Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

House Eyes Storm Proposals on Nursing Homes, Evacuations

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

House Eyes Storm Proposals on Nursing Homes, Evacuations

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Turner News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE | Requiring nursing homes to have adequate backup power, blocking stormdamaged properties from being rebuilt in "highrisk" areas, and looking into changes in highway traffic flow during evacuations are among hurricane proposals that moved forward Tuesday in a Florida House select committee.

The House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness advanced 78 recommendations - one was added Tuesday involving incentives for parkinggarage owners who open their facilities during storms - from out of 161 proposals panel members had suggested following a series of hearings last year.

The recommendations focused on Hurricane Irma recovery, the impact on Florida of people fleeing Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and how to better prepare for future storms. They will be distributed to various committees and subcommittees to determine the potential impacts on the next state budget as ideas are converted into bills.

Committee Chairwoman Jeanette Nunez, RMiami, whittled down the list of proposals and called them a "starting point" for shortterm and longterm measures.

The recommendations touch on evacuations, debris removal, housing, utilities, shelters, the state budget and the agriculture industry, which suffered an estimated $2.5 billion in losses from Irma, a Category 4 storm that pounded the state Sept. 10 and 11 and left 84 dead.

One of the highestprofile incidents in the storm involved the deaths of residents at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a Broward County nursing home where the airconditioning system was knocked out by Irma. A number of the House recommendations are focused on nursing homes.

Among them is a proposal that would exempt from sales taxes the purchase of gas generators costing up to $30,000. Other proposals included requiring facilities to address staffing as part of emergency plans and requiring staff training that includes an annual facilitywide evacuation drill.

Meanwhile, committee member Rep. Kristin Jacobs, DCoconut Creek, questioned a lack of specific recommendations about underground power lines.

"While certainly flooding risks may increase the problems associated with restoring our electric grid, the truth is ... those communities that have underground electric cables already, they didn't experience the loss of power that other communities did," Jacobs said.

A recommendation would direct the Public Service Commission to study the costs and feasibility of stormhardening measures for the electric power grid, which Nunez said could include underground power lines.

With millions of Floridians leaving their homes during Irma, evacuation issues also have been highprofile.

A recommendation to require tests of converting portions of highways into all oneway traffic, a process known as "contraflow," was included, despite Department of Transportation Secretary Michael Dew telling committee members in October that too many safety impediments would be involved. …

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