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December 16 Weekly Newsletter

2024 Florida Legislative Session: A Crucial Year for Policy and Politics


The 2024 legislative session is set to garner unprecedented attention, largely influenced by the GOP Presidential Race and Governor Ron DeSantis' bid for the nomination. DeSantis' $114.4 billion budget, a reduction from the previous year, aims to cut state spending while offering tax cuts, increased reserve funds, and eliminating about 1000 state jobs. Governor DeSantis' actions will be closely monitored, especially considering his veto power, which was significantly exercised in the past two sessions.


Apart from the Governor, other state leaders are shaping their agendas. Current Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner have their priorities too, ranging from healthcare access to social media regulations. Senate President-designate Ben Albritton and House Speaker-designate Daniel Perez are focusing on agriculture and rural development, and limited government, respectively.


The session will also see debates on diverse issues like bear hunting, libel bill rewrites, annual taxes on people owning electric vehicle, and hopefully more property insurance reforms. A significant focus should be on land conservation, with a proposed $1 billion allocation for protecting natural areas. This is a critical step given the state's environmental challenges.


The 2023-24 budget included substantial allocations for land conservation and water quality projects, reflecting the state's commitment to environmental sustainability. Despite these efforts, more funding is needed, particularly for areas like the Indian River Lagoon, especially in regard to unfunded state mandates such as HB 1379’s Septic to Sewer conversion 2030 deadline.


As Florida approaches this pivotal legislative session, the balance between political ambitions and policy-making will be on display. The session is expected to shape not only the state's immediate future but also have lasting impacts on its environmental, social, and economic landscape. With various leaders pushing their agendas and the Governor's significant influence, 2024 is set to be a year of consequential decisions and potential shifts in Florida's legislative direction. Let’s hope there is not too much preemption of powers away from local jurisdictions and lots of money for cleaning up our impaired waterways. Whatever happens in Tallahasse, the IRNA will keep you abreast of what is going on.


 

The IRNA is committed to keeping a close eye on the upcoming Legislative Session, ensuring you're informed about the various bills progressing through Tallahassee - the good, the bad, and the ugly. We strongly urge you to engage with our elected representatives on matters close to your heart. Remember, it's through our collective grassroots action that we can effectively challenge the influence of special interest groups.


 

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We're truly grateful for your past support and kindly request your consideration for a contribution today, if you haven't yet. Your continued partnership is vital in our pursuit of a sustainable future. If possible, please donate today to assist us in continuing to make a meaningful impact. Thank you once again for your unwavering support.



 

The journey to qualify the "Right to Clean and Healthy Waters" Constitutional Amendment for Florida's 2024 ballot made significant strides, with about 115,000 petitions collected out of the 900,000 needed. This effort, driven largely by volunteers and minimal funding, is viewed as a remarkable feat by campaign professionals.


With an eye on the 2026 ballot, the campaign acknowledges the need for increased funding and professional expertise. This is especially crucial in light of recent legislative proposals like the controversial "Sprawl Bill," which pose challenges to environmental protection in the state. The amendment represents a critical response to such legislative threats, aiming to safeguard Florida's environmental future.


This stage in the campaign's journey is not the end but a promising new beginning. As we look towards 2026, there's a renewed sense of hope and determination. The groundwork laid by the tireless efforts of volunteers and supporters has set the stage for a stronger, more impactful campaign.


This momentum is not just about a ballot measure; it's a growing movement for environmental stewardship, reflecting a communal commitment to protecting Florida's natural resources for generations to come. With continued support and collaboration, the dream of clean and healthy waters in Florida is more attainable than ever. We'll have more information on how you can help in 2024.


 

Strange ship off Vero Beach is not for windmills, oil drilling or treasure hunting (TCPalm) - The strange ship sighted off Vero Beach, initially sparking various theories such as treasure hunting, windmill construction, or oil drilling, is actually the offshore supply ship LB Jill, in transit to Louisiana from New York after working on an offshore windfarm project.


Vero Beach picks a plan for Twin Pairs after a year of study, planning, meetings, comments (TCPalm) - Vero Beach City Council, after extensive community involvement and study, voted for a $385,000 Twin Pairs improvement project focusing on safety, including wider bike lanes and reduced lane width, rejecting more expensive options and a no-cost alternative.


Strong winds, high surf, cold front in forecast leading into next week (Vero News) - Indian River County faces strong winds and high surf this week, with meteorologists warning of waves over 10 feet tall, high risk of rip currents, and a cold front arriving by Sunday night, leading to cooler temperatures early next week.


