Nelson Puts the Legislative Spotlight on Irma and Maria

Sen. Bill Nelson at Kennedy Space Center ahead of a SpaceX rocket launch which delivered a NOAA weather satellite into orbit in 2015. (Unmodified Creative Commons photo NASA photographer Kim Shiflett.

In the wake of one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricane seasons in history, state and federal lawmakers have been trying to extend a hand to the victims suffering the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., filed legislation earlier this week to provide tax relief for those hit hardest which is currently being considered by the Senate Finance Committee.

This bill advocates for two groups: small businesses in Florida and individuals directly impacted by the two hurricanes.

This bill will provide tax relief for small businesses, specifically Florida’s citrus growers.

“Florida’s citrus growers took a devastating hit from Hurricane Irma and we need to do everything we can to help this vital part of Florida’s economy,” Nelson stated.

Experts have estimated that as much as 70 percent of Florida’s citrus crop was lost because of Hurricane Irma, with some growers losing as much as 90 percent of their crop.

If approved, this bill “allows for the immediate deduction of disaster cleanup expenses, including the cost of removing and replanting downed trees.”

Nelson’s bill will also provide additional tax relief to victims in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that were directly impacted by the hurricanes. This includes extending the deduction for domestic manufacturing in Puerto Rico and the Child Tax Credit, a federal tax credit of up to $1,000 per child for families.

In addition to providing recovery for small businesses and families, the Senator has also filed legislation this weekend inspired by the gas shortages during the evacuation of Irma. Nelson has filed legislation requiring the energy secretary to create a “Florida Gasoline Supply Reserve” to hold at least one million barrels of refined petroleum in case of emergency.

“When a major storm is heading towards our state, we have to make sure people have access to the gas they need to get out of harm’s way,” Nelson said. “A Florida gas reserve would not only help prevent some of the gas shortages we saw ahead of Hurricane Irma, but would also help ensure that our first responders have the fuel they need to help people during and after the storm.”

Throughout the past month, Nelson has also emphasized the threat of climate change in Florida, especially with recent events of mass flooding in Florida and five hurricanes in September.

“The whole state has experienced this hurricane and it’s going to be a reminder (about) the effects of the Earth heating up,” Nelson expressed. “It’s so obvious.”

In an interview with Politico, Nelson stated, “It’s denying reality. You can call it politics or whatever, but the Earth is getting hotter. This storm is another reminder of what we’re going to have to deal with in the future.”

Politically, Florida has been a Republican stronghold with the ascension of Governor Rick Scott’s and Sen. Marco Rubio, with Nelson being the exception. That also means there has been lack of discussion on climate change placing Nelson at the forefront of challenging the state’s stance.

The issue of climate change and responses to natural disasters by both Nelson and Scott will be watched carefully by Florida citizens as the two are most likely to go head to head in next year’s Senate race.

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