| Special Session Addresses Hurricane Idalia Relief
Hurricane Idalia made landfall on August 30, 2023, along Florida’s Big Bend area as a Category 3 hurricane. Idalia was the third major hurricane on record to make landfall in the Big Bend region and the strongest to make landfall since the Cedar Key hurricane in 1896. Preliminary insured losses in Florida were estimated to be at least $9.6 billion. Hurricane Idalia had a significant impact on the agricultural production in Northwest Florida, affecting more than 3.3 million acres of Florida’s agricultural lands.
A special session that concluded this week prioritized Hurricane Idalia recovery relief for communities affected by the hurricane, including Florida’s agriculture industry.
On Wednesday, November 8, the House and Senate both unanimously passed the HB 1C Disaster Relief legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jason Shoaf (R-Port St. Joe) to provide the funds to the My Safe Florida Home Program, created during the 2022 legislative session. The Senate version was sponsored by Sen. Corey Simon (R-Tallahassee).
The Legislature appropriated a total of $417 million for disaster relief, which includes $50 million for the Hurricane Recovery Grant Program; $25 million to fund the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program; and $5 million for the Rural Infrastructure Fund, which is money set aside for counties affected by Hurricane Idalia.
Taking a Deeper Dive
The funding includes free home inspections—giving owners a report detailing recommended improvements—and provides matches funding (up to $10,000) for home projects “to harden homes against storms” to lower insurance premiums. The program is administered by the Florida Department of Financial Services.
Another provision in the bill provides additional aid to agricultural communities affected by Hurricane Idalia. $75 million was appropriated to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for the Agriculture and Aquaculture Producers Natural Disaster Recovery Loan Program as well as $37.5 million for the Timber Landowner Assistance Cost-Share Grant Program.
The bill revises a controversial provision enacted last year, after Hurricane Ian, which prohibits local governments from enacting building moratoria, or stricter provisions in their comprehensive plans or land development ordinances which are deemed “restrictive or burdensome.”
The revisions in this bill are helpful on one hand because they reduce the area covered by this controversial prohibition to a list of counties that were actually affected by Hurricane Ian, replacing earlier language which tied the hands of all local governments located “…entirely or partially within 100 miles of where either Hurricane Ian or Hurricane Nicole made landfall…” (which covered much of the whole state).
On the other hand, the bill extends the length of the prohibitions on local government actions until October 2026, an additional two years. The prohibition only impacts ordinances, plan amendments, and similar changes initiated by local governments; landowners and developers are free to seek whatever plan amendments or ordinance changes they may desire.
Unfortunately, building in Florida’s vulnerable coastal areas will continue without taking into account sea level rise and hurricane risks, and local governments won’t be able to respond to concerns about sea level rise and future hurricane damage with more effective regulations for two more years.