The Florida Senate voted unanimously in favor of a disaster relief bill with a price tag of at least $750 million, though some Democrats voiced concern about residents left out of lucrative programs such as hurricane-related tax refunds, beach erosion projects and other recovery efforts.

“I’m sympathetic to the needs of Floridians who were devastated by the recent hurricanes that struck Florida,” said Sen. Victor Torres, a Democrat who represents Osceola County and part of Orange.

Sen. Victor Torres. Dec. 12, 2022. Credit: screenshot/Florida Channel

“I’m also aware that there are other parts of the state like my counties that were impacted as well, who were not included in this bill. Can you make a commitment today to work with me and other colleagues to expand relief for those residents when we return next year to regular session?” Torres asked bill sponsor Sen. Travis Hutson.

Hutson, a Republican representing coastal counties in Northeast Florida, promised he would.

“I’ll go a step further: the (Senate) President has set up a resiliency committee to address additional needs, and I know Sen. (Ben) Albritton is the chair of that committee… and they are going to address those concerns when we get into regular season.”

Hutson referenced the Select Committee on Resiliency, chaired by Albritton, a Republican who represents areas directly impacted by Hurricane Ian. The vice chair will be Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democrat representing parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Sen. Lori Berman, a Democrat who represents part of Palm Beach County, was concerned that the disaster relief bill that sets aside millions for beach erosion and restoration would interfere with other beach restoration projects.

“I just wanna confirm what we’ve talked about yesterday about beach renourishment, and I just want to confirm that it (the disaster relief bill) will not jump ahead or hurt other communities that are already in-line for beach renourishment,” she said.

Hutson said that other beach erosion projects would be tackled during the regular session in 2023.

The House version of the disaster relief bill still needs to work its way through committees Tuesday. One of the committees has already voted favorably. Another approved the bill later in the afternoon. It will now be heard in the full House Wednesday. Both chambers must approve the final bill.

The Senate bill includes these projects:

/$350 million for Federal Emergency Management Agency programs for Florida counties that were most impacted by the damages from Hurricane Ian and/or Nicole.

/$251.5 million for damage and recovery from the storms.

The breakout of those funds are: $100 million for beach erosion recovery; $50 million for a grant for hurricane restoration reimbursements; $100 million for grants for stormwater and wastewater assistance, and $1.5 million for the Department of Enivronmental Protection for administrative purposes.

/$150 million for what’s called the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. 

That amount will be divided into two buckets: $60 million will go to a hurricane housing recovery program for eligible counties and municipalities. These funds can assist with repair or replacement of housing, relocation, and other housing assistance.

Of this $60 million, up to $25 million may be used to provide assistance to homeowners to pay insurance deductibles, according to the bill.

The remaining $90 million would go towards a rental recovery loan program to “promote the development and rehabilitation of affordable housing,” according to staff analysis.

Meanwhile, in a House committee this afternoon, Democrats had questions about the property tax refunds related to the recent hurricanes. At issue is how much the refunds will cost, but estimates have said it will be in the millions.

This is an update of the Phoenix story from this afternoon.

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