Focus on Hurricane Irma Damage
The 2018 Florida Legislature spent considerable time advancing specific recommendations by the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness following Hurricane Irma. Included are a number of evacuation-related proposals, including using passenger rail to evacuate citizens and looking at converting portions of highways during emergencies into all one-way traffic, a process known as “contraflow.” Here’s more on some specific bills and directives:
Tax Exemptions Related to Hurricane Response, Recovery, and Future Preparedness – PASSED. HB 7087 is an omnibus tax package that creates several tax exemptions related to hurricane response, preparedness and recovery including:
- Sales tax exemptions for farms damaged by 2017 hurricanes for building materials used to repair nonresidential farm buildings and farm fencing.
- Refund of taxes on fuel used for agricultural shipments post Hurricane Irma.
- Citrus processing and packing equipment not being used will be assessed at the salvage value for the 2018 property tax.
- Agricultural property taken out of production can retain an agricultural classification for property tax purposes for five years.
- Residential homestead property damaged by a natural disaster is eligible for a refund of taxes paid.
- Documentary stamp tax exemption for emergency loans.
- Sales tax exemption for generators purchased for a nursing home or assisted living facility.
- A seven-day “disaster preparedness” sales tax holiday from June 1 to June 7, 2018, for disaster preparedness supplies. Tax-free items include: flashlights and lanterns costing $20 or less; radios and tarps costing $50 or less; coolers costing $30 or less; and, generators costing $750 or less, among others.
Affordable Housing – HB 7087 also included elements of a Hurricane Housing Recovery Program and a Rental Recovery Loan Program to provide Florida residents funding for emergency housing and repairs after hurricanes. The programs would be funded by a 20% allocation (about $62 million this year) of the state’s existing Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Health Care Disaster Preparedness & Response – FAILED. A revamped HB 7085 by Rep. Ralph Massullo (R-Beverly Hills) passed the House unanimously this two weeks ago and was sent to the Senate but never considered. The bill addresses the shortage of special needs shelters during Hurricane Irma and expands the list of people – including health care students and college professors – who can help provide care during disasters. The bill directs the state Department of Health, in coordination with the Division of Emergency Management and local emergency management agencies, to maintain a statewide registry of persons with special needs; requires nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home health agencies and nurse registries to have an emergency management plan & to conduct staff training; reassigns responsibility from DOH to AHCA for establishing & maintaining online database for licensees providing residential or inpatient services to report information regarding emergency status, planning, & operations; and requires licensees to provide for continuation of services under emergency conditions.
Trash Pickup – SHELVED. A week before the scheduled end of session, Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) announced he was withdrawing from further consideration his CS/HB 971. Fine said he has reached agreement with major municipal trash hauler Waste Management and will not pursue the bill this year. The bill would prohibit a municipal or private garbage service from charging customers for missed trash pickups, unless the trash is removed within four days of the normally scheduled date. A House committee had earlier removed telecommunications companies from the bill – they would have been prohibited from charging their customers for service that was interrupted for longer than 24 consecutive hours, unless it was the customers fault.
Underground Utilities – PASSED. Legislation (HB 405) was presented to the Governor this past Friday giving the state Public Service Commission the sole ability to require underground transmission lines. The move ends a court battle of home-rule by Miami-Dade County that wanted the right to determine underground transmission lines when it was reviewing FPL’s plans to add two nuclear reactors to its Turkey Point Generating Station. Senator Tom Lee, who had sponsored a companion bill in the Senate (SB 494), said the measure makes changes that essentially revert the siting process to what it had been for 45 years prior to the court ruling.
Nursing Home Emergency Power – PASSED. Despite having no funding bill out of concerns for the multi-million dollar cost, the House joined the Senate this past Friday in approving two Senate bills – SB 7028 and SB 7030 – that respectively would require assisted living facilities and nursing homes to have backup generators and 72 hours of fuel to power them in the event of another hurricane or other outage. The measures come with a big price tag of $243 million for taxpayers over the next five years. The money will fund the venture for the state’s 3,000 Assisted Living Facilities, which unlike nursing homes, cannot offset the costs with Medicaid funding. The new rules replace the emergency rules the governor issued last September following the deaths of residents of a Hollywood nursing home that lost its air-conditioning system during Hurricane Irma.
Fuel Emergencies – FAILED. CS/HB 7083 featured a number of the recommendations made in the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness report, with the primary focus though on better fuel delivery to Floridians during time of crisis, but was never adopted by the Senate. The bill would have required that a study be completed by July 1 that would outline how rail tank cars and mobile fuel transfer systems could be used as temporary storage and dispensing facilities for motor vehicle fuels before, during, and after a hurricane. The measure was prompted by the run on gas and various shortages that occurred during the evacuation from South Florida during Irma
And FAILED: CS/CS/HB 553, a House omnibus bill on regulations by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. This bill would empower the state agriculture commissioner to lower gas prices during an emergency. The measure’s specific intent is to require gas stations that run out of lower octane fuel to then sell their higher octane fuels at the lower octane price. In a prior committee meeting, a representative from the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association said the measure would place Floridians at greater risk of predatory pricing in the longer term, because the big oil companies can afford to sell 93 Octane gas at 87 Octane prices while the smaller mom and pop operators cannot.
Governor Directives – Governor Scott in early February issued a series of directives to state agencies, mostly the Department of Transportation, to begin immediate work implementing some of the House Select Committee report’s recommendations. The legislature PASSED a $1.5 million appropriation for a feasibility study of extending the Suncoast Parkway from Crystal River in Citrus County to the Florida-Georgia border, to provide an additional hurricane evacuation route. A 13-mile extension into Citrus County is under previous construction; an additional 15-mile extension beyond that is on the books but is currently unfunded.
The Governor directed the DOT by this July, to identify areas along major evacuation routes where more fuel services are needed and look at options to expand fuel capacity for first responders. Other directives include expanding emergency shoulder use along key interstates, a strategy used during Irma last September as traffic backed up while motorists fled north on I-75 ahead of the storm. The Governor also directed that cameras and message signs be installed along I-75 from Ocala north to the Georgia state line and enhancements be made to the state’s “Florida 511” traffic information website for motorists. The DOT’s previous review suggested emergency shoulder plans for I-75 northbound from Alligator Alley in Fort Lauderdale; on the turnpike northbound from Orlando; on Interstate 95 northbound from Jupiter to south of Jacksonville; and on Interstate 10 westbound from I-75 to just east of Tallahassee.
The House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness issued its final report on January 16 with 78 recommendations to make Florida a safer and better prepared state when the next big hurricane hits. The report’s full list of 78 recommendations are in Appendix 3 beginning on page 43.