Gainesville Representative introduces bill to protect waterways

Maia Botek
Monday, November 15, 2021

A state representative from Gainesville filed a bill that could raise awareness about the quality of Florida’s waterways. HB 393 Public Bathing Places was filed by Democratic Rep. Yvonne Hinson of District 20 with SB 604 Safe Waterways Act by Democratic Sen. Lori Berman of District 31 and is now awaiting committee review. 

If passed, the legislation would require the Department of Health to create water quality testing procedures and schedules, post proper signage for contaminated bodies of water and redefine public bathing areas to include fresh, salt and brackish water used for swimming, diving or bathing.

“We’re trying to target areas where human beings tend to swim; but where human beings tend to swim, marine life tends to swim too, '' Hinson said. “We've had difficulty getting the current legislature to acknowledge climate change, which is one of the factors of what's happening to our water.” 

The bills are identical and were written with the assistance of the Calusa Waterkeepers, a nonprofit organization focused on protecting Florida’s coastal waterways. State and county departments routinely test water quality, but there are inconsistencies in signage and alerting the public, specifically inland, according to Berman.  

“Nearly a million acres of estuaries and 9,000 miles of rivers and streams in the state of Florida are verified impaired for fecal indicator bacteria,” Berman said. “Thirty-five percent of the verified impaired bodies have been on the impaired list for at least eight years.”

While Berman and Hinson said they are concerned about water quality, local officials have varying opinions about the legislation’s environmental impact for Alachua County. Lake Wauburg, one of the county’s three public bathing areas, has previously closed and issued warnings due to elevated levels of E. coli.

“I anticipate maybe one to possibly two more places that we might have to review results and issue advisories,” said Anthony Dennis, Alachua County’s environmental health director. “If there's a situation where we have to issue an advisory, is that gonna make the environment any better?” 

Hinson and Berman said the signage would likely be inexpensive to enact and could increase awareness about issues of contamination, something Dennis and Greg Owen, a Senior Planner within the water resources division at the Alachua County Department of Environmental Protection, agree with. 

“If it brings attention to areas that are lacking or susceptible to bacteria contamination, I could see it as being a good thing for raising that awareness,” Owen said. 

Berman said she hopes that with enough notification, the public will become alarmed and motivate local departments to take action in addressing the sources of contamination. 

Both bills are awaiting review, and Hinson and Berman must lobby committee chairs to include their respective bills in upcoming meeting agendas. In order to be presented to the governor, bills must pass through three committees and both houses of Florida’s Legislature. 

Because the bills are identical, only one needs to be signed by Gov. DeSantis in order to become a law, but updates and edits to one bill must be reflected in the other. 

On Nov. 3, the Senate referred Berman’s bill to the Environment and Natural Resources, Community Affairs and Appropriations committees and on Nov. 5, the House referred Hinson’s bill to the Professions & Public Health Subcommittee, Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee and Health & Human Services Committee. 

The bills are expected to be voted on when the committees meet for session in January.

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Maia Botek is a third-year journalism major and Spanish minor student at the University of Florida who has grown up in South Florida throughout her entire life. As the daughter of a Jamaican father and part-Norwegian mother, an understanding of cultures, diversity and the world around her has always been an important facet in Maia's life which has resulted in a love of the environment, travel and education. She loves spending time outdoors and with friends, especially at the beach, which she loves. Maia is interested in utilizing journalism to educate others on the importance of the Earth's natural resources and ensuring a sustainable and equitable future for all.

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Billionaire Wealth Has Soared As Millions Fell Into Poverty During Pandemic: Oxfam

During the pandemic, women were especially economically hard-hit because many work in industries with disproportionate job losses; others were forced to leave work to care for children and elders. Women collectively lost $800 billion in earnings in 2020, and there are 13 million fewer women in the workforce now than in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit people of color disproportionately hard, the report noted: Through November 2021, in the U.S, Black and Latinx people were about twice as likely to die from the virus than white people. Similarly, during England’s second wave of the pandemic, Bangladeshi people were five times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white Brits. In Brazil, Black people were 1.5 times more likely to die than white people. In the U.S, Black and Latinx people also work disproportionately in industries like the service or domestic sectors, which faced significant job loss, as well as in health care or agriculture, where workers deemed “essential” continued to work on the front lines as others stayed safely home. Millions of Americans received increased unemployment aid and three stimulus checks from the federal government during the pandemic, but undocumented immigrants were barred from this support. “There is no shortage of money... There is only a shortage of courage and imagination needed to break free from the failed, deadly straitjacket of extreme neoliberalism,” Oxfam International’s executive director Gabriela Bucher said in a news release. “Governments would be wise to listen to the movements — the young climate strikers, Black Lives Matter activists, #NiUnaMenos feminists, Indian farmers and others — who are demanding justice and equality.”

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