State Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez represents Monroe and Miami-Dade counties. CONTRIBUTED

Ana Maria Rodriguez is no stranger to the state legislature, having served a term in the House prior to her victory on Election Night to become the next state senator for the Keys and Miami-Dade County.

Rodriguez is making a smooth transition from a 120-member state House to a Senate chamber consisting of 39 other senators. Born in Miami, she’s spent her career advocating on behalf of South Floridians as a professional and public servant. Before her election to the state House in 2018, she served on the Doral City Council for eight years. She previously worked as director of government and community relations for Baptist Health. 

She also works as vice president for the Miami Association of Realtors, a role in which she advocates for policies to increase home ownership, make housing more affordable, and to make communities more resilient to changes in the climate.

Committees are underway with a 60-day session set to start March 2. Rodriguez will look to play a key role in Tallahassee in 2021 as she prepares to serve as chair of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee and vice chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services. 

Rodriguez told the Weekly she wasn’t expecting to get the chairmanship for the Finance and Tax Committee in her first year as state senator. 

“I’m honored to be able to serve on such a prestigious committee,” she said. “I’m definitely up for the task to address the state’s tax and finance issues.”

With shortfalls the state has experienced from COVID, Rodriguez said one of the bigger topics legislators will confront is collecting sales tax from internet sales. In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can require out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales tax on sales to in-state consumers, even if the seller has no physical presence in the consumer’s state. The decision allowed states to define a sale threshold, whether it be dollar amount or number of transactions, which triggered the collection requirement.

“This is something the state authorized for the last few years,” she said. “Basically it’s an honor system right now where if you make a purchase on the internet, you’re supposed to fill out a receipt through the (state) department of revenue website and pay taxes directly to the state. Honestly, I think most people don’t do it.”

Sales tax collections on internet sales could increase revenues some $700 million to $800 million, Rodriguez said. 

Health and human services is usually one of the largest appropriations within the state budget. Rodriguez said expenses for testing, vaccines and other assistance to local governments will be examined in this year’s budget. 

“Can I give you an exact dollar amount? Not really. But I do know there’s been a tremendous shift, because of COVID, to things that weren’t contemplated before,” she said. “I anticipate this portion of the budget will remain as big or obviously bigger than previous years.”

A number of bills were filed by Rodriguez, including one to strengthen rights for pregnant employees. Senate Bill 384 would make it unlawful when employers fail to make reasonable accommodations upon request for employees with a medical need related to pregnancy. Such reasonable accommodations include more frequent or longer breaks, temporary job restructuring or temporary relief from lifting requirements. 

Rodriguez said she’s also sponsoring a bill to prohibit third trimester abortions in Florida. 

“I’m pro-life, so I don’t support abortion at any stage. But I don’t think we should outlaw in the first trimester, in the event of an emergency,” she said. “The third trimester should not be a consideration unless the mother’s health is at risk. That’s the only exception I would make.”

Recently, Rodriguez joined Keys leaders on a virtual call to hear some concerns going into 2021 and legislative priorities they have as state leaders gather in Tallahassee. Affordable housing and the Sadowski Fund were among the topics, as well as sea level rise and Florida Keys Stewardship Act.

“With sea level, obviously some areas are experiencing more acuity than others. We need to try to remedy the situation in the areas where sea level rise is impacting those neighborhoods,” she said. “I know there’s a bit of septic to sewer to finish in Monroe County. Miami-Dade is another story. They’ve got a lot of septic to sewer to finish, but Monroe is ahead of the curve having invested a lot in that. What remains to be done we need to try the funding for that.”

Rodriguez said she’s looking forward to delivering for the communities she serves. And she’s also ready to work with her colleague in the House in new state Rep. Jim Mooney. 

“The fact that we campaigned together gives us a tremendous advantage when it comes to just communicating and delivering on the goods,” 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.