To meet the rising tide of climate change, Florida’s top officer on sea level rise could soon have a permanent place in Florida law.
A year after lawmakers passed legislation to mitigate rising sea levels, the Senate unanimously followed the House with a vote to formalize the state’s lead agency and top official dealing with the issue.
The measure (HB 7053), filed by Coral Gables Republican Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera and backed by House Speaker Chris Sprowls, 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. That would add into law portions of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2019 executive order on the environment.
During his first week in office, DeSantis signed the executive order, which established the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The proposal also is a follow-up to a bill last year, a Sprowls priority, 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.
Despite the unanimous vote, shepherded by Sanford Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur, some Democrats have voiced concerns the bill doesn’t go far enough. Like some House Democrats, Lantana Democratic Sen. Lori Berman stood on the chamber floor to make the case for a more ambitious proposal.
“I do think we need to address the reason why we have to have a resiliency officer, and that is climate change,” Berman said. “I hope, as we move forward in this Legislature, we start to address the underlying causes and not just to remedy the problems.”
St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond had filed amendments that would have asked the CRO to make policy recommendations and calculate and track the costs of resilience projects. However, Busatta Cabrera called the language unnecessary.
Despite voting “yes,” Diamond complained the majority rejected even researching and recommending policies.
“Only erecting walls to protect highways and mitigate against flooding is like putting a Band-Aid on a broken bone,” Diamond told members. “It might look like we’re doing something, but we’re not addressing the main issues that are causing the pain.”
The DeSantis administration has marked a shift in how Republican leadership addresses climate change, making the environment a priority. However, DeSantis has criticized climate proposals from the left.
“What I found is people, when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways,” DeSantis told reporters in December. “We’re not doing any left-wing stuff. What we’re doing, though, is just reacting to the fact that, OK, we’re a flood-prone state. We do have storms.”
Before the bill’s passage in the House, Busatta Cabrera made similar comments.
“We’ve rejected the toxic politics that are more concerned about grandstanding than tackling real issues and finding real results,” Busatta Cabrera said.
The bill will next head to the Governor before it is set to take effect in July.
The House passed the bill 114-1 last week as Howey-in-the-Hills Republican Rep. Anthony Sabatini cast the lone vote against the measure.