2023 Legislative Session Wrap Up: Cemetery Bill is Passed & Preservation Grants Fully Funded!

Did you miss our Legislative Session Wrap Up webinar? Read the summary here:

Yesterday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law HB 49, the Abandoned and Historic Cemeteries bill. This is wonderful news for Florida!

The Abandoned and Historic Cemeteries bill will create a historic cemeteries program within Florida’s Division of Historical Resources. The legislation was one of the recommendations from the African American Cemetery Taskforce, and one of the Florida Trust’s four strategic advocacy initiatives this legislative session.

The bill would create guidelines for state agencies, local governments and developers to identify, locate and maintain abandoned and historic cemeteries, with specific attention towards African American cemeteries throughout Florida. The bill enjoyed strong bipartisan and support from community advocates, including the Florida Trust, the NAACP, 1000 Friends of Florida and statewide archaeological and anthropological groups.

We are grateful to all the organizations and individuals who worked to advocate for this much-needed piece of legislation, House Sponsor Rep. Driskell and Senate Sponsor Sen. Powell. A huge thanks to all the lawmakers who supported the legislation at each of the committee stops and shared their own personal connections!

“When I visit the graves of my parents, I see others that are just completely forgotten, and that is one of the saddest things. That somebody would be on this earth and have all the experiences, and then be forgotten. And then to have a whole cemetery forgotten, of people – faces, names, lives – is even worse,” said Rep. Michael Caruso, vice chair of the State Affairs Committee.

Last week, we held a webinar to review the 2023 legislative session. We reviewed the outcomes of our priorities: Establishing a State Historic Tax Credit, protecting Florida’s Abandoned Historic Cemeteries, fully funding the FY2024 Historic Preservation Special Category Grant List and amending a preemptive bill to remove local regulation over demolitions.

Establishing a State Historic Tax Credit

The Florida Trust worked with stakeholders to create a state historic tax credit in Florida, a proven tax incentive for revitalizing historic places and supporting economic development. The Main Street Historic Tourism and Revitalization Act was filed as House Bill 499 and Senate Bill 288. The Florida Historic Tax Credit would provide a tax credit of up to 20 percent of total eligible costs for rehabilitation of a certified historic structure and a tax credit of up to 30 percent of total eligible costs for rehabilitation of a certified historic structure that is physically located within the official district boundaries of an active, certified Florida Main Street community.

Florida Trust visited with sponsors and other key legislators routinely before and during Session and spoke in support at all committee hearings. While we had many great conversations and enjoyed strong support from lawmakers, the bill was not included in the final 2023 Florida tax package. We will continue working with the newly created Florida Tax Credit Alliance, and are already working on strategy to reintroduce the legislation next year.

FY24 Preservation Grants

The Florida Division of Historical Resources Historic Preservation Grant program is one of the most significant ways the state helps fund the preservation of our irreplaceable historic places. Grants strengthen communities and supports local economies.

This year’s grant list included 33 projects with a price tag of nearly $8.5 million.

The Florida Historical Commission reviews and ranks Special Category grants to create the annual list, which is then approved by the Florida Secretary of State before being sent to the legislature to determine funding.

Advocating for fully funding these grants is always one of the Florida Trust’s legislative priorities – and we are happy to announce that this year the list has been fully funded!

We worked with the Coalition for Florida’s Historic Places to advocate for fully funding this year’s list, including the production, for the second time, of ,Florida Preservation Stories: the full list of historic resources that would be funded by the grant. We are so excited for the communities who will be given the opportunity through these grants to tangibly protect historic places that are important to them.

Resiliency and Safe Structures Act

SB 1346, sponsored by Senator Bryan Avila, and HB 1317, sponsored by Representative Spencer Roach, would have allowed for the demolition of historic structures and the rebuilding of oversized and inappropriate replacement buildings in Florida’s coastal historic districts. Thankfully, this bill died on the floor, although we are preparing for a version to be reintroduced next year.

Preservationists, nonprofits and cities came together to work toward amending the language to allow for the preservation of important historic places in cities like Key West, Miami Beach, West Palm Beach, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg and Pensacola. A leader in this work was the Miami Design Preservation League, who engaged in stellar advocacy work including hosting a webinar with other stakeholders interested in fighting the bills – including the media.

We worked with a variety of other organizations towards amending bill language, and to keep demolition and design review up to local governments. The National Trust for Historic Preservation was a tremendous ally, sending its preservation alert to 16,000 supporters throughout the state. “Successfully landing three of our four legislative priorities in 2023 was huge for us, and will definitively help preserve Florida’s history and heritage,” said Melissa Wyllie, CEO and President of the Florida Trust for Historic Places. “I can’t stress enough how vital collaboration and grassroots support was to achieving these wins – and I thank everyone who engaged with us during Session.”

If you would like to be a part of our legislative work in the 2024 Legislative Session that begins in January, stay tuned and sign up now to be included in our Advocacy Alerts.


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