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Florida Lawmakers Sign Off On Bills To Combat Sea-Level Rise, Affordable Housing

U.S. Coast Guard photo

Tens of millions of dollars a year would go to combat the effects of rising sea levels under bills passed Thursday by the Florida House and headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The House voted 118-0 to approve a measure (SB 1954) that calls for spending up to $100 million a year on projects to address flooding and sea-level rise and creating a grant program for local governments.

The “resiliency” issue has particularly been a priority of DeSantis and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. The bill calls for setting up a multi-year statewide flooding and sea level resilience plan that the Department of Environmental Protection would update annually.

After the vote, Sprowls said the measure is “one of the most robust and bold proposals in the entire United States of America to tackle sea level rise and coastal flooding of any state.”

The Senate also unanimously passed the bill Wednesday, meaning it is ready to go to DeSantis.

More controversially, the House on Thursday voted 78-38 to approve a measure (SB 2512) that would divvy up more than $400 million in documentary-stamp tax dollars that in the past have been targeted toward what is known as the Sadowski Trust Fund for affordable housing.

The bill would direct $200 million in documentary-stamp tax money to affordable housing, with $111.7 million going to sea-level rise efforts and $111.7 million going to sewage treatment projects, Senate sponsor Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, said Wednesday.

House Democrats objected to paying for other programs with money that could go to affordable housing. The Sadowski Trust Fund has been an annual target of lawmakers who divert or “sweep” the money to be used for other expenses.

Rep. Omari Hardy, D-West Palm Beach, said the bill would essentially cut in half future affordable housing money.

“This plan is built on a false choice,” Hardy said. “It recognizes that we have needs in the state of Florida. Sea level rise is an issue. Water quality is an issue. And it says that the only way that we can address these issues, the only way that we can fund these vital measures, which I support, is to fund it on the backs of working-class Floridians who are struggling to find a place that they can live in and a place that they can afford.”

Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, said the state could use $10 billion headed to Florida from the federal American Rescue Plan to fund resiliency efforts, sewage projects and other urgent water needs.

Rep. Josie Tomkow, a Polk City Republican who chairs the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, said the legislation will prohibit sweeping money from affordable-housing in the future.

“We’re making sure there is a floor and minimum of the amounts that goes to this fund, and on top of that we’re addressing very important issues,” Tomkow said, referring to sea-level rise and sewage projects.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted 25-14 to approve the bill.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said the resiliency legislation can make Florida “a national example of resilient communities.”

The bill that passed unanimously would, in part, create the “Resilient Florida Grant Program” in the Department of Environmental Protection, which would set criteria for local governments to apply for funding assistance to address sea-level rise issues.

Environmental groups have voiced support for the measure while expressing hope that lawmakers will eventually also address sources of greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change.

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Jim Turner - News Service of Florida