IRMA: Florida panel to consider gas reserves, power lines

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017, 11:14 PM EDT

Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Tuesday empaneled a select committee charged with reviewing the state's at-times rocky handling of Hurricane Irma and its aftermath.

  • Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness
  • Explore ways to handle issues like fuel shortages, power outages
  • Ninth South Florida nursing home resident dies

The panel, the Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness, will explore how to prevent a repeat of the fuel shortages that plagued millions of drivers as they evacuated before the storm. And with around 13 millions Floridians left without power in Irma's wake -- many for days on end -- the committee is also expected to broach the expensive question of whether large swaths of Florida's power transmission lines should be buried.

"Why does a state in the richest country in the world, third largest, why don't we have a significant gas reserve in the central part of the state so that that's not an issue moving forward for our citizens?" Corcoran asked during a Capitol press conference. "We've seen, obviously, that almost a third of our state was without power for some period of time. What can we do to move forward?"

Corcoran also committed to investigating whether state regulatory issues contributed to the deaths of several seniors confined to a sweltering Hollywood nursing home.

On Tuesday, Hollywood police confirmed a ninth resident of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a 93-year-old man, had died.

Florida's nursing home industry has been steadily deregulated under Gov. Rick Scott and the legislature's Republican leaders, prompting pointed criticism of the governor as he prepares for a likely U.S. Senate campaign next year.

Over the weekend Scott directed the Agency for Health Care Administration to issue emergency rules to force nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have backup power systems.

An emergency summit on the issue wil be held Friday in Tallahassee.

Two state lawmakers are also filing bills on the issue.

Meanwhile Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is urging creation of a federal panel to specifically address the nursing home debacle. Legislation filed Tuesday by Nelson and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA) would require the secretary of Health and Human Services to establish a National Advisory Committee on Seniors and Disasters tasked with issuing guidance to local, state and federal officials.

"What happened in Hollywood is inexcusable,” Nelson said in a statement. “This bill will require the head of HHS to appoint a panel of experts to provide our state and local leaders with the guidance they need to make sure such a tragedy never happens again.”

As for the politically thorny issue of just how to pay for wide-ranging reforms aimed at hurricane readiness, Corcoran invoked one of his favorite topics: "pork funding" in the state budget. Eliminating hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of pet projects, he said, could free up money for decidedly weightier projects that have the potential to save lives when ill winds blow in from the tropics. 

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.