In anticipation of what could be the most devastating hurricane to make landfall in Florida in decades, legislative leaders Wednesday canceled committee meetings scheduled for next week.
Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran called off what would have been the first committee meetings to prepare for the 2018 legislative session, citing concerns about potential damage from Hurricane Irma.
In separate memos, the Republican leaders urged their members to take necessary precautions in advance of the mammoth storm, which was a Category 5 hurricane as it barreled toward the Florida Keys and the Florida peninsula Wednesday.
“Please use this time to prepare your family and home. The specific trajectory of this unprecedented storm is still uncertain, and impacts could vary drastically across the state. All Floridians need to be ready. Staff should monitor local weather advisories and adhere to local evacuation orders,” Negron, R-Stuart, wrote in a memo to the Senate.
“Please keep yourself and your loved ones safe by being prepared for this potentially devastating storm,” Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, wrote. “We will continue to pray for our fellow Floridians as Hurricane Irma approaches.”
Negron and Corcoran did not reschedule the committee meetings. The next meetings are slated to take place during the second week of October. The annual legislative session starts in January.
Both leaders responded to calls by Gov. Rick Scott for volunteers.
Scott, during appearances Wednesday at emergency operations centers, repeatedly stressed the need for volunteers in advance of Irma, which could eclipse the damage caused by record-breaking Hurricane Andrew 25 years ago.
Negron authorized up to 15 days of administrative leave for Senate staff members interested in volunteering to support emergency shelters.
But Senate staff must first “tend to the needs of your own family” before volunteering to help others, Negron wrote.
“We each have a responsibility to prepare our families and homes so that limited government resources can be used to help the most vulnerable. Please be safe and cautious during this time,” he wrote.
In his memo to House members, Corcoran wrote, “Earlier today, Governor Scott stated that there is a need for volunteers at shelters throughout the state. Â Please be supportive of these efforts if you are near an affected region.”
Irma is causing widespread government closures and cancelations. Scott has ordered state offices closed Friday in all 67 counties.
Also, Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga issued an order closing most state courts Friday. Courts plan to stay open in the 1st Judicial Circuit, which includes Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties; the 3rd Judicial Circuit, which includes Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee and Taylor counties; and the 10th Judicial Circuit, which includes Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties, according to information on the Supreme Court website.