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Palm Coast Monday, Feb. 19, 2018 9 months ago

County to oppose two bills, recommend changes to a third

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Bills to reduce the aviation fuel tax and to prohibit employers from penalizing employees who evacuate during a hurricane could have adverse effects on Flagler, according to county staff.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Flagler County is opposing two bills currently making their way through the state legislative process and is recommending changes to a third.

One of the bills, Senate Bill 1828, is designed to prohibit employers from firing, demoting or suspending employees who evacuate due to a hurricane. But the bill is worded broadly: Employers, it states, can take no adverse action against employees who are absent up to two weeks after a mandatory evacuation order that affects the employee's residence or their workplace.

"This bill is poorly written, and it has all these loopholes," County Administrator Craig Coffey told county commissioners during a Feb. 19 commission workshop. "It opens us up to all these problems responding to a hurricane." 

For instance, he said, an employee who does not live in a place subject to an evacuation order could get two weeks off of work simply because their workplace was under an evacuation order.

And although first responders and certain other employees "necessary to provide for the safety and well-being of the general public" would not be subject to the proposed law, other staff members who would be important to government functioning could be — for example, the staff members working on storm-related financial matters.

"They’re not normally what you would consider a first responder, but they’re just as critical," Coffey said.

A Senate committee hearing on the legislation has been temporarily postponed.

The county is also opposing House Bill 7087, which would reduce the aviation fuel tax to 2.85 cents per gallon from the 4.27 rate set to go into effect on July 1, 2019. 

The change, Coffey said, would affect airlines, not private planes, so it wouldn't directly impact the pilots flying into the Flagler County Executive Airport. But it would have an indirect effect.

"The amount of money that the FAA has that we can tap into is going to go down," County Commission Chairman Greg Hansen said.

That would mean the FAA would be less able to finance projects such as the recent runway addition at the Flagler County Executive Airport.

"You want to be able to land in an airport that is well equipped and is not falling apart," Coffey said.

The county is also opposing the current iteration of House Bill 7085, which concerns healthcare disaster preparedness. 

"This bill overall is a good bill," Coffey said. "There’s overall just a few changes we would make."

The bill requires the involvement of county staff in the management of a registry of special needs shelters — which, Coffey said, could potentially expose some county employees to health information they don't need to be privy to.

The county plans to send a letter to its state representatives laying out the county's position on the three bills.

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