Parking ticket glitch can result in a $22 surprise (Vero News) - Vero Beach's license plate-reading system for parking enforcement, despite its intent to track two-hour limits, has a glitch due to GPS inaccuracy, causing some drivers to receive $22 tickets even after moving their cars as required, a situation acknowledged and addressed by the police chief.


Port St. Lucie, St. Lucie County throw support behind Fort Pierce for Brightline station (TCPalm) - St. Lucie County and Port St. Lucie are united in support of Fort Pierce's bid for a new Brightline station, with local government officials and private developers proposing potential sites, including a county-owned parking garage, as the application deadline approaches. Stuart seems to be the other potential location for the station.


Seeing Pollution in Clear Color – Water Data Maps (jacquithurlowlippisch.com) - Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch criticizes Florida's Basin Management Action Plans for being ineffective in cleaning up polluted waters, attributing the failure to public misunderstanding due to complex reporting.


How DEP plans to punish a Port St. Lucie resort for destroying a half-acre mangrove canopy (TCPalm) - The Florida Department of Environmental Protection plans to penalize Sandpiper Bay Resort in Port St. Lucie for illegally destroying a mangrove canopy by imposing a $110,395 fine, requiring the replanting of 2,780 mangrove trees, and conducting five years of monitoring, in response to the resort's unauthorized clearing of nearly a half-acre of shoreline.


Stuart, Vero Beach, Fort Pierce make list of best U.S. cities for snowbirds, zoombirds (TCPalm) - Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, and Stuart are ranked among the top 15 U.S. cities for snowbirds and zoombirds, offering ideal conditions like pleasant weather, affordable housing, ample recreational options, and strong internet connectivity, according to a StorageCafe survey.


 

November 2023 defied expectations with significant rainfall in the southern St. Johns River Water Management District, including Indian River County. This unusual weather event, departing from the typical dry November, was detailed in a report at the District’s Governing Board meeting on December 12.


Some areas in Brevard, Indian River, Osceola, and Orange counties experienced over 12 inches of rain on November 16, contributing to a monthly average of 4.64 inches districtwide, twice the normal. The central Florida corridor saw rainfall three times higher than usual. Despite this spike, the district's 12-month cumulative rainfall remains slightly below average at 49.85 inches. Groundwater levels in the Upper Floridan aquifer were mostly high or normal, with the districtwide level at the 55th percentile. Spring flows at Silver Springs, Blue Spring, Rock Springs, and Wekiwa Springs remained within normal ranges despite minor fluctuations.


This unexpected rainfall highlights the variability of weather and the importance of adaptive water management. For more information and water conservation tips, visit www.sjrwmd.com and WaterLessFlorida.com.


 

One side of Florida is running out of water. The other is getting bombarded with too much rain (AP News) - Florida is experiencing a stark contrast in rainfall, with the southeast coast facing excessive rain and record-breaking downpours, while the Gulf of Mexico coast suffers from a severe drought leading to new water use restrictions and affecting various aspects of daily life.


Want to challenge an environmental decision in Florida? It could cost you (VoteWater) - Florida's House Bill 789 and Senate Bill 738 propose penalizing citizens who unsuccessfully challenge state environmental decisions by making them liable for up to $50,000 in court costs, a move seen as an effort to intimidate and reduce citizen challenges to environmental permits and authorizations.


Sprawling new developments obliterate the revival of Florida panthers (Florida Phoenix) - New sprawling developments pose a threat to the Florida panther, potentially causing up to 25 panther deaths annually due to increased traffic and habitat destruction. Legal action and public opposition aim to protect these endangered species.


Florida’s home-hardening grant program is lowering insurance premiums for some, but not all homeowners. Here’s why (Florida Politics) - Florida's home-hardening grant program, aimed at improving property wind resistance and lowering insurance premiums, has seen nearly 10% of its grant funds distributed, but fewer than half of the recipients have reported reduced insurance costs due to two main reasons: some homeowners only replaced some of their windows, and some repaired or replaced aspects of their homes that were in disrepair but did not reduce the overall insurance cost.


The billion-dollar industry between you and FEMA's flood insurance (Coastal News Today) - The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in the USA relies on private insurance companies to sell and service its policies, which has led to concerns about the high costs and low participation rates, prompting calls for changes such as capping broker compensation and allowing FEMA to sell policies directly to consumers, though FEMA and insurance companies argue it's not straightforward to do so.


What Happens When Sunlight Breaks Down Ocean Plastic? (Coastal News Today) - Researchers from Northeastern University have discovered that when plastics, particularly polyethylene, polypropylene, and expanded polystyrene, break down in sunlight, hundreds of chemicals are produced, potentially impacting the ocean's carbon cycle, marine chemistry, and human health, although sunlight can eventually dissolve smaller microplastics from surface waters if plastics stop entering the ocean.


Researchers used Hurricane Larry to prove ocean microplastics can be swept inland as air pollution (Coastal News Today) - During Hurricane Larry in 2021, researchers found that ocean microplastics can be carried inland as air pollution, with the highest concentration of microplastics, over 100,000 particles per square meter per day, recorded during the hurricane, raising concerns about the potential risks to human and animal health and ecosystem health from these tiny, easily ingested or inhaled particles.


OPINION: Offshore wind leases can and should bring revenue to states (Coastal News Today) - Policies like the RISEE Act, which allocates a portion of offshore wind lease revenue to states adjacent to the project and supports infrastructure investments, have the potential to create jobs, bolster coastal conservation and restoration efforts, and advance the U.S. transition to clean energy while generating new tax revenues for coastal states.


 

Indian River County and the Indian River Land Trust announced the reopening of the Indian River Lagoon Greenway. The trail was temporarily closed due to the presence of feral hogs, which have now been safely removed. Authorities assured that the issue has been resolved and continuous monitoring will be conducted to maintain the area's safety.


Visitors are advised to tread carefully as some trails have been recently raked. The reopening aligns perfectly with the holidays and cooler weather, ideal for hiking and exploring the natural beauty of the Greenway. It can be a great place to bring out-of-towners for a taste of a more wild Florida!


 

Update on our Seven Springs Legal Challenge - The “Nestle” Case (Florida Springs Council) - The Administrative Law Judge recommended approval of the Seven Springs Water Company bottling permit, equating public interest to private financial interests, leading to disappointment for environmental advocates, but they are considering legal options to address this failure of the permitting system, including pursuing a harm rule and defining the public interest in water permitting.


Saving endangered species: New AI method counts manatee clusters in real time (SciEnMag) - Researchers from Florida Atlantic University have developed a deep learning-based crowd counting approach using images from CCTV cameras to automatically count the number of manatees in a designated region, addressing the challenges of counting these endangered species and offering potential ways to aid in their conservation efforts.


‘Never seen a group of substances’ like these: House lawmakers told of the perils of PFAS (Florida Politics) - The Florida House Water Quality, Supply & Treatment Subcommittee discussed the potential threats posed by PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), highlighting their dangers, the variety of compounds, and their impact on water sources, with concerns about their carcinogenic effects on humans still evolving, while efforts are being made to study and address PFAS in the state's water systems.


From Flush to Faucet: More Places Look to Turn Sewage into Tap Water (Maven's Notebook) - Communities across the United States are exploring the idea of turning sewage into tap water through advanced purification systems, which could provide a new source of drinking water amid increasing climate-related water challenges, though public perception and the "yuck" factor remain a challenge in convincing people of its safety and benefits.


How to build a bike lane in America (The Verge) - Building bike lanes in America faces numerous challenges, including political and cultural resistance, uneven distribution in cities, and higher costs compared to European cities like Copenhagen. Despite these obstacles, there is a growing recognition of the benefits of cycling infrastructure in terms of safety, environmental impact, and cost-effectiveness, leading to incremental improvements in various U.S. cities.


Romeo and Juliet, two elderly manatees, get a happy ending (Washington Post) - Two elderly manatees, Romeo and Juliet, who spent decades in small tanks at the Miami Seaquarium, were relocated to better facilities at ZooTampa and SeaWorld Orlando following public outcry and scrutiny from federal officials over their living conditions.


After 30 years of waiting, Cop28 deal addresses the elephant in the room (The Guardian) - After 30 years of climate summits, the Cop28 deal in Dubai marks a significant milestone by acknowledging the need to transition away from fossil fuels, despite its limitations and resistance from oil-producing countries. There is still a long way to go, but this is a positive step.


An Electrifying Approach to Carbon Capture (Coastal News Today) - Researchers at the University of Calgary are developing a novel sodium-ion "battery," known as PEACH (Practical Electrochemical Air Capture and Hydrogen), to enhance seawater’s capacity for carbon sequestration, using an electrochemical cell to capture alkaline sodium ions from saltwater and convert atmospheric CO2 to bicarbonate in the ocean.


 

Want your voice to be heard? Use this link to easily contact elected officials—from your city council to the President. Your voice can make a real impact. While the IRNA may occasionally prompt you to contact specific officials about urgent issues, we keep this list handy for your convenience. Can't find who you're looking for? Just let us know; we're here to help connect you with the right people.


 

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