PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Hurricane response bill heads to DeSantis; measure shields utilities


The Senate on Monday gave final approval to a bill that would help communities deal with future natural disasters and provide a legal shield for electric utilities.

The bill (SB 250), which received unanimous Senate support, came after Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole caused massive damage last year. In part, it would allow people to remain on their properties as they rebuild after storms, require quicker approval of building permits and set more-exact time frames for removing debris and destroyed boats from state waters. The bill is now ready to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Senate unanimously approved an initial version of the bill on April 3, but the House added liability protections for utilities and other changes before voting 109-4 last week to pass the bill. That sent the measure back to the Senate for a final vote.

The House change dealing with utilities says, “A public utility is not liable for damages based in whole or in part on changes in the reliability, continuity, or quality of utility services which arise in any way out of an emergency or disaster.”

House sponsor Rep. Mike Giallombardo, R-Cape Coral, said last month the intent was to prevent frivolous lawsuits, which could eventually affect utility rates.

The change was proposed after a panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled that Florida Power & Light could face a class-action lawsuit stemming from power outages caused by Hurricane Irma, which barreled up the state in 2017. Plaintiffs in the case contend that the utility did not meet obligations to help prevent power outages, such as carrying out a storm “hardening” plan, replacing aging poles and adequately clearing vegetation near lines. FPL has argued, in part, that disputes about its storm-hardening efforts should go before the Florida Public Service Commission.