A bill recently passed by Florida lawmakers could hinder the ability of some communities to participate in the federally funded flood insurance program, federal officials say.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently wrote a letter to Gov. Rick Scott detailing the provisions of House Bill 503 that could jeopardize the state’s participation in the National Flood Insurance Program.
According to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), there are 459 communities in the state that participate in the program, representing more than two million flood policies with a total exposure of over $471 billion.
Sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Patronis (D-Panama City), the questionable provision in HB 503 states, “a county or municipality may not require as a condition of processing or issuing a development permit that an applicant obtain a permit or approval from any State or Federal agency.”
FEMA Regional Administrator Major May told state officials that the provision creates numerous problems starting with the fact it could upend how floodplains are currently reviewed and approved for development.
May noted that FEMA regulations require all proposed developments in designated flood plain areas to secure federal and state permits before any local building permits can be issued. Under HB 503, those projects could move forward even without a flood policy in place.
While the provision contemplates the fact that homeowners and businesses purchase flood insurance it does not require them to do so. As a result, some developments would not be able to purchase a flood policy. That means in the event of a catastrophic loss, some communities would lose access to a variety of other state and federal programs, including assistance from the Federal Housing Administration and Small Business Association.
“House Bill 502 may create a legal impediment to community compliance with the NFIP requirements and may place Florida communities’ continued participation in the NFIP in jeopardy,” May said .
FEMA is not alone when it comes to its concerns.
Several groups are calling on Scott to veto the measure, including the Association of State Floodplain Managers, Policyholders of Florida and the Heartland Institute.
Heartland Institute Florida Director Christian Camar warned that if the bill goes into effect it could create chaos around the state.
“I wouldn’t blame Governor Scott for what looks like an almost certain veto,” Camar said. “The sudden and unexpected suspension of NFIP coverage would have disastrous consequences for a state like Florida.”
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon said the bill doesn’t totally rule out the need for flood plain permits. He pointed to a place in the statute that allows counties or cities to demand all state and federal permits be obtained before a building can be a constructed.
He said the division will issue a memo to all local and state building departments that a flood permit be attached to all projects located in flood plain districts.
May said that may work for now but barring a veto by Scott, all sides need to readdress the issue, a position Koon endorses.
“The division will work with the bill sponsors in the next regular session to seek language clarifying the responsibility of communities in the NFIP,” Koon said.