Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a pair of bills to address the impact of climate change and sea level rise.
The measures were among the Governor’s priorities. House Speaker Chris Sprowls similarly marked them as top priorities.
“Today, we probably take the most significant steps that have been taken in Florida in quite some time,” DeSantis said. “We’re establishing immediate and multi-year plans to tackle statewide flooding and coastal resilience.”
Flanked by key lawmakers and environmental agency personnel, DeSantis signed the measures at Rusty Bellies Waterfront Grill in Tarpon Springs, Sprowls’ hometown and part of his district.
“Many families, mine included, come out here and enjoy the natural wonders that our state has to offer,” Sprowls said. “But with these blessings comes great responsibility for each one of us to protect our beautiful waterways and sustain us, but also to protect our neighborhoods and protect our businesses from the might of mother nature.”
Both bills were popular among members of the Legislature. They passed with nearly full support among both chambers, though in committee meetings some Democrats said the bills did not do enough to address causes of climate change.
“We can debate all day the whys and how this happens, but if we just do that and we just debated all day, we wouldn’t do anything. That’s not what we’re doing here today,” Sprowls continued.
The first bill (SB 1954) will create the Resilient Florida Grant Program, which authorizes the Department of Environmental Protection to provide grants to local governments to combat rising sea levels.
To inform the grant selection process, a project run by DEP will procure “high-resolution coastal mapping services to provide seafloor data from the coast to the edge of the continental shelf or beyond.” Under the bill, the project will be completed by 2023 and updated every five years.
DEP will use the data to inform a Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan, which will be updated and submitted to the Governor and the Legislature every three years.
The plan will consist of ranked projects to address risks of flooding and sea level rise to coastal and inland communities. The projects will be submitted by local governments and chosen by DEP to receive grant funding. Each project must include a minimum 50% cost-share, unless a community is considered a “financially disadvantaged small community.”
The bill also allows counties and municipalities to enter into agreements to form regional resilience coalitions, which could then coordinate solutions to rising sea levels and apply for the grant program.
The bill will also establish the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation within the University of South Florida College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg. The hub will research ways to improve flood monitoring and prediction and report its progress to the Governor and Legislature on an annual basis.
The bill requires the Office of Economic & Demographic Research to track the amount of government money put toward minimizing effects of inland and coastal flooding.
Estero Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who sponsored that proposal, said leadership starts at the top, a nod to DeSantis and legislative leadership. Coral Gables Republican Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, who carried it through the House, called it a “pinch-me” moment.
“Combating flooding and sea level rise is something that has been long overdue in our state, and we are about to be leaders in flood mitigation,” Busatta Cabrera said.
The other piece of the legislation (SB 2514) guarantees $100 million per year of continued funding by establishing the Resilient Florida Trust Fund within the DEP, part of a deal to split dollars originally intended for affordable housing programs into affordable housing and environmental programs.
Under the bill, DEP will use the trust as a funding source for the Resilient Florida Grant Program and the Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan. The trust will cover the cost to implement the plan, including the operation of the grant program, the grants and administrative and operational costs of the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation.
“Whether you’re on the coast and at the beach or you’re inland and just have flooding problems, it’s very important for us,” Senate President Wilton Simpson said.
The Legislature formally sent both bills to the Governor on Monday.