Senate panel overhauls coastal resiliency measures
DeSantis voiced support for 'coastal resilience' last week.

Miami skyline concept of sea level rise and flooding from global warming
Some lawmakers want to do more than simply codify the state's resilience efforts.

A bill to formalize the state’s lead agency and top official on sea-level rise has been overhauled into a broader effort to improve a 2021 law on environmental policy.

During his first week in office in 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order on the environment that established the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Sen. Jason Brodeur’s bill (SB 1940) would codify a Statewide Office of Resiliency within the Governor’s Office and place the Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) as the head of the office.

With Brodeur’s changes to that bill, approved unanimously Monday in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, the one-page measure would expand to more than 20 pages and include tweaks to state processes within DEP and beyond.

“Addressing Florida’s vulnerabilities will take some coordinated effort,” Brodeur told the panel.

The committee, which the Sanford Republican chairs, is the proposal’s first of three committee allotted hearings.

The amendment is a follow-up to a bill last year, prioritized by House Speaker Chris Sprowls, that created a coastal resiliency grant program within DEP to respond to rising sea levels. The Resilient Florida Grant Program is stocked with an annual $100 million commitment to tackle sea level rise and mitigation efforts.

In Brodeur’s latest proposed language, the measure would add small cities’ and counties’ projects in the Statewide Flooding and Sea-Level Rise Resilience Plan to the list of projects that can qualify for the Resilient Florida Grant Program. It would also attach drainage districts, flood control districts, and certain special districts to the list of government entities that can apply for funding within the resilience plan.

An alteration from Wauchula Republican Sen. Ben Albritton added regional water supply authorities to that list.

Additionally, the amendment calls for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to create a resilience action plan for the State Highway System addressing vulnerabilities around tidal waters, rainfall, storm surge flooding and sea level rise projections.

FDOT is the largest operator of Florida’s critical assets, Brodeur noted.

The amendment would also allow the Division of Emergency Management to electronically receive elevation certificates, which confirm a building’s elevation above sea level. That would modernize the currently paper-based system.

“If you don’t vote for it for any other reason, this is a really good one,” Brodeur said.

Environmental activists threw their support behind the measure during the committee meeting.

“This bill builds upon the tremendous work this body did last year, cementing Florida as a leader in flood resilience,” said Kate Wesner, Florida director of the American Flood Coalition.

Florida Conservation Voters lobbyist Lindsay Cross encouraged senators and state leadership to go further by taking a proactive approach.

“We cannot have an honest conversation about resilience without also talking about our reliance on dirty fossil fuels and their contribution to a changing climate,” Cross said.

While there’s no similar bill in the House, this isn’t the first time both chambers have attempted to formalize the Office of Resiliency. However, past efforts have fallen short.

DeSantis received bipartisan praise in January 2019 when he issued the executive order tackling environmental issues. Stemming from that order, DeSantis appointed Julia Nesheiwat as the state’s first CRO. After 20 months of uncertainty for the role following Nesheiwat’s departure to be a homeland security adviser to President Donald Trump, DeSantis, in November 2021, appointed Wesley Brooks as CRO.

In December, DeSantis announced $276 million for what he called a proactive approach to combat rising sea levels. Simultaneously, the Governor criticized left-wing ideologies and people who use global warming rhetoric, calling his measure a response to floods and rising sea levels.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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