At the start of the 2019 legislative session, we compiled a list of five environmental issues to watch.

Read below to find out where those issues stand now that the session has concluded. The bills that have passed now await Gov. DeSantis’ signature to either veto or sign them into law.

1. Gov. DeSantis’ water policy

In January, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order calling for $2.5 billion over the next four years ($625 million per year) to help restore the Everglades, protect Florida’s water resources, and establish an algae bloom task force.  

The state budget now includes $686.8 million for water quality and protection, including $50 million to jump start water storage and treatment projects North of Lake Okeechobee.

Among the initiatives outlined in the order was the appointment of a chief science officer to coordinate and prioritize scientific data, research, monitoring and analysis needs to ensure alignment with current and emerging environmental concerns most pressing to Floridians. On April 1, Gov. DeSantis appointed Thomas Frazer, director of the University of Florida School of Natural Resources and Environment, as the state’s first chief science officer.

“We also funded research that will help us understand, prevent, and mitigate harmful algae and red tide and created the Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative to develop technologies and approaches needed to address the control and mitigation of red tide and its impacts,” said Florida Senate President Bill Galvano in a press release.

2. Single-use plastic bans

5/15/2019 Update: 

It is well documented that single-use, disposable plastic items pose a threat to our oceans and wildlife. Florida is one of 11 states that currently prohibits local governments from placing bans on plastic bags or foam take-out containers, something known as a “preemptive ban.” Cities that impose such bans run the risk of getting sued, as was demonstrated with the city of Coral Gables when it became the first city in Florida to ban plastic bags. 

On April 30, Florida lawmakers passed HB 771, which expanded this preemptive ban to include plastic straws. On May 10, DeSantis vetoed the bill, sending the right to prohibit plastic straw use back to local governments.

“A number of Florida municipalities, including Sanibel, Ft. Myers Beach and Miami Beach have enacted ordinances prohibiting single-use plastic straws,” DeSantis wrote in his veto letter. “These measures have not, as far as I can tell, frustrated any state policy or harmed the state’s interests. In fact, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has encouraged Florida residents, schools and businesses to reduce plastic straw use.”

Several other bills were also filed dealing with the regulations of single use plastics. See below for a summary and outcome of each: 

  • HB 771: Prohibits local government entities from adopting or enforcing ordinances and regulations relating to single-use plastic straws.
    Outcome: PASSED; Gov. DeSantis vetoed. 
  • SB 88/HB 6033: Would delete preemptions of local law relating to the regulation of auxiliary containers, wrappings, disposable plastic bags, and polystyrene containers
    Outcome: Indefinitely postponed and removed from consideration.
  • SB 502: Would prohibit a store or food service business from providing a carryout bag made of plastic film to a customer; prohibit a food service business from selling or providing a single-use plastic straw to a customer.
    Outcome: Indefinitely postponed and removed from consideration.
  • SB 694: Would authorize coastal municipalities with less than 100,000 residents to establish pilot programs to regulate or ban disposable plastic bags
    Outcome: Indefinitely postponed and removed from consideration.
  • HB 603:  Prohibits local government entities from adopting or enforcing ordinances and regulations relating to single-use plastic straws; requires DEP or designated entity to conduct study evaluating environmental impact & submit report to Legislature.
    Outcome: Indefinitely postponed and removed from consideration.
  • HB 853: Requires consumers & dealers to pay deposit fees for specified beverage containers; provides for redemption of beverage containers & refund of deposit fees.
    Outcome: Indefinitely postponed and removed from consideration.
  • SB 672: “Florida Beverage Container Deposit Act” would establish a refund value for specified beverage containers; requiring dealers and consumers in this state to pay a deposit fee for specified beverage containers.
    Outcome: Indefinitely postponed and removed from consideration.
  • HB 3415: Provides a $1.3 million appropriation for the Agriculture Plastic Recycling Market Enhancement Initiative.
    Outcome: Indefinitely postponed and removed from consideration.

3. Florida’s Highway Expansion

Senate president Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) sought $75 million to plan the biggest expansion of Florida’s highway network since the establishment of the Florida turnpike. The new toll road system would extend the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia border, add a new road stretching from the ranches and citrus groves of Polk County to Collier County, and extend the turnpike by 30 miles where it connects to I-75.  

His proposal (SB 7068) was approved by the Senate. 

Those opposing the legislation worry the new roads will only encourage more development, putting more stress on Florida’s natural ecosystems. Supporters of the bill say the roads will bring new jobs and help alleviate bottlenecks that exists when large-scale hurricane evacuations are underway.  

4. Septic to Sewer in the Indian River Lagoon 

Excess nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorous, can promote algae growth which in turn can suffocate seagrasses that are needed to sustain marine life. In Florida, these nutrients enter our waterways through various pathways such as runoff from farm land where fertilizer is applied or where manure collects from animals, from urban stormwater runoff and from septic tank leakage. A Florida Today analysis of city, county, and state databases and recent scientific research found that, in the Indian River Lagoon, septic tanks contribute to an estimated 2 million pounds of nitrogen annually into the waterway.  

Sen. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) filed bill SB 368 which would lead to spending $50 million annually on Indian River Lagoon restoration projects, such as connecting septic tank users to central water systems. The money would be pulled from Florida’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund, which is currently used for Everglades and springs restoration projects. Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) filed a similar bill, HB 141 that would allocate money from the fund to extend sewer lines to neighborhoods that do not currently have access to sewer systems.  

Both bills were indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration. 

5. Biosolids Ban

Every year, Floridians produce approximately 340,000 dry tons of domestic wastewater biosolids or the solid byproduct that accumulates in the wastewater treatment plant. A significant portion of the state’s biosolids are used to fertilize beef cattle pastures around the upper St. Johns River, in Indian River and Brevard County. The remainder is landfilled.

A  bill (HB 405) filed by State Rep. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) would have prohibited the disposal of biosolids on fields in this area. Supporters of the bill say the runoff from the fields contain excess nutrients, particularly phosphorous, which could be partly to blame for the blue-green algae bloom in the headwaters of the St. Johns River last year. The disposal of biosolids as fertilizer is currently banned in the Lake Okeechobee, St. Lucie River, and Caloosahatchee River watersheds, which bill supporters say is part of the reason the practice has increased further north.

HB 405 was indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration.