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Ron DeSantis-backed bill to increase sewage spill fines passes first committee

This year’s bills carry tweaks to match the Governor’s proposal.

A bill backing a Gov. Ron DeSantis proposal to raise fines for violating environmental protections passed its first committee stop Monday.

Sen. Joe Gruters‘ bill (SB 1450) unanimously passed the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. The measure would let the Department of Environmental Protection levy higher fines against those causing damaging sewage spills.

“It’s time we get serious about protecting our natural resources,” the Sarasota Republican told the committee. “Every three hours of every day of the week — seven days a week — of 365 days a year, there’s a spill somewhere in Florida, and we’re way past the time of not addressing this issue.”

Gruters and Rep. Randy Fine, sponsoring the House companion (HB 1091), filed bills last year to up fines on sewage spills. But this year, there’s a fundamental difference in how fines will be assessed.

Rather than the per-gallon penalty proposed last year, the lawmakers instead will raise most existing fines by 50%. And each day a violation occurs or is not remedied, the penalty stacks as a separate offense.

When the lawmakers filed the bills earlier this year, they took that approach mainly to be consistent with a position DeSantis took publicly in September. The Governor said penalties under his proposal will now bear some “bite” instead of being “a slap on the wrist.”

Fines and penalties have not increased since 2001 despite inflation. Currently, fines range from $50 to $50,000 and account for the sewage spill’s duration.

“Floridians deserve the strongest reasonable protections for our natural resources,” Gruters said.

DEP and the Sierra Club of Florida signaled their support for the bill Monday.

Last year, Gruters’ bill (SB 216) made it through one committee before stalling out while Fine’s bill (HB 141) was held up in the House State Affairs Committee. But now with DeSantis’  support, expect to see the bills go further in both chambers.

The bill’s next stop is the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government. HB 1091’s first stop is the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering the Texas House of Representatives for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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