For weeks after Hurricane Irma’s impact, hurricane preparedness and storm hardening dominated the headlines and became the top priority for state lawmakers. Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran even launched a select committee “to conduct a broad review of the state response and preparedness in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.” The Select Committee on Hurricane Preparedness made 78 recommendations ranging from extending evacuation routes into Georgia and funding a statewide analysis of evacuation behaviors, to new laws that force local governments to comply with state powerline right-of-way standards so that tree protection ordinances don’t interfere with public safety.
But now, three weeks after the horrific school shooting in Parkland, the Florida legislature remains bogged down in an emotionally-charged debate over gun control and school security.
The result is that nobody is talking about hurricane hardening. And the bad news for lawmakers is that this year, as it does every four years, hurricane season coincides with the 2018 election cycle. Not if, but when the first storm starts heading this way, Florida voters will inevitably wonder why lawmakers didn’t do much to invest in bolstering state infrastructure against future storms.
State Senator Greg Steube initially pushed a bill that would make tree removal ordinances meet a uniform state standard. The bill sought to make it easier for dangerous, problematic or overgrown trees to be removed without having to go through miles of bureaucratic red tape or absurd local regulations that put aesthetic beauty ahead of common sense (looking at you, Coral Gables). But lobbyists paid for by city, county and local government tax dollars revolted against Steube’s bill, and the effort stalled.
Other recommendations, such as changing Florida regulations to bolster the state’s gasoline supply, protections against price gouging, funding to pay for burying powerlines in vulnerable population centers, and boosting storm shelter capacity, have either been ignored altogether, left to die in legislative committees, or, as with Steube’s tree removal bill, were killed off by vigorous opposition from special interest groups.
That’s not to say nothing has been done. The Florida Senate has passed a couple of bills related to nursing home generators. A spokeswoman for Senate President Joe Negron also pointed to a handful of tax-relief allocations that will help those hardest hit by Irma – especially Florida’s citrus industry.
A related inquiry sent to the Florida House Speaker’s Office was not answered.
The 2018 hurricane season is just 85 days away. When the first hurricane cone of the season forces Florida voters to prepare for landfall, state lawmakers facing re-election will need to prepare for a storm of their own – from those same voters and the media – demanding answers about why there was no real progress on hurricane hardening.