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Guest Commentary: SCCF provides Week 1 legislative update

By Staff | Mar 23, 2023


The 2023 Florida Legislative Session formally began last week with the governor proposing a $114.8 billion budget along with close to $2 billion in tax cuts for fiscal year 2023-24. The governor has also a proposed $3.5 billion investment over four years for Everglades restoration and protection of our water resources. Legislators have identified nearly $5 billion in requests for hurricane recovery.

Legislators have been busy filing legislation and discussed several bills in committee during the pre-session interim committee weeks that ran from December to February. As of March 10, the House had filed 1,723 bills and the Senate had filed 871. A record number of those bills seek to limit local government’s authority over its land development process. Smart growth advocates are concerned that the one party supermajority formed by the 2022 elections will make it that much harder to stop or even amend these bad bills that promote urban sprawl. The imbalance of a supermajority means that the party in charge can strictly limit debate and procedurally block amendments to bills further limiting the voices of Floridians concerned about growth and its direct impact on our environment and water quality.

Prior to the opening of session, Gov. Ron DeSantis presented Executive Order 23-06 Achieving Even More Now for Florida’s Environment, which contains several proposed funding projects designed to preserve and protect the state’s natural environment. Many bills that were already moving in the first week of session run counter to the environmental mandate of the governor’s order.

Growth Management House Bill 359 — Local Government Comprehensive Plans is one of those bills that runs contrary to the governor’s order commitment to “improve local governments long-term comprehensive planning that ensures sustainable growth while protecting natural resources …” HB 359 sailed through its first two of three committee stops — the first committee stop was scheduled during interim committee week and the second committee hearing occurred on the first Thursday of session. This bill tacks on the payment of prevailing party attorney’s fees to citizen’s challenges of local comprehensive plan amendments. If this wasn’t chilling enough, citizens that lose a challenge must also pay “intervening parties legal fees” which include developers and their attorneys sometimes charging as much as $600-plus per hour. Growth management advocates argue that protections against frivolous lawsuits already exist in statue and that this added punishment only serves to block citizen involvement. This action, coupled with the 2019 bad growth management bill, HB 7103, that served to add prevailing party attorney’s fees to comprehensive plan challenges, risks the end to citizen involvement in planning for their communities. Jane West, policy and planning director for the growth management advocacy non-profit 1000 Friends of Florida, offered two fixes to the bill which garnered some interest from two committee members. Until any amendments are filed, the SCCF remains adamantly opposed to this bill. This bill has one more stop in the House State Affairs Committee. The similar Senate bill, SB 540, has not yet been heard in its first committee.

Florida Wildlife Corridor — SB 106 Florida Shared Nonmotorized Trail Network: One of Senate leadership’s priorities is a focus on the increased public access and protection of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. SB 106 and the identical House version HB 871 passed their first two committee stops last week. These bills seek to fund improvements to the existing corridor’s public access network through a dedicated non-recurring investment of $200 million.

Visit the 2023 SCCF Legislative Tracker.

Founded in 1967, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s mission is to protect and care for Southwest Florida’s coastal ecosystems. For more information, visit sccf.org.