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Get the latest coverage of the 2022 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Environmentalists fear for sea turtle population after local ordinance bill heads to DeSantis' desk

The development coordinator at the Sea Turtle Conservancy said existing ordinances ensure bars, restaurants, and hotels along the coast use turtle-friendly lighting during nesting season.

A bill that allows businesses to sue local governments over ordinances that cause a loss in profits is headed to the Governor’s desk. Senate Bill 620, coined the Local Business Protection Act, passed 69-45 in the house earlier this month. The Senate passed the bill 22-14 in January.

The bill allows for businesses to sue local governments if an ordinance causes at least a 15% loss in profits. The municipality would be on the hook for the business’s legal fees unless they agree to a settlement or rescind the ordinance.

Rep. Lawrence McClure (R-Dover), who sponsored the House version of this bill, believes it will ensure all ordinances passed by local governments are thought through.

“I think that this will absolutely ask our local governments to pause before they enact an ordinance that will hurt jobs and businesses,” McLure said.

During debate on the house floor, Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) conceded the bill looks a lot different than when it was first introduced, thanks to exceptions made for certain ordinances. But she said it still takes away too much influence from elected local government officials.

“The bill now only knocks out the top teeth instead all of the upper and lower teeth,” said Eskamani, “But, I would really prefer our local government to get to keep their teeth, not lose their top row.”

Eskamani worries the bill is too broad and could put local ordinances that protect sea turtles during nesting season in danger.

“Florida hosts 90% of all sea turtle nesting in the United States,” she noted, “it’s a big deal.”

Stacey Gallagher is the development coordinator at the Sea Turtle Conservancy, a non-profit organization in Gainesville.

“What happens on our beaches impacts global populations,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher said existing ordinances ensure bars, restaurants, and hotels along the coast use turtle-friendly lighting during nesting season.

“There are over 90 sea turtle protection ordinances in Florida and these ordinances regulate harmful artificial light during sea turtle nesting season to prevent sea turtle disorientation.”

Disorientation can make it more difficult for mothers to find a place to nest and can have even greater consequences for their hatchlings.

“They can crawl on the beach in circles for hours, which leaves them more vulnerable to predators,” says Gallagher. “It can cause them to be exhausted and unfortunately it could lead to death.”

Before the bill was voted on, Rep. Chip LaMarca (R-Lighthouse Point) said that certain lighting regulations are protected by the amendments made to this bill. “If something is either in zoning or land use,” said LaMarca, “it’s not covered in this bill.”

“The turtles are going to be fine, the bill is good, vote up on it.”

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Brett Rutherford