Bills would allow storm migrants to obtain Florida licenses

Victor Torres and Joy Goff-Marcil
'Easing the process for these folks will grow our state’s economy.'

People fleeing natural disasters to Florida would be able to more easily obtain driver licenses and professional licenses in the Sunshine State under bills filed by Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres and Democratic state Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil.

The bills are partly a response to the massive migration to Florida of Puerto Rican refugees in 2017 and also the “Deregathon” event organized late last month by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who pledged to make the paths to Florida licensure easier.

Under Torres’ Senate Bill 978 and Goff-Marcil’s companion House Bill 391, if someone flees to Florida because of a hurricane or other natural disaster that person could apply for a Florida driver license or for a professional license and have the existing license from the previous state or U.S. territory recognized for a transfer of jurisdiction without fees or applications.

“In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Florida saw an influx of thousands of Puerto Rican refugees. It’s my hope that we can learn from this and create a system that welcomes people seeking renewed opportunity,” Goff-Marcil, of Maitland, stated in a news release.  “Easing the process for these folks will grow our state’s economy, create strong jobs, and benefit Floridians across the board.”

In 2017 an estimated 200,000 displaced individuals relocated from Puerto Rico to Florida as a result of Hurricane Maria. Perhaps half or more returned to the island or moved on to other states. But the vast majority first stayed for extended periods in Florida, and an unknown number, likely tens of thousands, still remain in the Sunshine State.

Under executive orders signed in 2017 and ’18 by former Gov. Rick Scott and advocated by Goff-Marcil’s predecessor in House District 30, Republican former state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs, Florida recognized many of their professional licenses, but only for temporary periods, which expired by mid-2018.

On Jan. 31 DeSantis and Business and Professional Regulations Secretary Halsey Beshears  told 17  state licensure boards and commissions they wanted rules trimmed to make it easier for professionals to get licensed in Florida.

Democrats immediately responded with a request that those boards also find ways to accommodate storm refugees who come to Florida. The bills from Torres and Goff-Marcil seek to do that, though the bills were first introduced last year.

“By making this change in licensure law, we will assist individuals evacuating to Florida under emergency circumstances to more quickly find employment in their professional fields so they can begin earning money to support themselves and their families while reestablishing their lives,” Torres stated in the release.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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