KEYS OFFICIALS MONITOR KEY ENVIRONMENTAL FUNDING REQUEST IN TALLAHASSEE

Lisa Tennyson, legislative affairs director for Monroe County. MONROE COUNTY/Contributed

Lisa Tennyson, Monroe County’s legislative affairs director, is gearing up for another 60-day session of the Florida Legislature that begins March 7. Having served in the position for more than 10 years, Tennyson is closely monitoring a number of Keys priorities, including one county-backed proposal that seeks to allocate funding on an annual basis for the island chain’s precious environment. 

Not only will she be going on the offense, Tennyson will also be playing defense to ensure Monroe County isn’t harmed by any of the thousands of bills filed by state legislators. 

“It’s a roller coaster ride,” Tennyson told the Keys Weekly. “Not only are we working to get stuff done and get bills passed, we’re also looking at over 3,000 bills filed and lots of amendments. Any one of those bills could have a negative impact for us. It’s constant monitoring of all legislative activity happening.”

Sitting atop the priority list for Monroe County is legislation recently filed by state Rep. Jim Mooney and state Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez that would allocate $20 million annually to the Florida Keys Stewardship Act. The program was authorized by the legislature in 2016. Since then, millions of dollars have been distributed for Keys water quality projects and land acquisition. For years, legislators, lobbyists and Monroe County officials eagerly awaited the governor’s budget proposal, which either included or excluded funds for the program. It followed with intense advocacy for a program that protects the Keys’ nearshore waters. 

If legislation passes this session, the Stewardship Act funds would be granted through a pool of roughly $1 billion from the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Everglades restoration projects and South Florida Water Management and St. Johns River Water Management districts receive annual allocations from the trust fund. It’s funded by documentary stamp tax revenue, or a tax on a mortgage, lien or other indebtedness filed or recorded in Florida. 

Tennyson said county officials argue that funding for Keys environmental projects merit the same statewide priority and attention as projects in the Everglades.

“There’s something particularly special about the marine environments of the Florida Keys. That’s the pitch we usually make,” Tennyson said. “There’s a lot of competition for this special source of funding. We think we’re deserving of that.”

If legislation passes and is signed into law, Tennyson said, there’s still no true guarantee that funding would be recurring each year. However, approval would put the program on a pedestal with other key environmental projects across the state. 

“It would put us maybe 75 to 80% down the path of being able to know that we secured funding that year versus what we have to do right now, which is start from scratch,” she said. 

Tennyson and county officials are also monitoring fixes to a bill passed in 2021 that preempted local governments from licensing local contractors. While House Bill 735 set out to create less bureaucracy for local contractors by eliminating the need for local licensing, Tennyson said it affected smaller contractors’ ability to obtain permits. 

Those installing fences, pavers, granite or windows are able to get a license through the county to get a permit to do work. But House Bill 735 created a situation where only general contractors could pull permits. 

Tennyson said they’re working on new legislation that would ideally repeal the preemption or modify the legislation to enable local governments to issue some form of licensing to make local small contractors whole. 

“We’re not the only counties whose small contractors have been harmed by this,” Tennyson. “We’re working in conjunction with other counties that are trying to work on the item of local contractors as well.”

Tennyson was one of several county officials who visited Tallahassee last week to discuss county priorities. According to a county press release, County Administrator Roman Gastesi met with Kevin Guthrie, Florida Division of Emergency Management director, to discuss a county request for $6 million to cover additional expenses associated with the Emergency Operations Center in Marathon. Affordable housing, flood mitigation and infrastructure were also discussed with state officials.

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 and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.