Legislature unveils hurricane relief bills for Special Session
Without updated building codes, expect more scenes like this. Image via AP.

Hurricane Ian AP -
A disastrous 2022 hurricane season caused billions in property damage in Florida.

Lawmakers have a plan to assist homeowners and counties hit hard by Hurricanes Ian and Nicole.

In a package of bills presented Friday evening, St. Augustine Republican Sen. Travis Hutson and Ocala Republican Rep. Stan McClain filed identical 20-page bills (HB 3A/SB 4A) that provide an assortment of avenues for individuals and local governments to seek relief.

Among the proposals, as promised by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is one for residents to earn tax refunds for the days their homes were uninhabitable because of the pair of storms.

The proposal comes only three days before lawmakers convene for a one-week Special Session primarily on property insurance. However, legislative leaders added disaster and toll relief to the list of Session topics this week.

“The legislation provides critical relief for those recovering and rebuilding from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, including tax relief for owners of destroyed homes, housing assistance for displaced Floridians and funding for reconstructing impacted beaches and essential water infrastructure,” Senate President Kathleen Passidomo wrote in a memo to lawmakers Friday evening.

Joining McClain in sponsoring the House version is Rep. Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican who is the House budget chief.

Property owners have between Jan. 1 and April 1 to apply for the refund. Their homes must have been uninhabitable for at least 30 days to be eligible.

Under the Division of Emergency Management (DEM), the bill also creates the Florida Emergency Management Assistance Foundation, a proposed state nonprofit to distribute funds, grants, gifts and more to local governments and individuals impacted by natural emergencies. Its board of directors would have five members appointed by the DEM Director, currently Kevin Guthrie, to three-year terms. Board members may not serve more than two consecutive terms.

DeSantis has already confirmed Guthrie will stay on at the Division for the Governor’s second term.

One program called the Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Grant Program, funded at $50 million will provide funds for homeowners who spent money to prevent coastal erosion on their property or who are making repairs after coastal erosion. That program is housed within the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), led by Secretary Shawn Hamilton, who is also returning.

Another DEP program is called the Hurricane Stormwater and Wastewater Assistance Grant Program, funded at $100 million. The program will provide local governments with up to $10 million per project to remediate damage to their stormwater and wastewater systems caused by either of the cyclones.

In total, DEP would receive $251.5 million for the 2022-23 fiscal year. $100 million would cover beach erosion projects and the remaining $1.5 million would cover administrative costs.

The bill also adds $350 million to the Public Assistant Program grants program until June 2028. It also adds $150 million to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation for its category for affordable housing for hurricane recovery.

Estimates value the property damage from Hurricane Ian at more than $40 billion, possibly as high as $70 billion. Hurricane Nicole, while less powerful, still caused hundreds of millions, or even billions, in damage.

The Senate legislation will head to the Community Affairs Committee (Chaired by freshman Sen. Alexis Calatayud) at noon on Monday before going to the Fiscal Policy Committee (Chaired by Hutson) at 3 p.m. that day.

The House version will head to the Ways & Means Committee (Chaired by McClain) at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday before going to the Appropriations Committee (Chaired by Leek) at 3 p.m. that day.

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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