Lawmakers gathered early this year in Tallahassee for their annual 60-day lawmaking session, and Audubon focused on conservation funding as our top priority. With 2018 being an important election year for many lawmakers, Florida’s environment faced eager lawmakers ready to make an impact on the state. We cheered on good ideas and fought back against ideas that threatened Florida’s birds and the places they need. This special end-of-session report highlights this year’s successes as well as some of the challenges we face due to legislation that passed—and where we go from here.
The 2018 Legislative Session ran into overtime, with both chambers finally passing the budget a few days after the scheduled session end date. During the final hours before passing the budget, amendments to other substantive bills started flying. Audubon action alerts right up until the end raised the alarm on several bad amendments that would be harmful to natural resources and good governance. Thanks to Audubon advocates, many of those were withdrawn or their underlying bills failed to pass.
Also because of the hard work of Audubon staff, advocates, and partners, robust conservation funding remained in the budget and it was signed into law. Together, we secured:
• $100.8 million in Florida Forever funding (including $5.8 million for Rural and Family Lands Protection Program),
• $248 million for Everglades restoration and protection,
• $50 million for springs protection, and more.
While a lot of legislators helped move this funding along, much of this success is a direct result of Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley's dedication. Some bills progressed this year but ultimately failed to pass both chambers. Lawmakers proposed to gut tree protections passed by local governments. After input from Audubon, the House proposal was improved but did not pass. The much worse Senate version failed in the Senate. A ban on fracking made progress once again this year in the Senate, but it failed to pick up traction in the House.
We celebrate the investments in land conservation, America’s Everglades, and Florida springs, but we still have work to do. To join our action network and stay informed of Florida’s top environmental issues, go to FL.Audubon.org/SignUp.
Legislature Appropriates Increased Funding for Conservation
While bills in the House and the Senate that proposed future funding for Florida Forever failed to pass, the most important thing—funding in the upcoming year—was in the final budget. When the dust cleared, the Legislature appropriated $100.8 million for the constellation of programs that comprise Florida Forever. This is an important increase from last year’s meager land conservation appropriation.
• $77 million for environmentally endangered lands (like state parks, wildlife management areas and state forests),
• $5.8 million for Rural and Family Lands easements,
• $10 million for Florida Communities Trust,
• $2 million for Working Waterfronts, and
• $6 million for FRDAP and children’s park amenities.
Continuing the state’s commitment to restoring and protecting America's Everglades, the Florida Legislature appropriated $248.1 million for the upcoming year. With a number of CERP projects already in the construction phase, restoration success depends on strong and sustained appropriations to get projects from start to finish in a timely manner. Audubon is grateful for the state’s renewed commitment to America’s River of Grass.
• $111.1 million for implementation of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP),
• $64 million for the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) reservoir (authorized in 2017’s Senate Bill 10),
• $32 million for the state’s restoration strategies plan for water quality improvement in the Everglades,
• $31 million for northern Everglades projects,
• $5 million for agricultural nutrient reduction, and
• $5 million for dispersed water storage.
Both chambers agreed on $50 million for the coming year for springs protection and restoration. These funds are an important opportunity to not just undertake water quality protection projects, but also acquire strategic parcels or easements in vulnerable springsheds.
Lend Your Voice to Florida's Wildlife and Wildlands
Thousands of advocates helped Audubon Florida stop bad legislation this year in Tallahassee. 2019 will bring a new Governor, Cabinet, and legislative leadership to Tallahassee, and they'll need to hear from you on the issues that matter.
Be in the know.
Join Audubon's action network at FL.Audubon.org/SignUp.
Bill Authorizing State to Assume Federal Clean Water Act Permitting Now in Rulemaking
Despite broad opposition from the conservation community, Senate Bill 1402 (2018) passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott. This bad bill was a top priority for Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as well as legislative leadership. Audubon raised concerns about the lack of detail available to evaluate the proposal as well as the ability of DEP to assume this complex permitting program without any additional staff. Now, DEP is negotiating agreements with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But we can’t do it alone. Public comment processes on the agreements and rulemaking are essential to ensuring Florida’s wetlands receive adequate protection. Stay tuned for opportunities in this process to lend your voice to Florida’s swamps, seeps, lakes and wet prairies, and all the creatures who depend upon them.