Tallahassee report: We came, we lobbied – and we’ll be back

The entrance to the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee on April 18, 2023.

VoteWater Executive Director Gil Smart was in the state capital of Tallahassee last week, speaking to key Florida legislators about clean-water issues and bills that are now under consideration in the state House and Senate.

Alongside Friends of the Everglades Executive Director Eve Samples, Smart stressed the importance of Everglades restoration, of implementing all the recommendations of the state’s Blue-Green Algae Task Force and the need to curtail the pro-sprawl, anti-home rule legislation under consideration this (and every other) year.

Equally as important was opening up lines of communication with legislators, laying the groundwork for future collaborations and educating them about VoteWater and Friends of the Everglades, what our organizations do — and how we’re looking to do more in the future.

So in that sense, it was a productive trip — and we’ll be back next year, and back more often.

But in terms of legislation this session? That ship, unfortunately, seems to have sailed.

Indeed, while we were in Tallahassee, the Senate passed SB 540, one of the worst bills this session. If this bill or its companion, HB 359, gets approved by the House, it will go to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

The bill would penalize citizens who challenge a comprehensive plan or plan amendment; if they lose, they must pay the legal fees of the “prevailing parties,” which could include local government and “intervenors” like deep-pocketed developers.

The Senate vote was 29-10, with the following Senators voting YEA/in favor of the bill: Sen. Ben Albritton, R-27; Sen. Brian Avila, R-39; Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-13; Sen. Jim Boyd, R-20; Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-6; Sen. Jeff Brodeur, R-10; Sen. Doug Broxton, R-1; Sen. Danny Burgess, R-23; Sen. Colleen Burton, R-12; Sen. Alexis Calatayud, R-38; Sen. Jay Collins, R-14; Sen. Nick DiCeglie, R-18; Sen. Ileana Garcia, R- 36; Sen. Erin Grall, R-29; Sen. Joe Gruters, R-22; Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-31; Sen. Ed Hooper, R-21; Sen. Travis Hutson, R-7; Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-11; Sen. Shevrin “Shev” Jones, D-34; Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-33; Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-19; Sen. Keith Perry, R-9; Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-40; Sen. Linda Stewart, D-17; Sen. Jay Trumbulll, R-2; Sen. Tom A. Wright, R-8; Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-4; Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-28; Sen. Corey Simon, R-3.

The following Senators voted NO/against the bill: Sen. Lois Berman, D-26; Sen. Sen. Lauren Book, D-35; Sen. Rosalind Osgood, D-32; Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-37; Sen. Tina Polsky, D-30; Sen. Bobby Powell, D-24; Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-16; Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-15; Sen. Victor Torres, D-25.

Progress on another pair of bad bills seems to have slowed. Senate Bill 170 was passed 29-11 by the Senate March 8; its companion bill, HB 1515, is on the House Second Reading Calendar, but it’s been sitting there since March 23. This delay may indicate issues with the bill, which would make it easier for local businesses to sue local governments over ordinances that impact the bottom line, such as local clean-water rules.

We’re hopeful this bill continues to go nowhere. But for the record, here’s who voted YEA on SB 170: Albritton; Avila; Baxley; Boyd; Bradley; Brodeur; Broxson; Burgess; Burton; Calatayud; Collins; DiCegie; Garcia; Grall; Gruters; Harrell; Hooper; Hutson; Ingoglia; Martin; Mayfield; Perry; Rodriguez; Simon; Stewart; Trumbull; Wright; Yarborough; Passidomo.

Here’s who voted NO: Berman; Book; Davis; Jones; Osgood; Pizzo; Polsky; Powell; Rouson; Thompson; Torres.

We continue to watch other legislative proposals, but thankfully many bad bills have been amended, with the worst provisions removed. Other bad bills stalled, as did many good ones.

But failed ideas never die in Tallahassee, they just get resurrected the next session. Committee weeks for the 2024 session begin in September; session itself begins in January 2024.

VoteWater plans to get in legislators’ ears early and often, generating momentum for clean-water bills — and doing what we can to head dirty-water bills off at the pass.