New state Rep. Jim Mooney prepares to put on a suit as some of his first committee meetings in Tallahassee get underway on Jan. 13. A busy day is in store, with back-to-back gatherings among his fellow legislators.
“I think I’m getting used to the whole process,” Mooney said before his day began. “It’s fast-paced.”
Following a victory on Election Night, the Islamorada native dug in on the new job as representative for the Florida Keys and a section of Miami-Dade county in the state legislature. He’s met the likes of House Speaker Chris Sprowls and was sworn into office with other colleagues who won their races. He joined U.S. Rep. Carlos Gimenez and Islamorada Mayor Buddy Pinder in Islamorada recently for a tour on the bayside with Florida Bay Forever.
He’s also received his committee assignments for the 2021 legislative year. Mooney sits on the Environment, Agriculture & Flooding Subcommittee and the Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, which both met for the first time on Jan. 13. Mooney is also a member of the Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee, which is set to meet Jan. 14.
“Certainly, I think these are some committees that I fit well in,” said Mooney, who’s a former Coral Shores High School teacher and Islamorada council member. “I look at some of the members on these committees and there are some really good people.”
Mooney also sits on the subcommittees of finance and facilities, state affairs and post-secondary education and lifelong learning.
A 60-day legislative session is officially set to start March 2. Much of the talk will surround an economic slowdown from COVID-19 and budget reductions that are more than likely. On Jan. 13, House Ways and Means Committee members received word of an anticipated billion-dollar shortfall in revenue collections.
“I heard that there are some municipalities (in the state) that are just not going to ask for an appropriation. They’re not asking for anything. That’s an odd thing because I think you should ask. I think there’s room for appropriations,” Mooney said.
Mooney said Monroe County can’t see another cut this year, especially after seeing some $10 million slashed last year for the island chain.
“We need to somehow get back on track,” he said. “I’m not sure the state will give us $10 million, but my goal is to get something back, at least Stewardship fund money.”
Mooney alludes to the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, which was passed by the Florida State Legislature and signed into law in 2016 to protect nearshore waters and lands critical to the area’s delicate ecosystem. Around $5 million was allocated in 2016.
While initially seeking $20 million in 2020, the Keys received $10 million after Gov. Ron DeSantis slashed $1 billion in programs due to challenges associated with COVID-19. In all, more than $34 million for the Stewardship Act the past four years went to support water quality projects and land acquisition.
Going into his freshman year, Mooney will look to lean on the expertise of former state Rep. Holly Raschein, who served the Keys the past eight years. He’ll also look to see his colleague in the Florida Senate, Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez. She was a former state rep who was elected in November to represent the Keys and Miami-Dade.
“She (Rodriguez) has the experience on this side. And now she’s over there (the Florida Senate), and we’re going to need that for sure,” Mooney said.
The Capitol remains closed to the public due to the ongoing coronavirus. With continued uncertainty over a reopening to the public, a Keys tradition that sees a contingent of leaders from different sectors traveling to Tallahassee will go virtual this year. Mooney said the idea of a virtual Florida Keys Day this year came from Jonathan Gueverra, president of the College of the Florida Keys.
“I love it because we don’t want to break the tradition,” he said. “Everybody’s all in so far. It doesn’t hurt to have the Keys up in Tally. It shows unity and strength in numbers. Hopefully things will come back to normal and we can have another Florida Keys Day. But I think ultimately keeping it alive virtually would be better than not doing it at all.”