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House backs disaster bill after hurricanes

Photo by John Middelkoop on Unsplash

By Jim Turner

News Service of Florida

April 10, 2023

TALLAHASSEE --- After Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole hammered the state last year, the Florida House started moving forward Monday with steps to help communities brace for future natural disasters and recover.

With little comment, the House Commerce Committee approved a bill (PCB COM 23-03) that includes proposals the full Senate unanimously passed last week (SB 250). In part, the bill would allow people to remain on their property as they rebuild after storms, require quicker approval of building permits and set more-exact time frames on removing destroyed boats from state waters.

The legislation also seeks to establish temporary housing for disaster-relief workers, make permanent funding for local-government emergency loans and encourage local governments to have financial plans in place for major disasters.

“It puts best practices in place for debris removal. It puts some recommendations in place for local governments to better prepare for financial (impacts) and put plans in place,” Rep. Mike Giallombardo, R-Cape Coral, said.

Some of the proposals were recommended by state Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie, such as requiring local governments to have uniform pre-storm contracts for debris removal and reducing the amount of time people have to remove damaged boats from waterways.

“The state has had to navigate the removal of different types of debris, including private and commercial property debris, including demolition, vegetative and construction debris and vehicles and vessels,” Guthrie said in January. “One of the problems that we encountered is that there is a lack of a uniform process to ensure that all of those appropriate entities have all of those appropriate line items in every one of their contracts.”

Removing derelict boats has long been an issue in the state. Lawmakers last year increased funding for removing such vessels from $3.5 million to $8.2 million.

Vessel owners were given 45 days after Ian crossed the state in late September to get boats out of derelict condition. However, damaged and destroyed vessels remained in state waters as 2023 got underway.

The House proposal isn’t accompanied by another request by Guthrie to shield from public records the names of people harmed by disasters.

The Senate on April 3 approved a bill (SB 248) that would allow the Division of Emergency Management to hold for 30 days the names of people critically injured or killed in natural disasters when states of emergency are declared by the governor.

Among the proposals in the House bill:

--- Designating $50 million for the Local Government Emergency Bridge Loan Program, with revolving funding available for local governments impacted by federally declared disasters until July 1, 2038.

--- Requiring local governments to speed permitting processes after emergencies such as hurricanes and encouraging them to create inspection teams to review temporary housing, repairs and renovations.

--- Encouraging local governments to create emergency financial plans to prepare for disasters.

--- Allowing residents to use for up to 36 months temporary housing, such as travel trailers or mobile homes, on their property while rebuilding after storms.

--- Encouraging local governments to adopt plans for temporarily housing disaster-response workers.

--- Retroactively prohibiting local governments from raising building fees or adopting “restrictive or burdensome” changes to comprehensive plans and land-development regulations before Oct. 1, 2024, in areas affected by Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole.

--- Setting a 45-day period after hurricanes for owners to repair or remove derelict boats before the state takes the damaged vessels.

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