Tallahassee–The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development today passed Senate Bill 364, The Recovery Fund for the Deepwater Horizon Incident. 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.
“Settlements funds represent a historic opportunity for our communities,” said Senator Gainer. “We need to make certain that not only the currently-held settlements, but also all future settlement payments are transferred directly to Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., where we know they will be used to ensure the ongoing economy recovery of Northwest Florida.”
Under current law, the eight disproportionately affected counties are to receive 75 percent of all economic damage settlement funds received by the state. Senate Bill 364 appropriates the initial settlement payment directly to Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., and appropriates future settlement payments directly to Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., no later than 30 days after they are received by the state.
“Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. will develop a comprehensive economic improvement plan for Northwest Florida to ensure that our communities benefit from these funds now and in the future. The bill makes it clear that settlement funds should be transferred directly to Triumph Gulf Coast and provides the checks and balances needed to ensure they are properly accounted for,” said Senator Broxson.
“This legislation is very important to our constituents. 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 far too long, families and businesses in 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.”
The eight Florida counties disproportionately affected by the Deepwater Horizon Spill include: Bay County, Escambia County, Franklin County, Gulf County, Okaloosa County, Santa Rosa County, Walton County and Wakulla County.
In 2013, under the leadership of former Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville), the Florida Senate developed legislation (Senate Bill 1024), sponsored by current Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart), which created Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. to ensure that economic damage settlement funds coming to the state would both benefit the eight disproportionately affected counties and be properly accounted for. Under this legislation, the Triumph Gulf Coast Board, chaired by former Florida House Speaker Allen Bense, is responsible for utilizing the settlement proceeds to promote job creation through lasting economic development.
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. Senate Bill 364 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.
Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. is tasked to work with local governments to make awards to programs and projects that meet the priorities for economic recovery, diversification, and enhancement of the disproportionately affected counties. This includes economic development projects, grants to support programs of excellence that prepare students for future occupations, as well as infrastructure projects. The corporation is required to abide by the state’s public record laws and public meeting notice requirements.