Governor unveils hurricane proposals


Published: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 11:50 p.m.
ORLANDO - Gov. Jeb Bush outlined a $565 million plan Friday that he says will help the state prepare for hurricanes and their aftermath, including an education program aimed at making residents more self-reliant.
With eight major hurricanes striking or affecting Florida in the last two years and some turbulent years predicted, Bush said it is vital for the state's economy to develop a ''culture of preparedness'' to deal with the inevitable devastation.
''Hurricanes are a fact of life in Florida and every Floridian needs to have a plan for hurricane season,'' Bush said. ''Our ability to respond and recover from a hurricane is critical to our economy and quality of life.''
The governor encouraged Floridians to take responsibility for their own hurricane preparation and to rely less on state and local government. The proposal, which would be funded by the state and federal governments, would raise public awareness about early preparation, continue the sales tax holiday on hurricane supplies and strengthen older homes to better withstand hurricane-force winds.
An estimated 67,000 homes, most built under old building codes, were destroyed during the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons. Bush's recovery budget recommends $177 million for rental recovery, $98 million for a local hurricane housing recovery program and $25 million for farm worker housing.
He also urged the state to adopt a uniform building code. The Panhandle is the only area exempt from the state's current building code. The Florida Building Commission is conducting a study which will be presented in the 2006 legislature to determine whether the Panhandle should be included.
Florida's building code is the strongest in the country, said Edie Ousley, spokesperson for the Florida Home Builders Association. ''Homes built under the new code have withstood the storms in a way that was really never before seen in the state of Florida. Homes built under the older code didn't fare as well.''
The governor's plan would also use funds to assist residents during the immediate response, where keeping the power on is a matter of life and death for the elderly. ''More people lost power for an extended period of time with Wilma than Katrina,'' he said.
His initial response strategy includes funds to build shelters to house an additional 100,000 people, to install permanent generators in special needs shelters and to expand and strengthen county emergency operations centers. He proposes a partnership with businesses like Publix, Target and Loewe's to help distribute supplies more quickly in a storm's aftermath.
The governor also recommended more than $30 million for first responders training programs and new technology designed to improve their understanding of storm surge.
''I wake up at night with hurricane dreams, with hurricanes on the brain because I see this as our great challenge,'' said Bush.
Florida taxpayers won't foot the bill for this hefty proposal. Bush said the state's coffers are overflowing and the proposal would be funded by recurring money.
Rep. Holly Benson (R-Pensacola), who is also a member of the coastal hazard study committee, didn't flinch at the price tag Bush attached to hurricane proofing the state.
''Because of the hurricanes, we have seen significant increases in sales tax revenue,'' Benson said. ''I think it's important to use that money to prepare for the next round of storms and to rebuild from the previous round.''

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