State Representative Jim Mooney and State Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez met with municipalities up and down the Keys via Zoom on September 28 to hear their demands and priorities ahead of another legislative session in Tallahassee.
Full funding for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, tackling abandoned ships, and maintaining self-reliance were among the common messages that local governments have asked Mooney and Rodriguez to advocate for as they prepare for the session of January.
Last year’s session, in a state capital closed due to COVID-19, saw the legislature approve and Governor Ron DeSantis subsequently sign a budget, which included $ 20 million in funding for the stewardship and $ 5 million for land acquisition. Keys officials are again asking for full funding for a program that supports local water quality projects and land acquisition.
âI hate to ask you to start all over, but we need you to do it again,â said Lisa Tennyson, director of legislative affairs for Monroe County.
She also discussed a continued push to tackle abandoned ships off the waters of the Keys. In the last session, the Florida House and Senate passed a bill allowing 90-day anchor limits. While calling this an effective strategy, Tennyson acknowledged that it would be difficult to pass a condition in the bill for Monroe County to place 300 mooring balls.
Local authorities have reviewed the mooring sites following the state’s bill which called for 300 additional mooring buoys. It does not come into effect until the county approves, authorizes and opens new berths for public use, at least 250 berths, within a mile of Key West Bight City Dock and 50 at Key West Harrison Bight Mooring Field.
âWe worked closely with stakeholders and cities and talked about the need for new balls there, but not 300,â she said.
On the funding side, Tennyson said the county is looking to secure funding through a new Florida program for Coastal Resilience Projects. Monroe County places six projects on the program portal, and these include the Key Largo communities of Twin Lakes and Stillwright Point, where flooding during high tides is observed.
âThese projects are important to us,â Tennyson said.
The price caps for wind insurance, which have increased by 1% over five years, and the protection of local control over vacation rentals were also underlined during the delegation meeting.
Key West Mayor Teri Johnston is asking for help from state officials to secure funding for a new crushed glass reallocation effort. She said the city produces an incredible amount of glass through crushed beer bottles that have been hauled around 176 miles for disposal.
âWe have a real opportunity to reuse glass in Key West and in Monroe County,â she said.
Johnston also stressed the importance of securing more funding for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act. She also spoke about the Sadowski Trust Fund and Affordable Housing.
âWe just attended a Housing Authority meeting and you want to know how bad affordable housing is? Johnston said. âWe have a 128-year waiting list. This includes residents and those outside of Key West who request housing. “
Marathon City Manager George Garrett said his list of issues for the next session is in line with the Monroe County agenda, including local vacation rental regulations.
âWe will certainly continue to fight for this,â he said. âIf we have to defend ourselves to protect our ability to do it, then we will. “
Islamorada is also seeking to protect its grandfathered vacation rentals ordinance. The village also called on state officials to preserve the village’s ship exclusion zone off White Marlin Beach in order to maintain the quality of life for residents.
Entering his second year as a state representative, Mooney ventured to Tallahassee where committee meetings began last week. He received his committee assignments from the house speaker, and they include pandemics and public emergencies, state affairs, infrastructure and tourism credits, preschool learning and primary education, finance and facilities, post-secondary education and lifelong learning, the environment, agriculture and flooding.
Mooney and Rodriguez were also nominated to serve as members of the State Redistribution Committee in the House and Senate. Entering her second year as a state senator, Rodriguez said she was excited to be part of a redistribution process that takes place every 10 years.
âWe’re just excited to start the session and hear the priorities,â Rodriguez said.
The regular session meets on January 11, 2022. The 60-day session ends on March 11, 2022.