Halfway point reached, chambers’ budgets far apart


Rep. Holly Raschein stands in front of her desk inside the House Chamber.

At the state capital, members in the House and Senate have until March 10 to work out some big budget differences, if they plan to end the legislative session on time. 

In late January, the chambers released budget proposals that were $1.4 billion apart. Now, the House and Senate await conferencing to hash out differences, and they must do so by March 10 in order to end their 60-day session on time. Legislators in the House and Senate are expected to convene later this month to sift through budget differences. The legislature is required to approve a single budget to send to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

With a new fiscal year beginning July 1, the House unveiled a $91.3 billion spending plan that includes more than DeSantis’ $625 million request for Everglades restoration and water quality projects. Just over $643 million is allocated within the Senate’s $92.8 billion spending plan to continue significant investments in Everglades restoration and water resource protection. 

The Senate spending plan includes $125 million for Florida Forever, which protects many of Florida’s conservation lands. The House budget shows $20 million for the land conservation program. 

The Senate budget also shows $500 million in a new teacher salary increase allocation and $325 million in increased funding through the base student allocation, which districts can invest in teachers and school district personnel.

The Senate has placed $50 million in its budget for the state’s tourism marketing branch, Visit Florida. The House has no funding for the agency. 

As for affordable housing, the Senate is looking to fund programs at $387 million. The House, however, is putting $147 million aside. 

Several appropriation requests have been made on Keys-related projects.



An appropriation request of $2 million has been made for the College of the Florida Keys to complete its recovery from Hurricane Irma. Funds would provide student services and upgrades to key facilities for the successful completion of two- and four-year degree programs. The college is one of the state’s smallest serving one of the state’s most challenging geographic areas. 



A total of $250,000 has been requested to digitize and archive the collection of state-owned historic documents and artifacts related to the Little White House’s presidential history. Documents were donated to the Key West Harry S. Truman Foundation so items are better preserved and more available for viewing. The mission of the foundation is to share the history of the American presidency and preserve and protect the Truman Little House. With the project, students and residents around the state and world can search and view the collection without paying a physical visit to the museum in Key West. The request was placed in the House budget, but it’s not currently in the Senate budget.  




The city of Key Colony Beach is looking to receive $500,000 in state funding for replacement of its city hall building, including EOC and police, following damage from Hurricane Irma. The new structure will be elevated above base flood elevation by 24 to 26 inches and fortified against V zone wave action. The project also includes IT equipment for connectivity to Monroe County and alternative power sources such as mobile generator and battery-backup power system with solar input. The request is within the House budget. 



With plans to provide dental care to kids up and down the Keys, a $125,000 appropriation request is in for a mobile dental unit. With funding, a school-based dental unit program would be created to address the critical need for oral health care for the underserved youth in the Keys. The program will require a one-time expenditure for the purchase of a used mobile dental unit, which is a self-contained drivable unit similar to an RV with two separate rooms to perform dental care. The unit will be self-sustaining through Medicaid reimbursement opportunities. The request was placed in the House budget.



An appropriation request is in to support the MARC House, which offers support to individuals with disabilities in order to obtain and remain in competitive employment and enhance a person’s employment options and interpersonal skills. Other services provide medical and therapeutic supervision and help to increase a client’s ability to develop friendships with non-disabled persons.


HB 587 — Florida Keys Area of Critical Concern

An amendment to the bill is now proposing a mandatory hurricane evacuation clearance time for permanent residents within the Keys from 24 hours to 30 hours. Per a bill analysis, increasing mandatory evacuation times could increase local governments’ flexibility to issue development permits, and that in turn would result in less takings litigation and lower liability costs. Legislation was originally put forth to split takings cases 50-50 between the state and local municipalities once building permits are gone and property owners sue. But language holding the state liable for half the takings costs was struck out during a Jan. 29 Civil Justice Subcommittee meeting. The mandatory evacuation change came from committee staff, not Raschein’s office. 


HB 1041 — Florida Keys Mosquito Control District

Legislation currently sits in the State Affairs Committee to revise requirements for the district’s board of commissioners to borrow money. Current legislation sets a $1 million limit on the district’s borrowing authority over a 5-year period. With passage of HB 1041, restrictions would be lifted to bring the borrowing authority of the board of commissioners in line with other agencies. And it would allow the district to purchase helicopters for its mosquito control operation. 


HB 1165 — Beverage Law 

Raschein is sponsoring a bill that would allow a craft brewery to hold multiple vendor’s licenses for the sale of alcoholic beverages. There are a few distilleries in the local community, but they’re limited in where they can conduct tastings, where they can distribute or store products and how much they can sell. Legislation seeks to level the playing field between wineries and distilleries. “The industry is new to the scene and they’re very limited in what they can do to expand their business and their business model,” she said.


Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.