More than three years after establishing Florida’s Chief Resilience Officer by executive order, Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation codifying that position into state statute.
The measure (HB 7053) will form a Statewide Office of Resiliency within the Governor’s Office and place the Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) as the head of the office. When the proposal takes effect in July, it will formalize portions of DeSantis’ 2019 executive order on the environment.
Coral Gables Republican Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera filed the bill, which was backed by House Speaker Chris Sprowls. Sen. Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, ushered it through the Senate.
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).
Despite the Governor’s early action on the CRO, the majority of the last three years has been an uncertain time for the position. Florida had been without a dedicated CRO since March 2020.
DeSantis named Julia Nesheiwat to be the state’s first CRO in August 2019. However, she was tapped in February 2020 to be then-President Donald Trump’s Homeland Security Adviser, leaving the DeSantis administration less than six months after she joined it.
After adding the CRO’s job description to the responsibilities of then-DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein and his successor, Shawn Hamilton, DeSantis tapped Wesley Brooks as CRO in November 2021.
The legislation also is a follow-up to a bill last year, a priority of 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.
Despite the unanimous support from Democrats, some voiced concerns the bill doesn’t go far enough to meet the rising tide of climate change.
“I do think we need to address the reason why we have to have a resiliency officer, and that is climate change,” Lantana Democratic Sen. Lori Berman said during Senate debate on the bill. “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 allowing the officer to research and recommend 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.