The House and Senate announced that this regularly scheduled committee week would also include Special Session C to address a number of issues ahead of the 2024 legislative session, including Hurricane Idalia relief, insurance and education. While several committees did meet to review agency presentations, the week was dominated by the Special Session.
Hurricane Idalia irrevocably altered the Big Bend region of Florida when it made landfall as a Category 3 storm in August. This largely rural area of the state is home to a significant portion of the state's timber and aquaculture industries, both of which were impacted by this storm. While post-storm support and recovery of this region was largely the focus of the omnibus hurricane relief bill (HB1C / SB2A), a questionable provision brought redevelopment of areas impacted by Hurricane Ian back into the fold.
Last year, the legislature passed SB250 Natural Emergencies, which established that counties and municipalities within 100 miles of where Hurricanes Ian and Nicole made landfall could not propose or adopt moratoriums on building or redevelopment, or adopt any regulations, comprehensive plan amendments, or procedures that would make it more difficult to build or develop in those areas until June 30, 2025. Essentially, this law prohibits communities who have been impacted by this climate-driven disaster from deciding for themselves if and how they want to rebuild more resiliently.
Under HB1C / SB2A, a bill that should be focused on recovery from Hurricane Idalia, this prohibition is limited to ten counties, and extended through June 30, 2027. This means that those counties do not have access to the planning tools and local rule to be able to determine for themselves how they want to rebuild after this life-altering storm. Communities should have the right to rebuild more resiliently in the wake of rapidly intensifying climate impacts in Florida and this provision is a blow to home rule and growth management for Floridians already impacted by Hurricane Ian. Unfortunately, the intent of the special session and the provision's placement in Hurricane Idalia relief legislation put it on a fast track for passage with little resistance and is headed to the Governor's desk for signature.
Outside of the special session, the Water Quality, Supply and Treatment Subcommittee convened to hear presentations on underwater cave systems, and coral breeding and restoration programs in the aftermath of the marine heat wave and mass bleaching event over the summer. The coral restoration presentations precipitated some great discussion on using marine protected areas to support restoration activities and the cost of recovery in the wake of climate change and stunning loss of coral in recent years.
While most of the focus this week was on special session, members continue to file their bills for the 2024 regular session. Of interest to Surfrider, Senator Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) filed SB338 Safe Waterways Act. Just like HB165, the 2024 version of the bill begins the process of transferring bacteriological sampling of beach waters and public bathing places from the Florida Department of Health to the Department of Environmental Protection. Surfrider supports this bill and the effort to move this program to where it will be funded and executed appropriately.
It is still too early to tell how this legislative session will shape up for Florida's ocean, waves and beaches, but you can be sure that Surfrider will be following the biggest issues for our coasts. We'll be back to keep you informed with another installment of Impact Zone after the next committee week.