Florida legislators appear willing to admit seas are rising, push proposal to fund mitigation projects

Part of a House plan to combat impacts of rising sea levels drew bipartisan support Monday in what is expected to be a short trip through Senate committees.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved a bill (SB 1954) that includes spending up to $100 million a year on projects to address flooding and sea-level rise and creating a grant program for local governments.

“Under this grant program, the Department of Environmental Protection will provide grants to local governments to cover the cost of community resilience planning,” said Sen. Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican who is sponsoring the bill. “For example, conducting vulnerability assessments and developing plans and policies to allow communities to prepare for the threat from flooding and from sea level rise.”

The proposal, part of a plan House Speaker Chris Sprowls introduced on Feb. 26, also includes setting up a three-year statewide flooding and sea level resilience plan that the Department of Environmental Protection would update annually. The bill has support from Audubon Florida, the League of Women Voters of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Jonathan Webber, deputy director of the Florida Conservation Voters, supported the bill but said the Legislature should also consider regulating sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposal must get approval from the Appropriations Committee before it could go to the Senate floor. Gov. Ron DeSantis, who proposed a $1 billion, four-year plan to help communities fight rising sea levels, has suggested using some of the new federal coronavirus relief money heading to Florida for the “resiliency” efforts.

DeSantis also earlier proposed issuing bonds for the projects. But House leaders have resisted bonding proposals to avoid long-term debt.

Sprowls’ proposal calls for spending $25 million next fiscal year on the program, with the amount jumping to $100 million a year starting in the 2022-2023 fiscal year without issuing bonds. The House version of the bill (HB 7019) has cleared one committee and next goes before the State Affairs Committee.

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