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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

A bill would allow protected lands to be sold for agriculture

Jessica Meszaros

The bills would also use some of the money to keep agricultural lands from being developed and pay for clean water projects.

Florida lawmakers are considering spending more than $100 million this year to buy environmentally sensitive lands. But a Hillsborough County state senator introduced a bill that would allow the state to sell some of those lands.

Republican state Sen. Jay Collins' bill would allow the sale of conservation lands within the Florida Wildlife Corridor. Money from the sales would go to a trust fund run by the state Department of Agriculture. The land, which could not be developed, would possibly be used for agriculture.

But not everyone is onboard with the proposal.

"We oppose a policy to convert protected natural land into agricultural land," said Paul Owens, president of the smart-growth advocacy group 1000 Friends of Florida. "Doing so would break a promise made with public dollars to preserve natural land, and could have negative impacts on water quality, if it turns forests into farms."

But the bill has no counterpart in the state House, so its passage is uncertain.

Another set of bills coursing through the legislature would use money collected from gambling to preserve environmentally-sensitive land.

They would also use some of the money to keep agricultural lands from being developed and pay for clean water projects.

The state is guaranteed between $400 million to $500 million a year through a contract with the Seminole Tribe. But during a webinar, Owens expressed concern the money could be used to replace funding the state is obligated to spend on conservation projects. 

"We don't want to see the passage of this bill used to justify reducing the state's constitutional obligation under Amendment 1 to dedicate dollars from the Land Conservation Trust Fund to land and water conservation," he said.  

That amendment was passed several years ago to direct a portion of taxes from real estate transactions to preserve ecologically important land.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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