Condo fire protection bill clears House panel

Seven months after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a similar measure, a House panel Tuesday narrowly approved a bill that would ease fire-protection requirements for older high-rise condominium buildings.

The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee voted 8-7 to approve the bill (HB 1061), filed by Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale.

Backers of the measure say it would help condominium owners avoid facing potentially millions of dollars in costs to retrofit older buildings with sprinkler systems.

But the bill is opposed by groups such as fire chiefs and fire marshals, who argue that sprinklers and other safety systems can prevent potentially catastrophic fires.

The bill deals with retrofitting condominium buildings that are 75 feet or taller and were built before 1994. Buildings constructed since 1994 have been required to include sprinkler systems.

Under current law, local governments are barred from requiring retrofitting before the end of 2019.

Also, condominium residents can vote to opt out of retrofitting with sprinklers but are not able to opt out of an alternative known as “engineered life safety systems,” according to the House analysis.

Those systems involve a combination of fire-safety devices.

The bill, in part, would push the 2019 deadline back to 2022.

Also, it would allow condominium residents, by two-thirds votes, to opt out of retrofitting with sprinklers and engineered life safety systems.

Lawmakers last year passed a similar measure with only dissenting vote.

But Scott vetoed the measure in late June, citing a high-rise fire that killed dozens of people in England.