Legislation to Keep BP Oil Funds in Northwest Florida Passes First Senate Committee

Posted on March 14, 2017 by Staff reports

Tallahassee–The Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism, chaired by Senator Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee), 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 Montford, 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. 

“Our constituents are counting on us to ensure these critical settlement funds are distributed in a transparent manner,” said Senator Gainer. “This legislation requires all currently-held and future settlement payments to be transferred directly to Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., where we have proper checks and balances in place to ensure accountability.”

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 provides Northwest Florida with a historic opportunity to create a comprehensive economic improvement plan and a pathway to complete recovery from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. This legislation ensures we can begin that process in timely manner by transferring funds directly to Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc.,” said Senator Broxson.

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. 

“Families and businesses in our communities are still feeling the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. This important legislation will make certain these critical settlement funds are allocated in a thoughtful and deliberative manner that will provide for ongoing and long-term economic recovery,” said Senator Montford. “Additionally, this legislation ensures that even our small disproportionately affected counties have representation on the Triumph Board.”

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 was amended today to expand 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.