A diver explores the coral reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo. The reef system in the Keys is the only contiguous coral barrier reef in North America. BOB CARE/Florida Keys News Bureau

Full funding for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act appears to be on a better track than in prior years in Tallahassee. 

On Wednesday, the Florida House and Senate’s appropriations committees unveiled their budget proposals. Both included $20 million included for a Stewardship Act that funds critical water quality projects.

Budget proposals for the critical Keys program fall in line with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recommended budget for the upcoming 2022-23 fiscal year, which begins in July. 

An initial House spending proposal last year included $2 million for the Stewardship Act. A Senate budget proposed nothing for the program. With legislative approval by the end of session, DeSantis signed a budget last year with a full $20 million in Stewardship funds and an additional $5 million for land acquisition. 

State Rep. Jim Mooney worked to include full funding for the Stewardship Act last year. Even with budget proposals including the $20 million, Mooney told the Keys Weekly a long road is still ahead. 

“We are continuing to work our request through the system,” Mooney said. “We are staying confident that as we start the process through the budget that there will be appropriations that fall into place.” 

State Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez told the Keys Weekly that she’s delighted to see that the House and Senate budget have included the $20 million for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act. 

“While the fight isn’t over until the end of session, I feel that we’re starting from a position of strength, and this will help us as budget negotiations proceed,” she said. “The Florida Keys are an ecological gem, and all efforts should be made to preserve it for generations to come.” 

In a press release, Monroe County Mayor David Rice said the county is thankful to House and Senate leadership for their recognition and support of funding that protects valuable Florida Keys resources. 

A 60-day session in Tallahassee concludes March 11.

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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.