Environmental Changes Teed Up for Florida Budget Talks

Dan Environment, Florida, Irrigation, Lake Okeechobee, Legislative, Regulation, Water, Wetland

budget talks

(NSF/TALLAHASSEE/Feb. 22, 2022) — A controversial environmental bill the Senate massaged last week after outcries from Everglades activists, fishing guides and Gov. Ron DeSantis is ready to become part of budget talks with the House.

With little comment, the House on Tuesday, took up the bill (SB 2508) and nine other Senate measures and positioned them for negotiations that will play out over the next two weeks.

“This starts the discussions with our Senate counterparts,” said Rep. Josie Tomkow, a Polk City Republican who chairs the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.

Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, pointed to the controversial nature of the bill, which deals with issues including the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. He said he would have preferred to delve into the issues in a House committee rather than handling the proposed changes in budget negotiations. The Senate passed the changes through what is known as a “conforming” bill tied to the budget.

Lake Okeechobee headwaters of the Everglades

“I think we have worked so hard in this state in a bipartisan way, Mr. Speaker, to try to strike the right balance with regard to the issues involving water around Lake Okeechobee,” Diamond said, addressing House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. “I know that we’ve got to get this right. I’m just concerned about the way this Legislature is doing this through a conforming bill, because candidly, I don’t think there’s as much opportunity for public input and discussion and eyes on the bill as there is through our regular committee process.”

The Senate voted 37-2 last week to pass a revised version of the bill after the outcries. Sen. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who chairs the Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, said the measure now “plainly states” lawmakers aren’t revising Lake Okeechobee water release schedules.

Also, he said they weren’t cutting funds for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir, which the Legislature approved in 2017 to reduce toxic algae outbreaks in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers and to direct water south through the Everglades.

Kissimmee River, Lake Okeechobee
Shutterstock image

After the initial version of the bill was rolled out, critics said it would eliminate or threaten money for the massive reservoir. Also, they said it would require the South Florida Water Management District to back providing more water to agriculture users, including sugarcane growers, when seeking state funding for restoration efforts. They also raised concerns about wetlands permitting and an expedited permitting process, which remained a concern after the package was changed last week.


DeSantis injected himself into the debate by opposing the initial version of the bill and saying the state needs to prioritize money for the $1.9 billion Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir.

Sugarcane fields and farmlands south of Lake Okeechobee Florida in the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).
Everglades restoration focuses on restoring water flow through this area.
Shutterstock image

After DeSantis’ criticism, Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, defended the bill, issuing a statement that said the proposal won’t “reverse or hinder” funding for Everglades restoration and the reservoir.

Among the Senate’s other conforming bills that were teed up for negotiations Tuesday are a measure (SB 2510) about the Florida Gaming Commission, which was created last year. Another measure (SB 2512) includes a $31.3 million plan to buy two airplanes that would be available to numerous state leaders, including the lieutenant governor, Cabinet officers, members of the Florida Supreme Court, the House speaker, Senate president and chairs of legislative standing committees.

By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida