Residents in Florida’s Panhandle will be vulnerable to hurricanes until lawmakers stand up to special interests that have worked to keep much of Northwest Florida exempt from the statewide building codes, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee took the first step in supporting stronger building codes March 14 when it considered SB 1336. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lee Constantine, is reportedly being pressured to compromise and accept amendments to weaken the bill, leaving residents at risk. PCI asked Constantine to stand firm.
“The Legislature missed an opportunity to repeal the Panhandle carve out last year,” William Stander, PCI regional manager, said. “So we must ask how many more homes have to be destroyed, how many more lives have to be lost, before Pensacola, Ft. Walton Beach and Panama City have the same protections as the people in Miami who have stronger building codes in place?”
Immune to hurricanes?
Panhandle residents thought they did not face the same hurricane risk as their downstate neighbors.
“However, after experiencing several hurricanes over the past two seasons and the prediction that coming years will be more active than normal, the question is not if a hurricane will hit the Panhandle again, but when,” Stander said. “Civil engineers and other building experts have urged adoption of the stronger codes in the Panhandle because this area is at risk. We encourage lawmakers to heed this advice.”
In 2000, political pressure resulted in Panhandle counties being exempted from stricter building codes that require new homes to be built with hurricane shutters or impact-resistant glass. Builders and others argued that the enhanced safety requirements were unnecessary. Over the years, local developers and their legislative allies, particularly in the Senate, have successfully thwarted efforts to expand stronger building codes inland more than a narrow one-mile stretch of land.
In his State of the State address, Gov. Jeb Bush called on the Legislature to repeal the exemption and “create a statewide, uniform code that is based on science instead of politics.”
“We welcome the governor’s support on this issue. He knows that the cost of not implementing stronger building codes in the Panhandle will be many more lives lost and many more homes destroyed,” Stander said.
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