Senate passes Everglades protection bill neglected in the House

everglades - Florida
A House version of the bill still sits in a subcommittee that isn’t meeting anymore.

A Senate bill aimed at better protecting the Everglades from encroaching construction is heading to the House, where time may have run out for the legislation to pass this year.

Senators voted unanimously for SB 1364, which would establish a protective buffer zone around the wetlands in Miami-Dade County.

Projects and zoning changes could still happen within the area, but they would first have to undergo a coordinated state review by the Department of Environmental Protection to determine whether they would hurt Everglades restoration.

If the answer is yes, the plan would have to be amended to eliminate those negative impacts.

Freshman Miami Republican Sen. Alexis Calatayud ushered the legislation this year through three committees, all of which uniformly supported the measure.

On Monday, the bill received a 40-0 vote on the Senate floor.

The problem is that the bill’s House analog (HB 723), sponsored by Coral Gables Republican Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, hasn’t budged since it cleared the first of three committee stops in late January.

It still requires two more committee OKs before getting a floor vote of its own. And those panels aren’t meeting anymore.

Florida Politics contacted Calatayud and Busatta Cabrera to comment on the bill’s status and what, if any, workarounds are underway to help the bill pass before Session is scheduled to end on Friday.

Busatta Cabrera did not respond.

Calatayud did, but her response wasn’t encouraging. She declined to say what she expects will happen with the Everglades bill and suggested coverage should instead be given to another measure (SB 1320) she’s sponsoring to expand HIV screening, prevention and treatment access.

State lawmakers have been trying for years to impose the two-mile zone around the Everglades. Past sponsors (all from Miami-Dade) include Republican Sens. Bryan Ávila and Ana Maria Rodriguez, former Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo and former Republican Rep. Vance Aloupis.

Billions of dollars, including more than $4.5 billion under Gov. Ron DeSantis and $1.1 billion from President Joe Biden’s administration, have been earmarked for Florida’s famed “River of Grass.”

But local governments have voted to encroach on the sensitive area in recent years. In 2018, Miami-Dade approved a since-tabled project called the Kendall Parkway that would extend State Road 836 by 14 miles over the Environmental Protection Area.

Four years later, the Miami-Dade Commission voted 8-4 to override Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s veto of a 379-acre industrial complex west of Biscayne Bay in Homestead. The vote marked the first expansion of the county’s Urban Development Boundary (UDB) meant to preserve agricultural and protected lands, including the Everglades, for the first time in decades.

Last year, the county received seven applications to build beyond the UDB.

Calatayud’s bill would add another layer of protection against such development in Miami-Dade only. Busatta Cabrera’s would apply statewide.

Before her bill passed Monday, Calatayud amended it to make clear that its changes would not apply retroactively to existing zoning and construction applications and those under appeal.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • John Lentini

    March 4, 2024 at 4:26 pm

    Somebody from the developer community made a “Campaign Contribution” also known as a BRIBE to kill this bill.

Comments are closed.


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