House, Senate sign off on hurricane response measure, establish liability protections for utilities

by | May 2, 2023

  • The Florida House and Senate have both approved a piece of legislation that bolsters natural disaster response measures in local communities. 
  • The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis where it awaits his signature. 
  • The legislation includes a wide-ranging series of provisions that broadens building regulations during a state of emergency, grants more leniency in allowing people to remain on their property amid recovery efforts, and establishes temporary housing for recovery workers.
  • The House included an amendment that shields utility providers from liability claims for damages suffered during a disaster. 

Both chambers of the Florida Capitol have now given their approval on a piece of legislation aiming to bolster preparedness measures in local communities following natural disasters like hurricanes, sending the bill to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The bill includes a series of provisions allowing counties and municipalities to create interlocal agreements for building inspection services during a state of emergency, as well as expedite the issuance of permits following a natural disaster.

Moreover, municipalities will be permitted to extend certain building permits up to 24 months after a state of emergency declaration. In part, the bill allows people to remain on their property as they rebuild after storms and establishes regulated time frames for removing destroyed boats from state waters.

Once adopted, Florida residents will be allowed to use temporary housing such as travel trailers or mobile homes on their property for up to 36 months following a disaster declaration.

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.

The measure’s adoption would also prohibit local governments from increasing building fees within the disaster declaration for Hurricane Ian or Hurricane Nicole until October 1, 2024.

It additionally appropriates $50 million in nonrecurring funds to the Local Government Emergency Bridge Loan Program and allows it to become a revolving program, making funds available for local governments impacted by federally declared disasters until July 1, 2038.

According to News Service of Florida, several components of the bill were recommended by state Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie.

“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.”

Following unanimous approval by the Senate in early April, the Florida House tacked on an additional amendment to the bill that adds liability protections for utilities before voting to pass the bill.

“Public utilities are not liable for damages based in whole or in part on changes in the reliability, continuity, or quality of utility services which arise out of an emergency or disaster,” reads the amendment.


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