Last October – two months after Hurricane Irma devastated Puerto Rico and then Florida – Senator Bill Nelson filed legislation that would create a gas reserve program in the state. In concept, the reserve would prevent fuel shortages that were seen before and after Hurricane Irma hit Florida.
In an October news release, Florida’s three-term, senior Senator said, “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. “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.”
The 2017 hurricane season came and went, and there was no movement on Nelson’s bill. In May of this year, Subtropical Storm Alberto threatened Florida. Still no movement on Nelson’s legislation. Start of the 2018 season – nothing. Now, 224 days later, Senator Nelson has sent a letter to Senator Lisa Murkowski, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources asking that his bill be heard in committee.
Things move slow in Washington but why now?
During the 10 months the legislation set dormant, Nelson didn’t secure co-sponsors for the bill – not even from Florida’s other Senator, Marco Rubio. Senator Nelson also failed to secure a sponsor for the legislation in the House of Representatives. Florida has 27 members of Congress – including 11 Democrats. Did he ask Charlie Crist? Debbie Wasserman Schultz? Or even freshman Congressman Al Lawson?
Senate bill 1957, a five page bill, that would require the federal government to create a gasoline supply for hurricane-prone Florida didn’t move an inch. Until this week, when Senator Nelson asked the committee chair to agenda the bill.
That wasn’t lost on the campaign of Governor Rick Scott, who is challenging Nelson for the Senate seat.
“Securing adequate fuel supplies during emergencies is an important part of Florida’s emergency preparedness, but Bill Nelson’s failure to act on this legislation until right before an election shows he cares more about campaign season than hurricane season,” said Lauren Schenone, Scott campaign press secretary. “Bill Nelson has a disappointing and predictable pattern as a career politician: he files a bill, sends a press release, pats himself on the back and then walks away – and Floridians deserve better.”
Senator Nelson is prolific in the amount of legislation he files. In the 2017-2018 Congress, he has filed 60 bills. One became law, six were Senate approved non-binding resolutions and 49 other bills were filed, like the gas reserves legislation, and seemingly lost in the DC shuffle.
Legislation often moves slow in the U.S. Capitol but for Nelson, who is the 18th most senior member of the United States Senate, passing legislation critical to Florida shouldn’t be this difficult.