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Florida's environment gets bipartisan love in an otherwise contentious legisaltive session

 Manatee receiving rehabilitation care before being released
Tim Donovan
Manatee receiving rehabilitation care before being released

A number of environmental bills are getting bipartisan love from lawmakers. One would create a decade-long seagrass restoration plan through a partnership with Mote Marine Lab and the University of Florida. The measure comes after the state saw a dramatic rise in seagrass loss, tied to record manatee deaths.

“In the Indian River Lagoon and in the St. Lucie River we have lost tremendous amounts of seagrass and we definitely need the research to find seagrasses that are going to live in and be able to purify that water and increase our population of fish and habitat,” said Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell when casting a vote in favor of the bill.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, in northern parts of the Indian River Lagoon more than half the seagrass has died, making 2021 the worst mortality event for manatees the state has ever recorded. Harrell believes the state should go further and investigate the underlying causes of the seagrass loss

“I think looking at the basic problems that create the death of the seagrass should also be part of this whole problem as it is addressed holistically,” Harrell said.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart is sponsoring a bill aimed at reducing household and commercial garbage waste. “We’ve just got waste and it’s just piling up we’re sometimes shipping it [to] other places,” she said during a hearing on her bill.

Stewart’s bill SB 506 was also unanimously approved in its second committee stop. The measure requires the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a waste reduction and recycling plan.

“So we’re on our way to at least having a bill that will evaluate the waste that we have and try to figure out a way in which or recommend ways in which we can have this reduced and then put it in Florida statutes,” said Stewart.

Other bills moving in the legislature include a cleanup of Osborne reef off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale and funding for DEP to mitigate leaking septic tanks. Republican Rep. Spencer Roach sits on the House committee that deals with hurricane issues. He believes the bipartisan agreement on environmental policies is one of the biggest successes of this legislature.

“This is probably the most bipartisan effort that we’re going to work on I don’t think you’re going to find a member of the Florida Legislature, House, or Senate that disagrees that preserving and protecting our environment for future generations is really key not to just our economy but to our environment having good stewardship of our environment,” he said.

Earlier this week, multiple legislative committees cleared more than a dozen environmental bills, all of them with overwhelming bipartisan support.