Residents in Florida’s Panhandle will remain vulnerable to the destructive forces of hurricanes until lawmakers stand up to irresponsible special interests that have worked to keep much of Northwest Florida exempt from the statewide building code, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI).
The Senate Community Affairs Committee can reportedly take the first step in demonstrating support for stronger building codes Tuesday, March 14 when it considers SB 1336. The bill’s sponsor Sen. Lee Constantine is reportedly under tremendous pressure to compromise and accept amendments that will weaken SB 1336, leaving residents at risk for yet another storm season. PCI is asking Sen. Constantine to stand firm.
“The Legislature missed an opportunity to repeal the Panhandle carve out last year,” said William Stander, regional manager for PCI. “So we must ask how many more homes have to be destroyed – how many more lives have to be lost – before the people of Pensacola, Ft. Walton Beach and Panama City are afforded the same protections as the people in Miami who have stronger building codes in place?”
Many in the Panhandle reportedly 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,” said Stander. “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 the 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 not necessary in the Panhandle. Over the years, local developers and their legislative allies – particularly in the Senate – have reportedly 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,” said Stander.
Last season, there was clear evidence as to the value of stronger codes. Homes built to the newer standards reportedly fared dramatically better than those under the old code. Opponents of stronger building codes point to increased costs as a result of the added protection.
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