The House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee today unanimously approved HB 1095, filed by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, to protect first responders, utility workers and Florida families from destruction, injury and death that can result from digging underground without taking proper precautions.
“The reason why we are here is because we want to make our communities safer,” Fitzenhagen told committee members. “It’s really important that we make sure that people follow the law of calling 8-1-1.”
HB 1095 – along with companion bill SB 1464 filed by Sen. Anitere Flores – requires Floridians to call 8-1-1, a free resource, before they dig underground. At no cost to the caller, utilities will mark lines to avoid when digging in order to ensure the safety of the community.
Underground natural gas pipes are safe. However, when they are ruptured by a shovel or other type of excavation equipment, the gas released can ignite by a spark or flame and result in deadly flash fires or explosions.
In Fort Myers, authorities were forced to close major roads four times during the summer of 2019 due to ruptured pipelines struck by construction crews who failed to call 8-1-1 prior to digging. Other accidents in Florida and around the country have resulted in many injuries and even fatalities.
HB 1095 directs Floridians to call 8-1-1 before they dig. Operators at 8-1-1, a free resource, will notify local utilities of the caller’s intent to excavate. Utility companies will come to the location – at no cost – and mark underground lines that must be avoided when digging.
Currently, Florida is one of just nine states in the nation that does not meet federal standards for safety in this area. The proposed legislation will bring Florida into compliance with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHSMA) of the United States Department of Transportation.
The proposed legislation gives authority to the State Fire Marshal or the local fire chief to issue a citation when individuals fail to dial 8-1-1 before they dig. The citation may include a civil penalty between $500 and $2,500. Fees collected will go toward the entity that issued the citation.