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Utility Shield, Hurricane Changes Go to DeSantis

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Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday formally received the final 20 bills from the 2023 legislative session, including a proposal that would shield utilities from being held liable for damage caused by hurricane-related power outages. The utility proposal is part of a wide-ranging bill (SB 250) that lawmakers passed after Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole caused massive damage last year. The bill also would allow people to remain on their properties as they rebuild after storms, require quicker approval of building permits and set more-exact time frames on removing destroyed boats from state waters. In addition, it would 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. Under the bill, utilities would not be “liable for damages based in whole or in part on changes in the reliability, continuity, or quality of utility services which arise in any way out of an emergency or disaster.” House sponsor Mike Giallombardo, R-Cape Coral, said in April that the intent was to prevent frivolous lawsuits that could increase attorney fees for utilities, eventually affecting rates. But Rep. Mike Gottlieb, a Davie Democrat who opposed the bill, said legitimate claims could also be blocked as the bill “says ‘arise in any way.’ That could be something that is not really part of the actual emergency.” The bill came as Florida Power & Light is fighting a lawsuit stemming from power outages caused by Hurricane Irma, which barreled up the state in 2017.

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