It’s turkey time for some lawmakers, but crunch time for those charged with addressing Florida hurricanes.
The Select House Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness met for the fifth time on Thursday, marking their last ‘educational’ committee meeting. The committee’s duties were originally split into three phases: gather information, solicit ideas for improvement and make recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature.
Now equipped with the statewide woes of the 2017 Hurricane Season, the committee transitions to the final part: policy recommendations.
“This is it for our fact-finding mission and our education phase of our work,” Chair Jeanette Nuñez said. She expects there will be two committee meetings in December, where “the rubber hopefully will meet the road.”
In the meantime, the Miami Republican wants an all-hands-on-deck effort from the lawmakers.
“I want you to start mulling over potential policy recommendations for the full House to consider,” Nuñez told the committee. She said lawmakers will be busy in the next two weeks working with House staff to bring forth policy recommendations.
Nuñez said each committee member will soon receive an assigned hurricane-related topic to consider. While she expects lawmakers to take the assignments seriously, she encouraged members not to be sheepish with other proposals.
“Don’t let (the assignments) impede your ability and your interest in other areas,” Nuñez explained. “I’m just trying to make sure we have a focused attention, at a minimum, from a handful of you on each category.”
When Speaker Richard Corcoran spawned the committee, he charged it with several responsibilities, which Nuñez recapped in closing. They include evacuation; energy; shelters and vulnerable populations; health care facilities and medical care; agriculture; future hurricane expenditures and tax relief; housing; beaches; sanitary sewers; stormwater flooding; debris removal; and education.
The meeting Thursday heard testimony regarding education, debris removal and agriculture and emergency management, along with a presentation from the Governor’s Office.
Cynthia Kelly, Gov. Rick Scott’s state budget director, highlighted the hurricane-related budget recommendations in Scott’s newly announced “Securing Florida’s Future” budget.
Apart from federal match programs for communities, Scott wants $50 million for beach recovery, $2 million for citrus research and $2.2 million for search and rescue enhancements, along with an additional $100 million request to target affordable housing needs created by Hurricane Irma.
Education issues related to the influx of Puerto Ricans were briefly discussed in the meeting. Afterward, Rep. Bob Cortes, an Altamonte Springs Republican, hinted there might be more problems ahead for Puerto Rican evacuees attending school in Florida — specifically those expecting to graduate.
“We’re seeing that juniors and seniors potentially are going to be very vulnerable,” Cortes said.
He said Puerto Rico’s graduation requirements are not aligning with Florida Standards Assessments, which are required to obtain a high school diploma in the state.
“Theoretically, these students — seniors from Puerto Rico — would not be able to graduate in Florida,” Cortes said.
But Cortes said the Florida Department of Education is working on a memorandum of understanding with Puerto Rico to authorize Florida high schools to give the students a Puerto Rican degree, rather than a Florida diploma.
What remains in uncertainty, Cortes said, is whether the Governor’s executive order mandating K-12 schools to accept Puerto Rican students will expire. If that is the case, Cortes said it will be addressed through legislation.
The committee next convenes on Monday, Dec. 4.