TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Florida may soon embark on a costly list of fixes and contentious changes to state laws, including whether or not to require nursing homes to have on-site generators to deal with power outages.
Florida may also consider setting up gas reserves as a way to counter widespread shortages that spread across the state after millions of residents were told to evacuate ahead of the storm.
“I think what should be doing is asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to protect the people of this state?'” said House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Republican from Land O’Lakes. “Here’s all the things we learned; here’s all the things we can do better.”
Irma slammed the state and has been blamed for dozens of deaths, including eight people who died after being in a Broward County nursing home amid sweltering heat. Local officials and some state legislators have criticized power companies for the pace of restoring electricity.
Gov. Rick Scott over the weekend used his own emergency power to order nursing homes and assisted living facilities to obtain generators that will provide backup power for up to four days. The homes have 60 days to comply.
Other elected officials have responded by pledging to file bills in both the state Legislature and in Congress. Corcoran announced Tuesday that he is creating a special select committee that could make recommendations on everything from gas reserves to a dedicated fund to cover future storm preparation efforts. He distributed a long list of ideas, including whether to establish a system of providing food, water and other necessities at rest stops and weigh stations on major roads.
Corcoran also warned that legislators may need to forgo traditional hometown projects, which he labeled “pork,” during the 2018 session to help pay for hurricane-related projects.
Senate President Joe Negron did not come up with his own list of ideas, but he also sent out a memo urging senators to consider bills that deal with the “wide-ranging impacts of the storm.”
“We each have an important part to play in both Florida’s recovery from Hurricane Irma and preparing our state for future storms,” he wrote.
A big question, however, is whether or not factions in the Legislature can work together on such an ambitious list of proposals. Despite firm GOP control, legislators needed a special session this past year to pass a new state budget.
Rep. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat and leader of the House Democrats, said she hoped Corcoran’s committee would work with Democrats on a “good-faith effort” at improving Florida’s storm readiness.
“This should not become a backdoor attempt to weaken existing regulations,” Cruz said. “If Irma has taught us anything, it is that we need to modernize and strengthen regulations that protect every Floridian in times of natural disasters.”