Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez and the administration of Ron DeSantis prepare for what they hope is another productive and successful session in Tallahassee. For state Sen. Anitere Flores, several Keys-related issues top her priorities list as she enters her last year in office.
In just five days, legislators will convene to commence another year of debating, bill mulling and passing an on-time spending plan. In lead up, representatives like Flores have been hard at work filing bills on a whole host of issues. Notably, a bill has again been filed by Flores to divvy the costs from lawsuits anticipated when the state no longer hands out buildings permits in the Keys in 2023.
If passed this year, the state and local governments located in an area of critical state of the concerns, like the Keys, would share judgments to defendants who are successful in property-rights litigation. Flores says it would solidify what’s long been a handshake-agreement between the state and Monroe County. Senate Bill 748 currently sits in committee.
“This is a real issue for the Keys as we bump up against the deadline,” Flores said. “As we get closer and closer, it is important for Monroe County officials to know that the agreement will be more formalized.”
Legislation didn’t pass through the House for different reasons last year, Flores said. She says she hoping the unfinished business gets taken care of this time around.
On the administrative side, a $91.4 billion budget proposal was unveiled in lead up to session with key investments in K-12 education, the environment and public safety. Nunez said the administration has been laser-focused on a number of priorities facing the state over the past year. With priorities outlined by DeSantis underway and some even accomplished, Nunez says there’s never a shortage of issues and budget items to focus on.
“Since day one, we’ve been focused on working on the issues,” Nunez said. “The governor is focused on doing what he set out to do and what he campaigned to do.”
Nunez says she was particularly excited to see the administration’s environmental agenda take off during session between the more than $400 million for Everglades restoration, $40 million to expedite the Tamiami Trail project to restore clean water south and $25 million to combat blue-green algae and red tide. Locally, canal restoration was added as a priority of the Florida Keys Area of Critical State Concern program.
Nunez says she expects more investments in water quality this session with recurring funds in the governor’s budget proposal for the Everglades and water resources. And Nunez says the governor’s not shy to call up the administration in Washington D.C., to pony up their fair share.
“The governor really relies on his relationship with the president,” Nunez said. “The president always jokes on how he’s always calling for more money. It just shows the amount of effort and intensity the governor has to fulfill the vision of Florida.”
On the education side, teacher salary raises is gaining attention from many educators across the state. The governor’s budget includes hundreds of millions to recruit and retain teachers as well as bonus programs. Concerns have been brought forth over how the plan rewards long-time teachers. And here in the Keys, teachers are already at a higher salary rate.
“We recognize and will look at those inequities to make sure we’re addressing the overall issue, which everyone can agree there is a deficiency in starting teacher pay,” Nunez said. “On top of that, what are things that we can do that won’t break the bank? Each district has unique challenges, and they’ve done things to address those challenges. As we look at the profession, there’s a shortage. We really want to attract the best in the industry, attract those stellar teachers and mold our future generation.”
Flores said she’s already brought up teacher pay concerns during meetings.
“It would be terrible if at a time teachers talk about increases in salary that Monroe County wouldn’t really see any,” she said. “The governor is aware and listening.”
Flores has filed a bill yet again to cap wind insurance rates for policies issued by Citizens Property Insurance Corporation. Senate Bill 1204, which has been referred to various Senate committees, wouldn’t allow the corporation to implement increases that exceed 10 percent on a single policy. Flores has taken up the issue every year with no avail having only seen passage in the Senate and not the House.
“Organizations like FIRM have been able to show to the commissioner of insurance that right now, rates are not fair,” she said. “I’m going to continue to work on it at the legislative level.”
With this being Flores’ final year in office, she says she’s going to fight hard.
“This is an area that needs a lot of help from an environmental standpoint with climate change and rising sea levels. These are things that effect Monroe County before they get to rest of the state,” she said. “It’s been a fun ride. It’s been fantastic working with Rep. (Holly) Raschein. We talked about we’re going out strong this year.”