Earlier this week, the 2018 Florida legislative session came to an end. The legislature approved an $88.7 billion budget that includes many initiatives for the Florida Keys, including investing in nearshore waters and even funding for a new, Category 5-rated Emergency Operations Center. Perhaps the most important is $15 million in funding for affordable housing.

“Despite having to cut the state budget to cover the safe schools act, we were still able to secure a sizable amount of resources for our Hurricane Irma recovery efforts and important community needs like the Stewardship Act,” said state Rep. Holly Raschein.

  • The Florida Keys have been awarded $15 million for affordable housing through the state’s SAIL (State Apartment Incentive Loan) program. It provides low-interest loans on a competitive bid to affordable-housing developers each year. In the Keys, developers may designate all the units in the development for residents with annual household incomes below 120 percent of the state or local median income, whichever is higher.
  • The legislature approved $5.9 million in funding for a new Emergency Operations Center. During Hurricane Irma, essential personnel evacuated to Ocean Reef for safety as the current facility is not sufficiently storm-hardened. Officials say the new EOC will be placed at the Marathon airport.
  • Statewide, the Florida Forever program received a $100 million boost. Ten million of that has been set aside for the Florida Keys — $5 million Stewardship Act funds for water projects such as canal restoration and $5 million for land acquisition. Last year, Florida Forever received no new funding.
  • Florida Keys Community College will receive $5 million for classroom facilities and renovations and also hurricane impact gap funding to cover lost enrollment after Hurricane Irma.
  • Several Keys programs also received funding. The free mobile pump-out for vessels was funded at $227,000. Florida Keys AHEC received $250,000 to continue to run school clinics. The Monroe Association for ReMARCable Citizens (MARC) received $100,000 for job training for its adult clients with mental disabilities. And, MOTE Marine received $500,000.

State Rep. Holly Raschein also sponsored two bills that passed. HB283 grants Lower Keys Medical Center an exception in order to provide certain cardiac procedures. Normally, hospitals must meet volume requirements that would preclude the Keys rural hospital from participating. HB1163 also amends the structure of the Monroe County Land Authority. In addition to being able to purchase land, it now has the ability to develop projects.

Also, the challenge to home rule died during session. If passed, it could have preempted local vacation rental laws, making it possible for nightly rentals in residential neighborhoods. It never made it to the second committee in the House and also stalled in the Senate.

The last three weeks of the nine-week session were devoted to the response to the Parkland school shooting that claimed 17 lives at a Broward County high school. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act raises the age requirement to purchase some guns to 21, but does not ban AR-15s. The bill would provide additional funding for SROs, who currently are only onsite at about half of Florida schools, and has provisions permitting school staff to carry guns on the job.

The majority of the bill deals with school safety, mental health and coordination among agencies.

It’s also possible that Floridians may never have to participate in switching the clocks twice a year. If Governor Rick Scott signs it into law, and Congress approves, Daylight Saving Time will be permanent in Florida.

Scott has 30 days to decide whether to veto items once a bill lands on his desk.

“We were operating in crisis mode because of hurricane Irma, and then that intensified after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy. I am proud of the way the legislature governed. We did our jobs. Is it perfect? No. Is it meaningful? Yes.” — Rep. Holly Raschein

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