Newly amended legislation setting up a commission to oversee public projects in the Biscayne Bay is moving to the House floor.
The House State Affairs Committee unanimously approved the measure Monday via a 22-0 vote. The bill from Republican Rep. Bryan Avila (HB 1177) has cleared all three committee stops.
“Last August, my community was horrified to see thousands of fish and marine life turn up dead in Biscayne Bay,” Avila said to lawmakers in explaining the need for the bill. “This fish kill was just another chapter in its recent history of environmental decline.”
Avila blamed “excess nutrients, sewage contamination, pollution and littering” as leading factors creating those environmental issues. By setting up the commission, Avila says he’s hoping to overcome intra-agency finger-pointing that has existed in cleaning up the bay in the past.
“The Biscayne Bay Commission would seek and receive funding to develop coordinated plans, priorities, programs, projects and budgets that can substantially improve the bay,” Avila explained Monday. “The commission would act as a main advocate and watchdog to ensure the Bay’s projects are funded and implemented.”
Avila offered an amendment before Monday’s committee hearing. The measure now installs the commission within the Department of Environmental Protection.
The original bill also contained a policy committee, chief officer and a working group. The amended measure now looks to contain just a single, nine-member commission.
The amendment also altered the commission makeup, removing a representative from the U.S. Department of Interior and reducing the number of Miami-Dade League of Cities members from three to two. The bill also explains that members would not receive compensation nor be entitled to reimbursement for per diem and travel expenses.
Miami-Dade County has designated Biscayne Bay a conservation area, but the popular tourist spot still deals with serious pollution problems. Avila’s proposal also would bar sewage disposal facilities from dumping waste into Biscayne Bay without providing advanced waste treatment.
GOP Sen. Ileana Garcia is backing a companion measure (SB 1482), which has two committee stops remaining.