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Source: US State of Florida

Tallahassee —

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis today signed into law House Bill 969, Broadband Internet Service, sponsored in the Senate by Senator Ben Albritton (R-Wauchula) and Senate Bill 7018, Essential State Infrastructure, by the Senate Committee on Infrastructure and Security, chaired by Senator Tom Lee (R-Brandon). Both bills were priorities of Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) who has worked to elevate public safety infrastructure during his term as Senate President.

“Our state’s infrastructure is at the core of government’s responsibility regarding public safety. Expanding fixed broadband in rural areas of our state will help our first responders quickly and accurately reach Floridians in need, while the development of permanent staging areas for emergencies will improve the efficiency of emergency response, expediting the dissemination of crucial emergency supplies, including food, water, personal protective equipment, ventilators, and fuel. Together, these initiatives build on the critical public safety components of the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance Program passed last year. I am grateful to President Lee and Senator Albritton for their efforts in advancing these priorities through the process last session,” said President Galvano.

“As Florida moves forward from the coronavirus, economic development opportunities like MCORES, and the jobs created both during and after construction, will be critical to our recovery.  I am hopeful all elected leaders, local, state and federal, will continue to focus on infrastructure planning as we move toward recovery,” continued President Galvano. “We cannot afford to take a step back from economic prosperity and technological advancement in rural communities.”

Expansion of Fixed Broadband Service

HB 969, Broadband Internet Service, transfers the broadband policy implementation from the Department of Management Services (DMS) to the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). Specifically, the bill creates the Florida Office of Broadband within the DEO’s Division of Community Development, including specific duties regarding the development, marketing, and promotion of broadband. The bill authorizes the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to use up to $5 million annually from the State Transportation Trust Fund Allocation to the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (MCORES) Program for projects that assist in the development of broadband infrastructure within or adjacent to a multiuse corridor.

“A great concern with lack of broadband in certain rural areas of our state is the impact on first responders and their ability to quickly and accurately reach Floridians in need. Our goal is for every Floridian to have access to fixed broadband, which is critical to business, education, and most importantly, public safety,” said President Galvano.

“The impacts of the coronavirus further highlight the need for the wide-ranging infrastructure improvements, including fixed broadband, that are contemplated in the MCORES Program.  Those counties that are the most underserved by fixed broadband have likely already felt the effects of a tremendous disadvantage for K-12 and higher education students, employees transitioning to a remote work environment, and businesses trying to adapt their work models to engage in e-commerce opportunities,” continued President Galvano. “The MCORES corridor study areas include many counties with relatively low populations and per capita income that are underserved by fixed broadband access.  As broadband expands into these rural legacy communities, we can not only improve the safety of residents and visitors, but also remove existing barriers to commerce and education opportunities.”

Permanent Staging Areas for Emergencies

SB 7018, Essential State Infrastructure, provides for the plan, design, and construction of permanent Staging Areas for Emergencies (SAFE) as part of Florida’s Turnpike System to facilitate prompt emergency assistance in response to a declared state of emergency.

“Recent hurricanes and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are an all too present reminder of the need to keep Floridians and their families as safe as possible before, during, and after a state of emergency by proactively and strategically locating emergency supplies, including personal protective equipment, in key areas across our state,” said President Galvano. “We want to ensure nothing is standing in the way of critical supplies and assistance reaching communities struck by a natural disaster, public health crisis, or other emergency situation.  This legislation creates a reliable and consistent approach to emergency staging along Florida’s Turnpike System, with myriad benefits to Floridians and visitors to our state.”

“As Floridians have been self-isolating in their homes, and in many cases reducing their visits to local brick and mortar retailers in favor of ordering products online,  we have a renewed appreciation for the critical role of delivery drivers over distances both long and short,” continued President Galvano. “The Staging Areas for Emergencies contemplated in SB 7018 not only provide strategic storage opportunities for emergency supplies, but double as safe locations for drivers to spend their required off-road hours.”

The bill directs the FDOT, in consultation with the Florida Department of Emergency Management, to consider several factors when selecting proposed sites for SAFE locations. SAFE locations must be created in geographic areas that best facilitate wide dissemination of emergency-related supplies and equipment; provide ease of access to major highways and other transportation facilities; are large enough to accommodate the staging of a significant amount of emergency-related supplies and equipment; provide space in support of emergency preparedness and evacuation activities, such as fuel reserve capacity; and, can be used during non-emergency periods for commercial motor vehicle parking. Additionally, the FDOT is required to give priority consideration to placement of such staging areas in counties with a population of 200,000 or less in which an MCORES corridor is located. The bill presents no immediate fiscal impact to state or local revenues or expenditures. Once identified, SAFE location projects would be included in the FDOT’s work program.