2016 State Legislative Wrap-Up Update

By Jennifer Hecker | Conservancy Director of Natural Resource Policy

The 2016 session recently came to a close on Friday, March 11th with the legislature passing 279 bills total.

We are reaching out to share with you an update on the issues the Conservancy of Southwest Florida was tracking and advocating for, on behalf of you, our supporters.

Fracking

Legislation to regulate hydraulic well stimulation or “fracking” in Florida was introduced for the second session this year. HB 191 by Rep. Ray Rodrigues passed the House; however, the Senate deliberated more extensively on companion legislation, SB 318 by Sen. Garrett Richter.

SB 318 passed two committees of reference before facing the Senate Appropriations committee where it ultimately failed with an unfavorable vote followed by a motion to reconsider and subsequent withdrawal by its Senate sponsor.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida was instrumental in stopping this flawed legislation that would have excluded suspending, studying, regulating and disclosing chemicals used in the most common fracking-like technique involving hazardous chemicals in Florida, matrix acidizing. The bill would have also preempted current local governmental ordinances and taken away existing local governmental authority to restrict or prohibit oil and gas projects and activities as they deem appropriate.

State Lands

Legislation originally aimed at consolidating the chapters of statute dealing with state lands was introduced this session by Rep. Matt Caldwell and Senator Wilton Simpson; however, the legislation also included harmful provisions that would have allowed Amendment 1 funding to be used for building pumps and pipes, and allowed state conservation lands to be given to private landowners in exchange for conservation easements without the state land advisory committee’s oversight.

Thankfully, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and allied environmental organizations were able to remove most of the harmful components from HB 1075 and SB 1290, including the “pipes and pumps” provision, before HB 1075 passed both the House and the Senate.

Everglades Restoration

The Conservancy proudly supported the Legacy Florida bill, HB 989 by Rep. Gayle Harrell and SB 1168 by Senate President-Designate Joe Negron, lobbying for its passage on Everglades Action Day and throughout session. As originally filed HB 989 and SB 1168 would have provided designated funds, up to $200 million annually, for Everglades restoration.

While HB 989 passed unanimously by the House with this language, the Senate modified legislation in committee to include an additional $50 million annually for springs restoration and $5 million for Lake Apopka. The final HB 989 as amended will ensure significant consistent funding in Everglades restoration for at least the next decade.

Onsite Sewage Treatment and Disposal

The 2010 legislature passed legislation to ban the land application of septage — the waste material removed from septic tanks — beginning January, 2016.

This material can be a significant source of pollution to waterways throughout Florida. Since the passage of this legislation, the septage industry has worked hard to overturn or delay the ban and were successful delaying the implementation until June 30, 2016 during the 2015 session.

This session, thanks in part to the Conservancy’s efforts, the industry was unable to further delay or repeal and therefore the ban will take effect this year.

We’ll be watching to ensure the ban is implemented effectively in June.

Budget

The FY 2016–2017 budget was slightly better than the FY 2015–2016 budget for the environment.

Everglades Restoration totaled $205.8 million.’

Florida Forever received $15.1 million. The Florida Forever DACS Rural and Family Lands program received $35 million.

And Everglades land acquisition totaled $27.7 million for the Picayune Strand, Biscayne Bay, and Lake Hicpochee.

Finally, beach restoration totaled $32 million and springs restoration totaled $50 million.

The budget also included 10 new positions within the Department of Environmental Protection for implementation of the water bill and to enforce water quality pollution reduction. That being said, many environmental programs are still receiving less than historical funding levels, especially those relating to the acquisition of additional conservation lands.

Thank you for continuing to support the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. This work is possible because of you.
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