New Florida law allows people to remain on property during rebuild after hurricanes

Storm damage from Hurricane Ian at Fort Myers Beach, FL, on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. (Ted Richardson/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday signed eight bills, including measures that will overhaul a Gainesville-area utility and make a series of hurricane-related changes. 

The hurricane-related bill (SB 250) signed Wednesday will allow people to remain on their properties as they rebuild after storms, require quicker approval of building permits, and set more-exact time frames for removing destroyed boats from state waters. In addition, it will encourage local governments to adopt temporary housing plans for disaster-response workers and prohibit local governments in areas damaged by Hurricane Ian or Hurricane Nicole from imposing moratoriums on construction through Oct. 1, 2024. 

The bill also will shield utilities from liability for damage caused by hurricane-related power outages.

The utility bill (HB 1645) will create the Gainesville Regional Utilities Authority to replace the longstanding Gainesville Regional Utilities. While the authority will be a unit of Gainesville city government, the City Commission will not control or direct it. The governor will appoint the authority’s board members. Also, the bill, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Clemons, R-Newberry, will limit transferring money from the utility to the city. 

During this year’s legislative session, Republican lawmakers repeatedly questioned transfers of money from municipal utilities to bolster city budgets, in part because many utility customers live outside the boundaries of the cities. The House considered a bill that would have applied to municipal utilities throughout the state, but lawmakers ultimately passed the narrower measure focused on Gainesville.