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Duval Lawmakers Consider State Legislation Related To Hurricane Irma

Ryan Benk
Duval delegation members, led by chairman Jay Fant, discussed Irma relief Thursday at Jacksonville City Hall.

Duval County lawmakers say they’re planning to file a raft of bills relating to Hurricane Irma at next year’s legislative session, including a disaster-aid package for Irma’s victims.

Though Jacksonville’s state lawmakers aren’t offering specifics, they announced Thursday they’d also be in favor of returning to Tallahassee early for a special session focused on storm relief.

Rep. Jay Fant (R-Jacksonville), the delegation’s chairman, said he’ll file a measure increasing fines and penalties for crimes during hurricanes or other disasters.

“When people feel unsafe, we can tell them anything we want, but if they feel unsafe then they feel unsafe,” he said. “I think it’s incumbent on us as officials to cement that as much as we can, especially for the vulnerable.”

Shortly after the storm at a press conference at the city’s Emergency Operations Center, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said there was no widespread looting after Hurricane Irma.

But he joined the state attorney and law enforcement officials from other counties to announce they would aggressively pursue the highest possible charges against anyone who did loot, burglarize or defraud people following the storm.

Williams wrote in a statement that he stands “together with State Attorney Melissa Nelson to remind those who prey on others — especially as we work to dig out from Hurricane Irma — that these criminal acts are intolerable and justice will be delivered for the victims.”

Nelson said she would seek all available sentencing enhancements when prosecuting these kinds of crimes that happened shortly before, during and just after the storm.

“At a time when most in our community have rallied to help one another during and after this devastating storm, it is appalling that a few would use it as an opportunity to victimize others,” she wrote.

Rep. Jason Fischer (R-Jacksonville) also mentioned the possibility of passing a measure devoting more state funds to area public schools damaged after Irma.

WJCT is working to confirm how many of these types of crimes were committed during this time.

Ryan Benk can be reached at, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.