A large white building - Florida State Capitol

State Rep. Jim Mooney and state Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez met with municipalities up and down the Keys via Zoom on Sept. 28 to hear their requests and priorities with another legislative session in Tallahassee approaching. 

Full funding for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, tackling derelict vessels and maintaining home rule were among the common messages local governments told Mooney and Rodriguez to advocate for as they prepare for the session in January. 

Last year’s session, at a closed state capital due to COVID-19, saw the legislature approving and Gov. Ron DeSantis subsequently signing a budget, which included $20 million in stewardship funding 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. 

“I hate to ask you to do it all over again, but we need you to do it all over again,” Monroe County legislative affairs director Lisa Tennyson said. 

She also discussed a continuing push to combat derelict vessels off the Keys waters. Last session, the Florida House and Senate passed a bill that allowed for 90-day anchor limits. While calling it an effective strategy, Tennyson acknowledged that it would be hard to enact with a condition in the bill for Monroe County to place 300 mooring balls.

Local officials examined mooring sites following the state bill that requested 300 more mooring buoys. It doesn’t go into effect until the county approves, permits and opens new moorings for public use, at least 250 moorings, within a mile of the Key West Bight City Dock and 50 at the Key West Harrison Bight Mooring Field. 

“We worked closely with stakeholders and cities and talked about the need for new balls there, but not 300,” she said. 

On the funding side, Tennyson said the county is looking to secure funding through a new Florida program for coastal resiliency projects. Monroe County is placing six projects in the program portal, and those include the Key Largo communities of Twin Lakes and Stillwright Point where flooding during king tides is seen. 

“Those projects are important to us,” Tennyson said. 

Wind insurance rate caps that are seeing 1% increases over five years and protecting local control over vacation rentals were also highlighted during the delegation meeting. 

Key West Mayor Teri Johnston is seeking help from state officials to secure some funding for a new crushed glass repurposing effort. She said the city produces an incredible amount of glass through crushed beer bottles that’s transported some 176 miles for disposal. 

“We have a real opportunity to repurpose glass in Key West and Monroe County,” she said. 

Johnston, too, relayed the importance in securing more funding for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act. She also discussed the Sadowski Trust Fund and affordable housing. 

“We just attended a Housing Authority meeting, and you want to know how bad affordable housing is?” Johnston said. “We have a waiting list of 128 years. That includes locals and those outside of Key West requesting housing.”

Marathon City Manager George Garrett said his list of issues for the upcoming session is in line with Monroe County’s agenda, including local regulation over vacation rentals. 

“We will certainly continue to fight for it,” he said. “If we have to go on the defense to protect our ability to do that, then we will.”

Islamorada, too, is seeking to protect its grandfathered vacation rental ordinance. The village also asked state officials to preserve the village’s vessel exclusion zone off White Marlin Beach to maintain residents’ quality of life. 

Entering his second year as state representative, Mooney ventured to Tallahassee where committee meetings kicked off last week. He received his committee assignments by the house speaker, and they include Pandemics and Public Emergencies, State Affairs, Infrastructure and Tourism Appropriations, Early Learning and Elementary Education, Finance and Facilities, Post-Secondary Education and Lifelong Learning, Environment, Agriculture and Flooding.  

Mooney and Rodriguez were also assigned to serve as members of the State Redistricting Committee in the House and Senate. Entering her second year as state senator, Rodriguez said she’s excited to be part of a redistricting process that takes place every 10 years. 

“We’re just excited to get the session started and hear the priorities,” Rodriguez said. 

Regular session convenes Jan. 11, 2022. The 60-day session concludes March 11, 2022.

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Jim McCarthy is a 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 3-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, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).