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Get the latest coverage of the 2022 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Florida elected officials say Legislature must pass statewide building safety law

Verónica Zaragovia

Lawmakers wrapped up the legislative session without passing a bill that would create a statewide standard for ensuring that residential buildings are safe to live in. Some elected officials gathered in Surfside to push for one.

On this warm April morning, trucks, machinery and workers in neon vests were spread out on barren property in Surfside. There, 98 people died on June 24, 2021, when the Champlain Towers South building collapsed.

Steps away, an emotional U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the South Florida Democrat, called on Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to pressure state lawmakers to pass building safety reform.

The regular 2022 Florida legislative session ended in March without the two chambers — the Florida House and Senate — agreeing on a bill to create a statewide standard for ensuring that residential buildings are safe to live in. One sticking point involved requirements for condominiums to hold money in reserves to pay for repairs.

"Gov. DeSantis needs to lead," Wasserman Schultz said. "He needs to get involved in getting this critical issue across the finish line. He hasn't hesitated to take the initiative on issues that he prioritizes — we already see that with the redistricting session next week."

Two buildings have been evacuated since the collapse in Surfside. Just last week in North Miami Beach, a structural engineering firm alerted officials that one of the buildings wasn't safe.

"Lives are at stake," Wasserman Schultz added, speaking to WLRN after the press conference as she looked out at the Champlain property. "We know this is a glaring problem, and that we have millions of people living in condominiums. We need to make sure that we can take action to protect them and not have another Surfside happen again."

Lawmakers will be in Tallahassee again next week for a special session related to the drawing of new congressional maps. The urgency Wasserman Schultz expressed was echoed by others with her, including Democratic state Rep. Joe Geller of Dania Beach, Democratic state Sen. Shevrin Jones of West Park in Broward County, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman and Martin Langesfeld, the brother of Nicole Langesfeld, who died along with her husband, Luis Sadovnic, in the disaster.

"I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that my colleagues did not pass anything designed to address the problems revealed by the collapse of [this tower]," Jones said. "It should alarm all the Floridians who are watching this that state law currently sets no standards for high rise inspections and under current law, condo boards that discover serious problems are also under no [state] obligation to inform local authorities or unit owners."

Jones told WLRN that his colleagues don't even need to come up with a whole new bill from scratch, since they could turn to legislation presently under consideration by Miami-Dade County, which would require building inspections every 30 years. County commissioners in May will take a preliminary vote on the county proposal.

"It’s not as if you have to create anything new," Jones said.

Miami-Dade and Broward counties already require such inspections every 40 years, but other counties don't. He criticized fellow lawmakers for appearing at events related to the condo building collapse and then doing nothing once they leave.

"If the only way I can speak to you is through cameras, then that's OK," said Martin Langesfeld, Nicole's brother, in a message to DeSantis. "But do not take this message with a grain of salt, because the next message could be on behalf of future dead children. The amount of money that will be saved by not keeping buildings safe, will be spent on funerals and medical expenses."

Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Verónica Zaragovia
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