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IRNA's Update on Legislative Bills Affecting Quality Growth and Water Quality in Florida

The Indian River Neighborhood Association (IRNA) has been monitoring a number of new legislative bills that impact our dual missions: quality growth and water quality. It is disheartening to note that the number of unfavorable bills well outweighs the good ones.

In January, Governor DeSantis signed Executive Order 23-06, titled "Achieving Even More Now for Florida's Environment." This order lays out plans for enhancing water quality, earmarking $3.5 billion over a four-year span towards the restoration of the Everglades and the safeguarding of water resources, encompassing both water quality and supply.

Moreover, the executive order emphasizes the conservation of the Indian River Lagoon by allocating $100 million annual budget for high-priority projects. It also instructs the South Florida Water Management District to expedite Everglades restoration endeavors and maintain the efforts of both the Blue-Green Algae Task Force and Harmful Algal Bloom Task Forces.

Basically this was the Governor telling the world what he expected to see from the legislature. They have not been listening. The Florida Legislative Session, which is now in full swing, appears to have overlooked the Governor's directives on protecting water resources and encouraging good growth. The session typically spans 60 days, from March to May. During this period, the State's House of Representatives and Senate assemble to discuss, debate, and pass bills, policies, and budgetary measures that directly impact various facets of life in Florida.

We’re in the middle of it now and we wanted to let you know about many of the bills under consideration and chime in on why they may be good or bad ideas going forward. Thankfully, the legislative sausage making process means that many of the proposed bills will not pass this year. There may be times we reach out to you and ask you to write or call our legislators or governor to ask them to take action. Without your help and involvement, we are only one letter.

SB1240/HB1197 Land and Water Management

Prohibits local governments in Florida from adopting laws or policies stricter than State requirements concerning water quality, water quantity, pollution control, pollutant discharge prevention or removal, and wetlands.

SB1604 /HB439 Land Use and Development Regulations

Redefines urban sprawl, expands the definition of agricultural enclaves, prevents denial of development orders due to insufficient infrastructure, and limits local government discretion in land use and environmental dispute resolution decisions.

SB1702/HB1167 Mitigation Credits

Allows the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and water management districts to release mitigation credits to specific banks under certain conditions and expands the use of such credits for projects within or outside the designated mitigation service areas.

SB856/HB41 Land Development Initiative and Referendum Processes

Prohibits the use of initiative or referendum processes for development orders or amendments to land development regulations in Florida, clarifying the legislative intent and applying it retroactively to such processes commenced after June 1, 2011.

SB346/HB383 Public Construction

The bill may harm local governments by reducing their control and leverage over public construction projects and contractors. It may also favor developers and contractors by letting them set work costs and demand faster approvals and payments while forcing them to pay for incomplete or substandard work.

SB170/HB1515 Local ordinances

The bill aims to regulate local ordinances that may affect businesses or property owners by requiring a business impact estimate before enactment, suspending enforcement during legal challenges, and awarding attorney fees and damages to plaintiffs who prevail against local governments.

SB540/HB359 Local Comprehensive Plans

The bill would erode the home rule powers of local governments by preventing them from addressing the specific needs and preferences of their citizens on matters that affect their quality of life. The bill would also create a chilling effect on public participation and civic engagement by imposing a financial risk on citizens who challenge a plan or plan amendment. The bill would also ignore the diversity and complexity of different communities and regions in Florida by imposing a one-size-fits-all approach to regulation.

HB397 Public Meetings

The bill permits specific entities like state agencies, local governments, and school boards to privately discuss private property rights claims with their attorneys. Critics argue that this undermines transparency by creating an exemption to Florida's Sunshine Law, which mandates public access to government meetings. They contend that the bill could conceal discussions about contentious projects or policies affecting private property rights, including eminent domain, environmental regulations, and zoning changes.

SB682/HB671 Residential Building Permits

The bill aims to speed up the process of issuing building permits for residential dwellings by deleting existing rules, reducing permit fees, and shortening timeframes for local governments to make decisions. However, this could compromise the quality and safety of construction projects by eliminating or limiting inspections and reviews by public officials. The bill could also create confusion and inconsistency among local governments and contractors who have to comply with different standards and procedures. Homeowners, builders, and local governments could face more legal risks and liabilities if there are any defects or damages caused by faulty construction.

SB714/HB833 Vacation rentals

Waters down and in many cases strips away local government’s ability to register, inspect, control occupancy or regulate false advertising in the Vacation Rental industry. This is an anti-home rule bill.

