florida Forever entirely. It would not fund Florida Forever this year but would begin providing $57 million annually next year, scaling up to $200 million over several years. GAC2 also includes concerning language that may hinder the implementation of last year's Senate Bill 10 victory and the desperately needed Everglades restoration it would provide. Rep. Caldwell stated in committee that this was an unintended consequence and he will amend the bill to correct it going forward. Audubon looks forward to working with him on that effort. Florida's voters supported the Land and Water Legacy Amendment because they care about Florida Forever AND Everglades restoration, not Florida Forever OR Everglades restoration.
Budget Subcommittee Recommendations Signal Start of Negotiations
With the release of chair recommendations from both the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources and House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday, we got a glimpse of where negotiations on environmental program funding will begin between the chambers. On the Senate side, more than $150 million was allocated for Florida Forever. On the House side, $8 million was offered for Florida Forever and $10 million for the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. For more on proposed conservation funding, check out Audubon's Conservation Funding By the Numbers at the end of this email.
Audubon Raises Concerns in Committee on Bill to Delegate Federal Dredge and Fill Permitting Program to State
On Monday, the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee heard Senate Bill 1402 (SB 1402) by Sen. Simmons. This bill pushed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would pave the way for the state to take responsibility for much of the federal permitting and enforcement activities under the Clean Water Act's dredge and fill (Section 404) program. While the agency commits to assuming and maintaining the Act's standards for wetland protection, they suggest additional staff will not be needed to take on this large responsibility.
While it is true that there is considerable expertise within DEP and some responsibilities overlap between the federal program and the state's existing Environmental Resource Permit program, Audubon would like to see greater detail and provision in the bill for ongoing assessment of staff capacity. Sen. Simmons has a proven commitment to water resources, particularly springs, and DEP and the Senator are working with Audubon to address concerns.
Changes to environmental permitting may impact wetlands and other important bird habitats, and Audubon is working hard to ensure DEP is adequately resourced to handle the additional responsibilities.
Watch Audubon's Julie Wraithmell Testify at the 41:45 mark.
Audubon and Everglades Coalition Gather in Tallahassee for Everglades Action Day
This week, Audubon Florida joined the Everglades Coalition on the 6th Annual Everglades Action Day in Tallahassee. Passionate advocates from all corners of the state took over the Capitol on Tuesday to meet with legislators and discuss the Coalition's 2018 priorities for the beloved River of Grass.
Advocates pushed for the Coalition's priorities and discussed ongoing efforts to plan the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir as outlined in Senate Bill 10 (2017). Advocates also highlighted the need to use all the tools provided by the new law to ensure the project succeeds at diminishing harmful Lake discharges to the northern estuaries and increasing freshwater flows to the southern Everglades- all while meeting water quality standards.
Audubon Continues Campaign to Protect Local Environmental Safeguards, Prop 95 Rescheduled for February 2
On Tuesday, Audubon Florida launched a campaign to defeat Proposal 95 being considered in the Constitution Revision Commission's (CRC) Local Government Committee after the committee announced it would consider the proposal today. Our campaign generated almost 4,000 petition signatures to defeat the bad proposal that would threaten local government's ability to create and enforce safeguards for the environment.
Under pressure from Audubon, local governments, and other groups, an amendment was filed Thursday. While the amendment is appreciated, it did not correct these fatal flaws. Audubon remained opposed to the original and amended proposal.
Today, the bad proposal was "temporarily postponed" during the committee's meeting, but our victory was short-lived.
Proposal 95 was just placed on the agenda for next Friday's Local Government Committee meeting. That's why it is important to keep our petition going! We're keeping our petition open so more Floridians can voice their opposition to this bad proposal before it comes up again in the committee next Friday. Be sure to sign today and share with your friends and family.
The CRC meets every 20 years to examine and propose changes to the Florida Constitution. Commissioners are appointed by the Governor, President of the Florida Senate, Speaker of the Florida House, and the Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice. The Attorney General also automatically serves on the CRC. The CRC is currently meeting to develop and recommend changes to the Florida Constitution. Any proposals that pass the CRC's final vote would be placed on the general election ballot (November 6, 2018) and must win at least 60 percent voter approval to become law.
Audubon Advocacy Leads to Substantial Improvements in Local Tree Ordinance Preemption Legislation
House Bill 521 by Rep. Katie Edwards will be heard in the House Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee next week with a sweeping amendment that substantially improves the bill- a direct response to concerns expressed by Audubon Florida and others. Should the bill be amended, it will no longer match its companion in the Senate. Audubon-opposed Senate Bill 574 remains referred to three committees and has not even been scheduled for its first committee hearing.
Local tree protections do not just preserve the aesthetic character of our communities. They also provide protection for our urban forests, which provide essential habitat for migrant and resident birds, protect urban air quality, and reduce the "heat island" effect of paved urban areas. Audubon continues to monitor both the House and Senate versions of this legislation.
Conservation Funding By the Numbers
*The Governor's budget recommendations also included $50 million for State Parks, which includes ongoing management expenses.
Budget subcommittees in the House and Senate rolled out their initial budget proposals this week.
House Proposal Highlights
- Everglades Restoration is funded at $239.1 million, including
- $163.5 million for CERP,
- $32 million for Restoration Strategies,
- $29.3 million for Northern Everglades, and
- $9.3 million for agricultural nutrient reduction strategies for Lake Okeechobee.
- The Herbert Hoover Dike is funded at an additional $50 million.
- Florida Forever is funded at $18 million, including
- $10 million for Rural and Family Lands and
- $8 million for Florida Forever.
- Springs Restoration is funded at $50 million.
- State Park improvements are funded at $38.9 million with an additional $4 million for ADA compliance.
- The Florida Resilient Coastline Initiative is funded at $3.6 million. This is a grant program to assist local governments with sea level rise planning, storm and coastal resiliency, and coral reef health.
Senate Proposal Highlights
- Everglades Restoration is funded at $187.5 million.
- The Herbert Hoover Dike is funded at an additional $50 million.
- Florida Forever is funded at $154 million, including $5 million for the Florida Keys.
- Springs restoration is funded at $100 million.
- State park improvements are funded at $32.9 million.
- The St. Johns River and Keystone Heights are funded at $50 million.
- Importantly, the Senate is funding $135.7 million in agency administrative costs from General Revenue (GR) rather than using Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) dollars- freeing up LATF funds from administrative overhead for important environmental programs. Thank you to Senator Bradley for his leadership in helping ensure less conservation dollars are spent on government administrative costs.
Audubon Florida's Legislative Priorities
Land Conservation Funding
Audubon supports agency budget requests for Florida Forever and the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program that recommend strong funding for land acquisition and conservation easements. Audubon is seeking $150 million for land conservation.
With the successful passage of the Legacy Florida Act in 2016 and Senate Bill 10 in 2017, we must continue to follow through on commitments to restoring America’s Everglades. Audubon supports the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Legislative Budget Request that seeks $305.8 million in Everglades funding- the largest single request ever by the agency.
Funds appropriated by the Florida Legislature can be leveraged with other funding sources to advance springs projects and programs to improve water quality and increase freshwater flows. Audubon is seeking $50 million for Florida’s springs.
Audubon is seeking $5 million for Lake Apopka Restoration.