The Florida Legislature is close to approving Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push to boost fines on environmental lawbreakers.
The House, with little comment, voted 106-0 on Friday to pass a proposal (HB 1091) that would make numerous changes in the amounts and duration of penalties for violating Florida environmental laws.
The Senate put on hold a similar proposal (SB 1450) Friday but is expected to take up the House bill on Monday.
On Thursday, House sponsor Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, said waterways face an “existential crisis.” He said the bill would increase fines for acts such as illegal releases of raw sewage into waterways. He said he is trying to prevent illegal releases from being considered a “cost of doing business.”
“The idea is to change the thought process, so they start to do the right things,” Fine said.
Fine unsuccessfully sought to raise the fines a year ago, a proposal that was aimed at Brevard County for a 2017 sewage spill into the Indian River Lagoon that lasted 35 days. Fine’s solution last year was to impose a $2 fee for every gallon of raw sewage released.
The Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties argued last year that increased fines on governments would eventually come out of the pockets of taxpayers and delay needed sewer upgrades.
Most of this year’s proposed changes would increase penalties by 50 percent. The civil penalty for dumping non-commercial litter, for example, would go from $100 to $150. Violating an order regarding coastal construction would increase from $10,000 to $15,000.
Also, the length of time certain penalties could be imposed would run until the violations are resolved by order or judgment. The duration change would be made by declaring each day an offense occurs as a separate offense.
DeSantis in September called for a 50 percent increase in fines for environmental violations. He labeled the existing structure a “slap on the wrist,” noting penalties for sewage spills are capped at $10,000 a day while pollutants are flowing.
DeSantis wants the fines to continue being assessed until environmental harm is considered fixed or plans are worked out with the Department of Environmental Protection to address the issues.
The fines are part of DeSantis’ environmental wish list for legislators this year. The House and Senate have offered funding that would top DeSantis’ requested $625 million for the Everglades, natural springs and water projects.
– News Service Executive Editor Jim Saunders contributed to this story. Stay on top of Orlando news and views. Sign up for our weekly Headlines newsletter.