North Florida News
Florida Senate President on Select Committee on Resiliency Policy Proposals
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s Executive Branch, led by Governor DeSantis, mounted an extraordinary effort in the state response to Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. In the roughly six months since these devastating storms, we have gained a deeper understanding of the long-term impacts on communities across our state. To further Florida’s ongoing recovery, our Select Committee on Resiliency, led by Leader Albritton, has been working to identify legislative steps we can take to provide additional tools to assist state and local governments with preparation for and response to future storms.
I am pleased to share with you today a series of recommendations the Select Committee has put forward for consideration during the 2023 Legislative Session. Senator Martin, whose district was severely impacted by Hurricane Ian, has filed SB 250, which incorporates these recommendations. I look forward to discussing these important issues further in the coming weeks, and thank you again for your support and encouragement as my own family and community recover from this devastating storm.
REDUCING REGULATORY BARRIERS TO REBUILDING OUR COMMUNITIES
Tolling and Extending Permits During an Emergency
Current law allows for an extension of six months for certain permits following a state of emergency. The bill would increase the extension to 24 months.
Expediting Building Permits Following a Natural Disaster
Sarasota County and other localities expedited all permits related to Hurricane Ian recovery. For permits that did not require technical review, an express permit was provided. For permits that have statutory requirements for engineering drawings and plans review, such as pool cage repair, permits were expedited to the greatest extent possible.
Manatee County waived permitting fees following Hurricane Ian and allowed temporary repairs, equipment replacement, and work done to mitigate wind, water or flood damage to proceed without a permit in emergency situations, provided the permit application was submitted the following business day.
SB 250 would require municipalities and counties to expedite the permitting process for certain types of permits, and allow them to waive associated fees following a natural emergency.
Expanding Express Permit Teams
Several local governments provided testimony that express permit inspection teams helped expedite the approval of temporary housing and emergency repairs. The bill encourages municipalities and counties to create inspection teams for review and approval of expedited permits for temporary housing solutions, repairs and renovations following a natural emergency. Municipalities and counties are also encouraged to establish interlocal agreements with other jurisdictions to provide additional building inspection services during a state of emergency.
Regional Flexibility for Registered Contractors
State certified contractors are allowed to work anywhere in the state, whereas registered contractors are limited to the local areas they are registered. The bill grants a registered contractor authority to provide services in an area in which a state of emergency is declared for a limited time.
PLANNING FOR TEMPORARY HOUSING SOLUTIONS
Living on Your Land as You Rebuild
Some local governments currently prohibit residents from placing temporary shelters on residential property while they are rebuilding after a storm. We know that many people want to live on their own land as they oversee the rebuilding of their property. The bill authorizes residents to place a temporary shelter, such as a travel trailer or mobile home, on their land while they are rebuilding after a storm.
Temporary Housing for Disaster Response Workers
Following a storm, many disaster response workers must commute several hours to find temporary accommodations. There are several examples in the private sector of companies who quickly assemble mobile, temporary housing for their workers. Local governments could benefit from providing accommodations for contractors, utility workers, first responders, etc., that are dispatched to aid in hurricane recovery efforts. In the bill, municipalities and counties are encouraged to adopt plans for temporary accommodations for those providing aid following a natural emergency.
ADDRESSING CONCERNS BROUGHT FORWARD BY CONSTITUENTS AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
Building Fee Increase and Land Use Process Moratoriums
Some local governments in hurricane impacted areas are raising building fees or are contemplating changes to processes for comprehensive plan amendments, land development regulations, or development permit or order issuance that could hinder rebuilding and recovery. The bill bars local governments in areas affected by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole until October 1, 2024, from increasing building fees and, retroactively to September 29, 2022, from amending processes to propose amendments to comprehensive plans, to change land development regulations, or to issue development permits or orders. These time-limited moratoriums are intended to help our local communities make their recoveries without impediments, but still require a local government to be in compliance with state law, including ch. 163, F.S.
Local Government Emergency Response Revolving Bridge Loan
Senate Bill 2-B created s. 288.066, F.S., establishing the Local Government Emergency Response Bridge Loan within the Department of Economic Opportunity to provide financial assistance to local governments impacted by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. The bill appropriates $50 million in nonrecurring funds from the General Revenue Fund to implement the program and expires June 30, 2027.
SB 250 removes the sunset date and makes the program an evergreen loan program, so that funds will be available to assist local governments that face cash flow issues following a declared disaster. The bill appropriates an additional $50 million in nonrecurring funds from General Revenue and directs repayments from local governments under the program to go back into the fund, rather than be returned to the General Revenue Fund, making the revolving bridge loan program a total of $100 million.
Encouraging Local Governments to adopt a Post Disaster Financial Plan
A robust and comprehensive financing strategy should be part of a local government’s recovery planning efforts. The bill encourages certain local governments to adopt an emergency financial plan. The plan should integrate three categories of information about recovery: the local entity’s needs (i.e., total damage and economic impacts), the known recovery resources (i.e., federal and state assistance, insurance, local reserves, and other resources), and the potential gaps in funding.
Clarifying Timeframes for the Removal of Destroyed Boats
Current law provides a 45-day grace period following a hurricane to bring a derelict vessel into compliance, and allows for the removal or disposal of the derelict vessel after notice and 21 days if the status has not been corrected or a hearing requested. The safety of our waterways following a storm is critically important, and we know that in many cases and for a variety of reasons, boat owners choose not to return to remove their destroyed vessels. The bill provides a 45-day grace period following a hurricane to bring a derelict vessel into compliance. After that point, the state would have the authority to clear the destroyed boat.
