TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Pointing to a high-rise fire in London that killed dozens of residents, Gov. Rick Scott late Monday vetoed a bill that would have eased fire-protection requirements for older condominium buildings in Florida.
The bill (HB 653), which passed the Legislature with only one dissenting vote, dealt with requirements for retrofitting high-rise condominium buildings with fire sprinklers and other types of safety systems. The bill would have pushed back deadlines for the work and provided an avenue for condominium residents to vote to opt out of retrofitting.
Supporters pointed to potentially high costs for condominium residents, but the state fire marshal’s office and fire-protection groups asked Scott to veto the measure.
In doing so, he cited the June 14 fire at Grenfell Tower in London that killed dozens of people.
“Since my first day as governor, I have fought to make Florida the safest and most affordable place to live and raise a family,” Scott wrote in a veto message. “Decisions regarding safety issues are critically important, as they can be the difference between life and death. Fire sprinklers and enhanced life safety systems are particularly effective in improving the safety of occupants in high-rise buildings and ensure the greatest protection to the emergency responders who bravely conduct firefighting and rescue operations. While I am particularly sensitive to regulations that increase the cost of living, the recent London high-rise fire, which tragically took at least 79 lives, illustrates the importance of life safety protections.”
A House staff analysis said condominium buildings that are three stories or more and have been constructed since 1994 are required to have sprinkler systems and, as result, comply with the requirements. But the bill would have affected older high-rise buildings.
Under current law, local governments are barred from requiring retrofitting before the end of 2019. Also, condominium residents can vote to opt out of retrofitting with sprinklers but are not able to opt out of an alternative known as “engineered life safety systems,” according to the House analysis. Those systems involve a combination of fire-safety devices.
The bill, in part, would have pushed the 2019 deadline back to 2022. Also, it would have allowed condominium residents, by two-thirds votes, to opt out of retrofitting with sprinklers and engineered life safety systems.
Before House members voted unanimously to approve the bill May 2, sponsor George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, said the retrofitting projects can be costly.
“(The) main purpose of the bill is to allow for the opt-out of the sprinkler and ELSS upgrades, which can run into the millions of dollars for high-rise condominiums,” Moraitis said. “I want to emphasize, this is only for residential condominiums, does not affect hotels and those sorts of things.”
Julius Halas, director of the Division of State Fire Marshal, and leaders of the Florida Fire Chiefs Association and the Florida Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association sent a letter to Scott urging a veto.
“This legislation extends the compliance deadline, once again, and allows condominium residents to opt out of both fire sprinklers and an ELSS, which creates an extremely dangerous environment for both residents and first responders responding in the event of an emergency,” the letter said.
The condominium bill was one of five that Scott vetoed late Monday. Among the others was a bill (HB 937) that would have required the Florida Lottery to post warnings about the addictive nature of lottery games.
“This bill imposes burdensome regulations on the Lottery and its retail partners, and many of the notice provisions are duplicative of current Lottery initiatives,” Scott wrote in his veto message.
The News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders contributed to this report.