Legislation passed by Senate and House now heads to Governor Scott
The Florida Senate and the Florida House of Representatives have unanimously passed House Bill 7077, Gulf Coast Economic Corridor. The legislation, sponsored by Senator George Gainer (R-Panama City), Senator Doug Broxson (R-Pensacola), and Senator Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee), will ensure funds received in the settlement of the state’s economic damage claims caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill remain in Northwest Florida’s eight disproportionately affected counties.
“Settlement funds represent a historic opportunity for our communities. We need to make certain that not only the currently-held settlement payments, but also all future settlement payments are transferred directly to Triumph Gulf Coast, where we know they will be used to ensure the ongoing economy recovery of Northwest Florida,” said Senator Gainer. “I am pleased to see this legislation advance to Governor Scott with provisions that ensure we take into account feedback from local governments in the eight disproportionately affected counties.”
The eight Florida counties disproportionately affected by the Deepwater Horizon Spill include: Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Wakulla Counties.
The initial settlement payment was received by the state in July of 2016, and future payments are scheduled to be paid annually from 2019 through 2033. Under current law, the eight counties are to receive 75 percent of all economic damage settlement funds received by the state. House Bill 7077 immediately appropriates the initial settlement payment to Triumph Gulf Coast, and releases future settlement payments, received on or after July 1, 2017, directly to Triumph Gulf Coast, no later than 30 days after they are received by the state.
“Triumph Gulf Coast will develop a comprehensive economic improvement plan for Northwest Florida to ensure that our communities benefit from these funds now and in the future. In keeping with the initial Senate position on this critical legislation, the bill makes it clear that settlement funds should be transferred directly to Triumph Gulf Coast,” said Senator Broxson. “We have waited for far too long, and now is the time to transfer these funds back to Florida’s Panhandle.”
“This legislation is very important to our constituents. Families and businesses across Northwest Florida have been counting on us to get this right. They expect current and future settlement funds to benefit our disproportionately affected counties, and they want to see progress as soon as possible,” said Senator Montford. “For the better part of the last decade, our communities have been feeling the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. This legislation affirms our longstanding commitment to keep these critical funds in Northwest Florida, and I am pleased to see it unanimously pass the Senate today.”
The legislation requires each board of county commissioners in the eight counties to solicit proposed projects and programs from other elected local governing boards within the county and provide Triumph Gulf Coast with a list of proposed projects and programs located within its county. The submitted list must include projects and programs submitted by other elected local governing boards and recommendations by the board of county commissioners. Triumph Gulf Coast must allocate at least five percent of the initial $300 million to projects and programs in each county, and must allocate at least four percent of future settlement funds to projects and programs in each county. Remaining funds are unrestricted can be appropriated at the discretion of Triumph Gulf Coast, provided they meet other legal requirements.
Currently, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate, the Governor, the Attorney General, and the Chief Financial Officer, each appoint one board member. House Bill 7077 expands the number of board members from five to seven. The President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives will each appoint an additional private sector member from one of the four least populous disproportionately affected counties, so that two such counties are represented on the board. All employees and board members appointed after July 1, 2017, are subject to a six-year lobbying ban.
In 2013, the Legislature created Triumph Gulf Coast to ensure economic damage settlement funds coming to the state would both benefit the eight disproportionately affected counties and be properly accounted for. The Triumph Gulf Coast Board is tasked to make awards to programs and projects that meet the priorities for economic recovery, diversification, and enhancement of the disproportionately affected counties. The corporation is required to abide by the state’s public record laws and public meeting notice requirements.