Gambling money moves closer to environmental protection

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Gambling money moves closer to environmental protectionGambling money moves closer to environmental protection

Gambling money moves closer to environmental protection

Legislative leaders agreed to use hundreds of millions of dollars in gambling money to fund further expansion of state wildlife corridors and other environmental projects.

The Senate Fiscal Policy Committee and the House Infrastructure Strategy Committee have endorsed identical bills (SB 1638 and HB 1417) that would provide $100 million annually for wildlife corridors, a priority of Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples). approved.

The bill also directs $100 million annually for upland management and invasive species removal and $100 million for the Department of Environmental Protection’s flood and sea level rise recovery program.

Much of the bill’s funding would come from a gaming agreement known as the Compact that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed with the Seminole Tribe of Florida in 2021.

But the bill also includes $150 million in state general fund funds that will go to the South Florida Water Management District for “operational and maintenance responsibilities.” The bill includes directing the district to contract with the Florida Gulf Coast University Water School to conduct research on issues related to Lake Okeechobee.

House Speaker Paul Renner (R-Palm Coast) said Thursday that the district is grappling with “significant environmental issues.”

The gaming agreement, approved by the Legislature in 2021, will allow the Seminole Tribe to offer online sports betting throughout the state and offer games such as craps at its casinos. In return, the tribes promised to pay the state $2.5 billion in the first five years and likely billions more over the course of the 30-year agreement.

Legal battles over sports gambling delayed implementation of the agreement, but the tribe recently moved forward. After the Seminole Tribe launched mobile sports betting in November, the tribe paid the state about $58 million in the first installment of a revenue-sharing agreement.

Passidomo emphasized the need for the bill on the Jan. 9 legislative session, saying, “These investments will protect working farmland and ranches, enable strategic expansion of wildlife corridors, and protect the Florida panther. “This will help protect native species, including endangered species.” ”

The corridor is envisioned to connect 18 million acres of public and agricultural land from the Florida Keys to the Panhandle. Approximately 8 million acres remain unsafe.

“Everyone has heard (Pasidomo) talk about this many times on the Senate floor and when you approached her,” said Senate bill sponsor Sen. Travis Hutson (R-St. Louis). I’m sure it’s happened before.” Augustine said this last week. “It’s an honor to carry it for her and I know it’s something she put her heart and soul into making.”

Among other things, the bill would direct $79 million to water quality improvement grants and $4 million to the Department of Environmental Protection to create a regional trail management grant program.

Voters in 2014 approved a constitutional amendment requiring a portion of the money raised through stamp taxes on real estate transactions to go toward conservation efforts. House Agriculture, Conservation and Resilience Chairman James Buchanan (R-Osprey) said the funding included in this year’s bill would be “supplemental” to the funding approved by voters.

Lawmakers have earmarked stamp tax money for a number of projects in recent years, including sending about $200 million a year to the Everglades Comprehensive Restoration Plan, $50 million to the state’s natural hot springs, and $50 million to the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project. There is. |

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