Helping Local Governments Plan for Debris Removal
The Department of Emergency Management (DEM) testified that some local governments do not currently have debris removal contracts in place or are missing key provisions which allow for FEMA reimbursement. In these instances, the state has stepped in and used its contracts for debris removal. The bill instructs the DEM to post a model debris removal contract on its website by June 1 of each year for use by local governments, and requires DEM to prioritize technical assistance to fiscally constrained counties, codifying their current practice.
Extending the Deadline for Independent Special District Performance Reviews
The law requires independent special districts, such as fire control districts, to submit a performance review with the governing board of the district, the Auditor General, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives within 9 months from the beginning of the district’s fiscal year. In response to local requests, the bill extends the deadline for special fire control districts affected by a major hurricane to submit their performance reviews.
There are currently certain limitations for agencies to enter into continuing contracts. SB 250 increases the total project cost threshold of construction projects that require professional services on a continuing contract, from a limit of $4 million to a limit of $15 million for Hurricane Ian related recovery projects.
Protecting Information of Disaster Survivors
Following Hurricane Ian, DEM created a disaster portal to help identify and locate missing residents. The bill creates a public records exemption for the information held by DEM of people critically injured or deceased after a natural emergency for 30 days. Because public records exemptions must run as stand-alone bills, this issue will be filed as Senate Bill 248 by Senator Martin.
North Florida News
Senator Ileana Garcia Marks the Grand Opening of Mia Casa
North Miami–State Senator Ileana Garcia (R-Miami), Chair of the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs, today attended the grand opening of Mia Casa, a dedicated site for homeless seniors. During the 2022 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature, Senator Garcia worked to secure a $1.75 million appropriation to aid in the construction of Mia Casa. State Representative Demi Busatta Cabrera (R-Coral Gables) sponsored the appropriation in the Florida House.
“I am so proud to have played a role in securing funding for Mia Casa. 39 percent of those experiencing homelessness on our streets are senior citizens. I see this every day and regularly engage with individuals experiencing homelessness to better understand their stories and to see what can be done to help them. Housing is a big part of the solution,” said Senator Garcia. “I look forward to continuing to collaborate with Miami-Dade County and the Homeless Trust on preventing and ending homelessness in our community.”
“Our seniors built the thriving communities where we now live, work and raise our families, and they deserve to live out their golden years in comfort and safety, surrounded by important support systems. I am so pleased that we could play a role in the funding for Mia Casa, and appreciate Senator Garcia’s advocacy in bringing this important project forward. Senator Garcia is a champion of our seniors and as Chair of the Senate Committee on Children, Families, and Elder Affairs, she is constantly seeking innovative solutions to address the challenges faced by the most vulnerable in our communities,” said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo (R-Naples).
On April 24, 2020, in preparation for and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust began operating a housing site in North Miami for senior citizens experiencing homelessness who were at high risk of serious illness from the virus.
Dubbed Mia Casa, more than 600 seniors have passed through its doors over the past three years. Senator Garcia secured a $1.75 million special appropriation to assist Miami-Dade County Public Housing and Community Development and the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust with the purchase of a dedicated, permanent site for Mia Casa.
The Homeless Trust purchased the property on January 31, 2023. A former Assisted Living Facility, the property has 65 rooms, and currently houses 120 senior citizens. The Homeless Trust funds the operations of the facility. Mia Casa allows for the quick placement of seniors from the streets, and the Homeless Trust works to bridge seniors living there to other housing in the community.
North Florida News
Senator Linda Stewart joins Senator Jim Boyd in co-sponsoring SB 724: Seagrass Restoration
Tallahassee, FL – Senator Linda Stewart (D – Orlando) is joining Senator Jim Boyd (R – Bradenton) by co-sponsoring SB 724: Florida Seagrass Restoration Technology Development Initiative.
This bill creates a Seagrass Restoration Technology Development Initiative within the Department of Environmental Protection. This Initiative’s purpose is to help expedite the creation of new technologies and approaches to help restore coastal seagrass ecosystems and establishes an advisory council consisting of experts to oversee the implementing of these efforts.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, seagrass is a vital part of a healthy marine ecosystem by helping maintain water quality, provide food and habitat for marine organisms, and supporting local economies.
The seagrass restoration initiative must submit an annual report to the governor and help with the creation of a 10 year restoration plan to implement technologies developed under the initiative.
“Protecting Florida’s natural resources has always been a priority of mine and this bill will improve the quality of our water, restore marine life, and keep our coastlines healthy,” said Stewart.
North Florida News
Florida State Senator Rosalind Osgood Responds to Nashville’s Deadly School Shooting
Tallahassee, FL – In response to yesterday’s tragic event that occurred at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, Senator Rosalind Osgood (D-Broward County) released the following statement:
“Yesterday, we again experienced the undeniable deep feeling of sorrow caused by another school shooting. If only this and other acts of mass murder did not happen. But the reality is that we live in a time when death and attacks on the innocent has become all too routine. Too many of our schools, churches, clubs, grocery stores, and neighborhoods have been shooting galleries over the past years.
Homicide, murder, and suicide by firearms are the highest cause of death for our nation’s children and youth.
For every responsible gun user there is three times as many irresponsible gun users. There is an evident need for gun law reform. If we fail to ignore this problem, more lives will be lost.”
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