The 60-day legislative session in Tallahassee came to a close May 4. With money for Keys projects and increased funds for Everglades restoration, state Sen. Anitere Flores and state Rep. Holly Raschein say session was an overall success, despite a few items that didn’t pass.
The legislature passed a $91.1 billion budget that included $6 million for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, which protects the near shore waters and lands critical to the delicate ecosystem. The budget also provides $1 million for the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority’s reverse osmosis plant.
From an environmental standpoint, more than $686 million was allocated for issues important to Gov. Ron DeSantis. Twenty-five million dollars will go to combat blue-green algae and red tide, $50 million for targeted water quality improvements and $100 million for springs restoration. Over $400 million is allocated for Everglades restoration, $4 million of which will go to nutrient reduction and water retention projects in the Lake Okeechobee watershed.
“The Everglades and water quality were big winners,” said Raschein, who sits on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. “There’s also lots of focus on red tide research, harmful algal bloom research and water quality improvements, which are obviously important to the Keys.”
Locally, budget highlights include $750,000 for the Monroe County mobile vessel pump-out service, $568,605 for Mote Marine Laboratory’s Summerland Key Coral Restoration Program and $1 million for lionfish removal efforts.
Legislation sponsored by Raschein and Flores to study the cost of derelict vessels to the county and state received the legislature’s approval. It was met with praise from Monroe County Marine Resource Administrator Rich Jones, who said the county is the “poster child for derelict vessels in Florida.” Flores says she was pleased to get the bill through the Senate, having heard from many advocates from Monroe County.
“It’s a very important issue to the Keys,” Flores said.
Flores and Raschein also say they’re particular proud of legislation that finally gained passage to rename Florida Keys Community College to College of the Florida Keys. The bill now awaits DeSantis’ signature.
Legislation that would have capped wind insurance rates didn’t make it through the legislature. Raschein said work will go on during the summer and off-season to find common ground on the issue. Unfortunately, Flores says Monroe County residents can expect another increase next year.
“It’s not a good thing at all,” Flores said.
The 50-50 takings bill also didn’t gain passage. Raschein acknowledged it’s a critical, yet complicated issue in terms of educating new representatives.
“We’ll work on that issue this off-season,” Raschein said.
Overall, Flores said the two chambers got along while a new governor came in to execute an aggressive agenda.
“There’s always more work left to be done,” Flores said. “We’ll be back at it next year.”