The 2022 Florida legislative session is set to end on March 14, 2022.
There has been a lot of vocal opposition to Senate Bill 2508, which was neutered by an amendment but would still impose regulations that are inefficient and thus interfere with time sensitive Everglades restoration projects.
However, there has been little talk in the outdoors community about other relevant bills proposed this session or even the budget more generally.
Glades Hunter supports funding Florida Forever at $300 million to finance the acquisition of more public land that can be used for recreational opportunities such as hunting and fishing. Click here for an overview of Florida Forever and the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
Right now, the budget has not been finalized, but the governor, Senate, and House's proposed budgets each dedicate about $100 million to Florida Forever. This is not a lot historically and should be increased to $300 million.
Moving on to specific bills that are relevant to land acquisition, the Florida Senate filed Senate Bill 1816, which relates to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund and Florida Forever program. Basically, the proposed Bill extended the date for the State of Florida to pay back Florida Forever bonds, which makes it easier for Florida to finance public land acquisition by selling new 20 year bonds. This is good.
This Bill also mandates appropriating $100 million to the Florida Forever program. Allocating funds to Florida Forever is good, but again, this is not a lot of money. The 2021 budget was 101.5 billion dollars. Under the Florida Constitution, 33% of documentary stamp tax revenue on real estate sales is required to be dedicated towards the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. In 2021, the State collected over $3.3 billion in documentary stamp taxes, which means $1.1 billion was dedicated to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. The real estate market continues to boom in Florida, meaning documentary stamp tax revenues will be even higher in 2022. So, a $1 billion allocation to the LATF for 2022 is a low estimate. While the Land Acquisition Trust Fund also funds important restoration projects per Fla. Stat. 375.041, it is confusing that only $100k would be allocated towards Florida Forever. You would think over 10% of the Land Acquisition Trust Fund would be dedicated to Florida's premiere land acquisition program -- Florida Forever.
Regardless, a $100 million mandatory allocation to Florida Forever is not a bad thing, and the Bill went on to specify that leftover funds could not be spent on certain specific administrative costs (in the past there have been lawsuits about whether Florida Forever funds were wrongly spent on administrative costs). Unfortunately, the list is specific. A more general prohibition on administrative spending would be ideal to ensure that the funds are spent on only land acquisition.
Overall though, while it is not perfect, this Bill seems to be an attempt at progressing Florida Forever land acquisition that could be tweaked towards good policy. Yet, it has been stalled since late January in the Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government. It seems that agricultural and general governmental interests are preventing the Bill from moving forward. A companion House Bill 1377, which seeks to dedicate more funds to Florida Forever with an emphasis on agricultural conservation easements has also been stalled for almost a month.
Moving on, a separate Senate Bill 602 was last introduced on January 11, 2022. It amended the Land Acquisition Trust Fund statute to require $20 million to be spent on either 1) promoting protection and restoration of Florida Bay, the Florida Keys, and their nearshore coral reefs or 2) acquiring land within the Florida Keys Area of Critical State Concern. The Bill explicitly states that funds could not be used on wastewater management, emphasizing that conservation money should not be spent on random wastewater issues. This Bill looks great for public land restoration and acquisition. However, it also appears to be stalled in the Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government. The House introduced companion House Bill 449, which is nearly identical. However, the companion bill is again stalled in the House’s Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee, as no action has been taken since February 14, 2022. Essentially, agriculture and flood control subcommittees are preventing its passage throughout the legislature.
We support fully funding Florida Forever.
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