As the old saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun. “ For state Rep. Holly Raschein, it couldn’t be truer from her beginnings as a legislative aide in the early 2000s to today as she enters her last year representing the Keys in Tallahassee.
“It’s full of challenges,” Raschein said. “Every day is different and I like that. It’s a little bittersweet; I have to be honest with you, because I’ve been doing this so long as an aide to being elected. It’s kind of been my life, quite frankly.”
Assuming office in 2012, Raschein is in her fourth and final term as the representative for District 120, which encompasses all of the Florida Keys and a portion of south Miami-Dade. Serving as the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee chair, Raschein’s no doubt been busy the past month, as state legislators continue to work through the heart of committee meetings and pound through appropriation requests. Legislative session kicks off Jan. 14, 2020, which is earlier than prior years.
Presenting budget bills and filing legislation, Raschein says she’s put in a number of requests for the local community, including the all-important House Bill 587, or the Florida Keys Property Rights Protection Act. The legislation would split the costs with the county and cities on settlements and legal bills as it pertains to takings lawsuits when the state no longer issues building permits in the Keys in 2023.
“We’re going to get to work on that,” Raschein said. “That’s a must-pass. I won’t feel comfortable having my time in the House come to an end without getting that done, so that’s incredibly vital.”
Also high on her priority list is funding of the Florida Keys Stewardship Act. Since it was signed into law in 2016, millions of dollars have flowed into the Keys for water quality projects and land acquisition. Last year, $6 million was given to the Keys to protect nearshore waters and lands critical to the delicate ecosystem.
Other projects for Raschein include funding support for various community organizations such as Florida Keys Healthy Start Coalition Program, Marc House and Truman Little White House, to name a few.
“Those dollars, while smaller amounts, are incredibly meaningful to these organizations,” she said.
And like last year, Raschein is a sponsor of a bill to provide funds for the United Way tax preparation program that assists ALICE — asset limited, income constrained, employed — families prepare their taxes to help them find savings. A 2018 ALICE report found that around 40 percent of low-income workers struggle to cover essentials.
“That helps them find all savings that are due to them,” she said. “In turn, they put those dollars into our economy.”
THE BUDGET AND SESSION OUTLOOK
On Nov. 18, Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled his 2020-21 fiscal year budget. His recommended $91.4 billion in spending includes investments in education, the environment and public safety.
On the environmental side, his plan includes $322 million for Everglades restoration, $100 million for Florida Bay Forever Program and $22 million to combat algae blooms and red tide.
“Obviously, the environment is going to be really important,” Raschein says. “The governor has maintained that as one of his top priorities, which is really good for the Keys.”
On the education side, giving teachers raises will be a hot topic this year in Tallahassee. DeSantis’ budget includes $900 million to recruit and retain teachers and principals, $600 million to raise the minimum salary for full-time teachers to $47,500 and $300 million for Florida Classroom Teacher and Principal Bonus programs.
“Our teachers are already at a higher salary rate, so I’m kind of anxious how that’s going to pan out for teachers in the communities like ours,” she said.
Among the other notable topics percolating at the state level are mental health programs, boosting Florida’s correctional system with more positions while implementing a pilot program to alter prison guards’ shifts, and cyber security funding and programming to ensure elections are protected and every vote is counted correctly.
With much work ahead, Raschein prepares to enter her final year in office to make the Keys a better place to live, work and play.
“I’m totally biased, but I think we have the most fantastic and most diverse district in the entire house, and Florida, period,” she said. “There’s a notion that everything is peachy and paradise and wonderful. That’s not necessarily the case all the time. To understand our housing crisis, or our insurance property rate issues, or our environmental issues, all those things are so innately Florida Keys, and I have just been so honored to be the mouthpiece for those types of topics.”
So far, five candidates have filed for the seat Raschein holds in the 2020 election. Republicans include North Key Largo resident Rhonda Rebman Lopez, Islamorada Councilman Jim Mooney, Key Largo resident Jose Felix Peixoto and Homestead attorney Alexandria Suarez. On the Democratic side, Homestead resident Roy David Walker has filed.