Florida Senate panel backs hurricane aid

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A proposal to pump at least $315 million into the hurricane-battered Panhandle and to create a task force on state and local disaster responses cleared its first Senate committee Tuesday as budget negotiations approach in the Legislature.

The Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee unanimously backed the wide-ranging measure (SB 1610).

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Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, said he expects the bill to be amended to reflect the Senate’s position in the budget process. Montford is sponsoring the measure with Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, and Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze.

The state has spent about $1.6 billion responding to Hurricane Michael, most of which officials anticipate will be reimbursed by the federal government.

The state Senate budget plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 has about $220 million in overall hurricane-related funding.

Under the bill approved Tuesday, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity would get $300 million for a program that would help counties, cities and school districts cover repair costs from Hurricane Michael. Another $15 million is sought for an agricultural loan program under the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Michael is estimated to have caused nearly $1.5 billion in damages to Northwest Florida growers, mostly to the timber industry.

The bill would make a series of other moves stemming from the Category 4 storm, which made landfall Oct. 10 in Mexico Beach. Those moves include creating a task force to review and make recommendations on changes to local, state and federal disaster response and recovery; creating a program within the Florida Housing Finance Corp. to respond to housing needs after hurricanes; and directing the Florida Building Commission to make recommendations on building-code changes due to Michael.

News Service of Florida

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