STATE BILLS THAT PASSED & DIED AS SESSION DRAWS TO A CLOSE

A 60-day legislative session in Tallahassee is supposed to end on Friday, March 11. But it appears legislators will be staying a little longer to finish up the budget.

A number of bills with significance in the Keys garnered the approvals needed to send them on to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk for signature. Other bills haven’t made it that far. 

Senate Bill 1940 — Flooding and sea level rise resilience

One of the larger issues facing the Florida Keys and South Florida, the bill co-introduced by state Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez could open more funding for flooding and sea level rise projects throughout the state. The bill, which garnered unanimous approval through three committees, was placed onto the calendar for second reading on March 9. Specifically, the bill proposes to revise the $100 million cap on funding proposed for the Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan to a minimum threshold of $100 million. Last year, the legislature established several resilience programs through the Department of Environmental Protection. They include the Resilient Florida Grant Program, which provides grants to counties or municipalities for community resilience planning, such as assessments, plan development and projects to adapt critical assets. The Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan ranks a list of projects submitted by municipalities that address risks of flooding and sea level rise. Each project has a 50% cost share. Monroe County currently has two projects located in Key Largo within the statewide resilience plan: the shovel-ready Twin Lakes Subdivision flood mitigation project at $7.8 million and the design and engineer phase for Stillwright Point flood mitigation project at $2.37 million. 

Senate Bill 1432/House Bill 1065 — Vessel anchoring

A vessel anchoring bill that provides 100 mooring sites behind Wisteria Island off Key West breezed through the legislature. The House voted 112-0 on March 4 and the Senate voted 38-0 on the bill by state Rep. Jim Mooney and Rodriguez. It now goes to DeSantis for his signature. The requirements in the bill, to make a liveaboard vessel that is not in a managed mooring field move every 90 days, will not be enforced until the new moorings are in place and people have an opportunity to move to a secure mooring. The bill drew concern among liveaboard boaters in Key West, who say the requirement that they move is a tremendous hardship to the boating community, and could lead to increased environmental damage to seagrass and other habitats.

House Bill 1499 — Affordable Housing

With workers struggling to find affordable housing in the Keys, a bill co-sponsored by Jim Mooney to provide affordable housing units for public sector government and first responders in Key West garnered unanimous approval in the House on March 2. The bill creates an exception to the Key West building permit allocation system by authorizing 50 units of affordable housing to be constructed for employees of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and other personnel. Sheriff Rick Ramsay has long acknowledged the difficulties of retaining deputies and corrections personnel in the Lower Keys due to a lack of affordable housing. 

Senate Bill 442 — Land Authorities assist with flooding and sea level rise

Passing through the Senate and House, the bill by Rodriguez authorizes land authorities to assist counties that received federal and state grants for residential flooding and sea-level rise mitigation projects. This includes elevation of structures above minimum flood elevations, demolition and reconstruction of structures above minimum flood elevations and the acquisition of land with structures at risk of flooding. Land authorities act as intermediaries between landowners and government agencies that regulate land use. Acquiring property for conservation use is their core mission. But land authorities, like the one in Monroe County, also provide funding for affordable housing projects, protect conserved land from private acquisition and use and maintain conservation land stewardship programs. 

BILLS THAT DIED

  • House Bill 449 by Mooney sought an annual appropriation to implement the Florida Keys Stewardship Act. Instead of working each legislative session to get funding inserted into the budget, an annual $20 million appropriation would be provided by the Department of Environmental Protection. While it didn’t pass this year, House and Senate budgets included the full $20 million for the Stewardship Act this year. That followed DeSantis’ full $20 million in his proposed budget. 
  • Senate Bill 274 by Rodriguez proposed the creation of the Condominium Fraud Investigation Pilot Program. The purpose of the program was to investigate condominium-related fraud and corruption in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe Counties. 
  • Senate Bill 198 by Rodriguez sought to grant easements on sovereignty lands for mitigation banking, a practice in which an environmental enhancement and preservation project is conducted by a public agency or private entity to provide mitigation for unavoidable wetland impacts within a defined mitigation service area. Through seagrass mitigation banks on submerged public lands, private companies could grow and manage seagrass on easements that are granted to them by the state. Companies could then sell credits to landowners that conduct projects, such as channel dredging, that ultimately harm seagrass. The bank is the site itself, and the currency sold by the banker to the landowner is a credit, which represents the wetland ecological value equivalent to completion of one acre of restoration. Many have raised concerns over the idea, including the Department of Environmental Protection.

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner 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 his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 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. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.