TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Extending a toll road as another evacuation route through North Florida and using a cruise ship to carry people from the lower Keys are among 141 post-storm proposals pitched to a House hurricane committee.
One would require utility lines to be placed underground. Another would ask each county to determine how much fuel is needed to run generators for three days. A separate proposal seeks to let the state buy property in high-risk areas rather than allow people to rebuild.
The House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness on Monday outlined member proposals intended to help people impacted by Hurricane Irma and to improve planning for the next storm.
Chairwoman Jeanette Nunez extended a deadline to Dec. 15 for members to file additional input on each proposal, with the committee now expected to complete its report for House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Jan. 8, a day before the 2018 legislative session begins.
Most of the projects do not have price tags, and Nunez acknowledged after the meeting that many proposals are “aspirational goals.”
“I think the process (is) where people were just throwing issues out there, kind of throwing Jell-O on the wall to see what sticks, but obviously as chair I take each recommendation seriously,” the Miami Republican said. “There are some things that are going to have a huge fiscal impact, so to whatever extent we can identify and separate things even further than what they are today, not only by category, but also what policy recommendations, by fiscal recommendation, but also we want to make sure we are taking into account the current bills that exist.”
The committee offered little comment and debate Monday after quickly noting the wide-ranging proposals.
Among the proposals, Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, suggested the state identify areas where rebuilding after disasters might be high-risk and consider options for not rebuilding, including the possible purchase of the properties. The land would be used to create additional open space and natural buffers. Housing would then need to be rebuilt outside of these high-risk zones, Raschein said.
Hurricane Irma, which hit the state in September, caused at least 72 deaths, with as many as 14 tied to a Broward County nursing home that lost its air conditioning in the storm. Gov. Rick Scott's administration has mandated that all nursing homes and assisted living facilities have generators and 96 hours of backup fuel. The state has estimated the requirements could cost nursing homes and assisted living facilities more than $465 million.
“There are so many aspects and so many dimensions to looking at the nursing home recommendations, and obviously in the context of the tragedy that occurred I think we want to be as diligent and as dutiful as we can,” Nunez said.
Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, suggested creating a “gold standard for evacuation” that would allow nursing homes to be exempt from the emergency power rule.
Among the “gold standard” benchmarks, Eagle proposed contracts regarding evacuation transportation -- at no additional cost to residents and staff -- and for at least five days of housing for residents.
Committee members have also proposed several changes involving evacuations, as Scott's evacuation orders resulted in more than 6.4 million people leaving their homes because of Irma. The evacuation led to traffic jams on interstates and gas-station pumps running dry.
House Majority Leader Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, wants the state to consider extending the Suncoast Parkway toll road, which goes north out of Hillsborough County, as another north-south option to the Georgia state line.
Rep. Larry Lee, D-Port St. Lucie, recommended expanding the number of lanes at interstate interchanges. He also would like the state to consider contracting with a passenger cruise line to dedicate a “huge” ship that would be available to evacuate 5,000 to 6,000 people from Key West.
Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City, would like the state to consider using rail transport before, during and after hurricanes to speed fuel to impacted areas of the state.
Rep. Bob Rommel, R-Naples, would like the state to require each county to determine how much fuel it needs to operate generators for critical infrastructure and first responders during the first 72 hours following a storm. The proposal also would let counties build or maintain fuel depots, or create agreements with current fuel depots.
In one of the few proposals that came with a price tag already attached, Nunez, proposed $1.46 million to serve as a match for federal funds to install generators at Florida's 42 shelters for victims of domestic violence. She also wants the state to provide more assistance with shelter-management training at the local level.
With Irma causing an estimated $2.5 billion in losses for the state's agriculture industry, Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who is a citrus grower, outlined several proposed tax exemptions for the industry. That included exemptions for material used to repair or replace damaged fences and structures and for fuel used to transport crops during an emergency.
Rep. Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte, suggested a tax exemption for the purchase of generators used on farms.