SJR 1410/HJR129 - Requiring Broader Public Support for Constitutional Amendments or Revisions

This is a joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Florida Constitution that would increase the percentage of votes needed to approve any future constitutional amendments or revisions from 60 percent to 66.67 percent, except for repealing existing ones. The proposed amendment would be submitted to the voters at the next general election. It is already quite hard to pass an amendment, 60% of the vote is a fair number of votes needed. This is the legislature and special interests attempting to stymie the will of the people.

SB1538/HB42 Implementation of the Recommendations of the Blue-Green Algae Task Force

Requires inspection of onsite sewage treatment (septic) systems, establishing a 5-year inspection cycle, prioritizing certain areas for conversion, addressing failing systems, and ensuring Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) meet pollutant reduction targets while considering projected population and agricultural growth.

SB172/HB177 Safe Waterways Act

Would require the Department of Health to adopt and enforce rules for protecting public health in beach waters and public bathing places, issue health advisories, enforce closures, establish signage requirements, and create a public statewide interagency database for reporting fecal indicator bacteria data.

SB928/HB559 Land Acquisition Funding

This bill would establish a minimum of $350 (or $300) million yearly funding for the Florida Forever program, revive bonding authority, revise the funding formula, increase the share for conservation easements, reduce the share for water management districts, and bar the use of funds for administrative expenses. What happened to the 1/3 of doc stamp revenues as approved by 70+% of the voters in 2014?

SB92/HB105 Vacation Rentals

The bill allows local laws that require vacation rental owners to give local governments their contact information. Owners must update this information after any changes, and local governments can impose penalties for noncompliance. This bill has some advantages, such as making vacation rental owners more accountable and helping local governments enforce health and safety standards. It also promotes better communication between local governments and vacation rental businesses. Removes some preemption taken from local governments.

SB100/HB561 Mangrove Replanting and Restoration

Requires the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt rules for mangrove replanting and restoration, addressing erosion, barrier island protection, Everglades restoration, Biscayne Bay revitalization, public awareness, and partnerships for coastal property protection.

SB288/HB499 Florida Main Street Program and Historic Preservation Tax Credits

Proposes a tax credit program to renovate historic buildings in designated Main Street districts. The bill provides eligibility criteria, application, approval, and allocation of the tax credits. The proposed legislation may have positive effects, such as encouraging investment and revitalization of historic downtown areas that have cultural and economic significance, supporting local businesses and tourism by improving the attractiveness and livability of Main Street districts, and preserving Florida's heritage and identity by protecting historic structures from demolition or neglect.

SB816/HB843 Challenges to Development Orders

Would change how attorney fees and costs are awarded in challenges to development orders in Florida. The bill would require the prevailing party to prove that the challenge was frivolous to recover fees and costs, and would prohibit such awards in challenges to comprehensive plans. The bill would also limit the fees and costs that intervenors can recover. The bill's supporters argue that it would deter baseless lawsuits and promote negotiation, while its opponents contend that it would discourage public input and oversight in land use decisions.

SB1632/HB1379 Pollutant Load Reduction

HB1379 mandates the inclusion of pollutant load reduction projects in comprehensive plans and prioritizes advanced waste treatment in sanitary sewer and solid waste elements. The bill also establishes the Indian River Lagoon Protection Program, focusing on implementation and funding for specific Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs) and prohibiting new onsite sewage systems within these areas. The BMAP planning process is updated to prioritize projects most likely to achieve pollutant load reductions, and a water quality improvement grant program is created. Sewage disposal facilities are prohibited from disposing waste into certain water bodies without advanced waste treatment. Maybe combined with SB1632 Environmental Protection.

SB930 Excise Tax on Water Extracted for Commercial or Industrial Use

Tax water extractors at a rate of $0.001 per gallon of water withdrawn from Florida’s rivers, lakes, streams, springs, wetlands, and aquifer. Tax proceeds would be deposited into the Water Protection and Sustainability Program Trust Fund and used by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) for geological surveys and saltwater intrusion prevention and management. The bill would also require water extractors to keep records of taxable water withdrawals, allow for the FDEP to inspect records, and includes criminal penalties for fraudulent recordkeeping and/or tax withholding. Water withdrawals for public water supply utilities, agricultural producers, or restroom and sanitation facilities are not considered water extractors under this bill. Are you kidding me? 1/1000 of a cent?

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