On Sept. 23, Florida Rep. Holly Raschein and Sen. Anitere Flores attended a town-hall-style meeting in Marathon. They were joined by school, city and county leaders as well as citizens to urge Raschein and Flores toward certain objectives — funding and legislative — during the session that starts early this season in Tallahassee, in January. It is the last time the women will host this annual session together, as both have reached term-limit maximums.
Here’s what everyone can agree on:
• Continued support for Florida Keys Stewardship Act funding — $20 million for water quality projects, $5 million for Florida Forever program land acquisition.
• Support for workforce housing funding.
• Continue working on rate reductions for Citizens Insurance.
Two other issues stood out: First, the “50/50” bill, which has been rebranded Property Rights Bill, which seeks state assurance it will split the costs with the county and cities — settlement and legal bills — of coming takings lawsuits when the state will no longer issue building permits in the Keys. Raschein told the audience she thinks the new nomenclature could make it more palatable for lawmakers in Tallahassee.
Lisa Tennyson, director of legislative affairs, said Monroe County has already settled for the full $540,000 in a recent takings case with Galleon Bay. She said the county will prepare an appropriations request for the state to pay half of that.
“Up until this point it has been a gentlemen’s agreement. We want something that will be set down in law, in black and white, how we will share takings cases,” Tennyson said.
And, second, the “home rule” issue, which refers mostly to vacation rental law.
“Do us no harm,” said Marathon Mayor John Bartus, referring to the vacation rental law. “Thank you for acting as safeguards for the Keys up in Tallahassee.” If the state were to overturn local vacation rental laws — supersede it with state law such as it did with taxis in order to make ride-sharing legal even in cities that had already legislated against it — it could mean that single-night rentals would be allowed in residential neighborhoods.
Key West, the Village of Islamorada and Monroe County also asked the legislators to hold the line on vacation rental law. Raschein singled out the good works of Key Colony Beach, whose leaders are brainstorming other ways to curtail vacation rentals.
“In Key Colony Beach, we are the tip of the spear,” said KCB Mayor John DeNeale. “Thirty-four percent of our homes are vacation rentals, and that number may climb to 36% by next year. We are the canary in the coal mine. We’ve been working with the Florida League of Cities and Florida League of Mayors, both of whom have said, ‘Bring us something new.’”
Two entities will be asking the legislators’ help in passing local bills. Florida Keys Mosquito Control District Chairman Phil Goodman said he needs help amending the enabling legislation language so the agency can make large capital expenditures. Key West Mayor Teri Johnston said the recent changes to tree-trimming law have citizens up in the boughs, and seeks a carve out for the Southernmost City as it relates to trimming trees on private property.
The City of Marathon also asked Flores and Raschein to continue pushing on behalf of the city for FEMA reimbursements post-Irma and expediting Florida Rebuild money to the Keys. Key West Mayor Teri Johnston asked the legislators to begin thinking about what will happen when glass can no longer be recycled in Florida. She asked if it can be ground up into sand, or road aggregate. Islamorada’s Seth Lawless asked for support in helping broker a deal between the state Department of Transportation and the Village on how to split management duties at “The Fills.” The Village recently took over the management of the popular weekend destination with road-trippers at its own expense. The College of the Florida Keys and Monroe County School District both asked for funding support. The school district’s superintendent, Mark Porter, said he would like more latitude in how to award teacher bonuses, as those are now funded by local taxpayer money.
“We need a directive led by the state,” she said.
Three local parents asked Flores and Raschein to vote against Senate Bill 64, which seeks to remove religious and medical exemptions for vaccinations. They presented arguments both medical and moral, advocating for their own right to choose for their children.