Florida Keys Days is an annual event. Every year, dozens of island residents from all walks of life descend on Tallahassee to lobby issues specific to Monroe County. Started as a Leadership Monroe class project by Rep. Holly Raschein, ten years years ago, the pilgrimage continues to this day. In the state Capitol, accustomed to its share of influencers, the Florida Keys Day are singular because no other county has a similar event.There are seminars scheduled, but many residents schedule “side bars” to reach the highest levels of state government. In 2019, it’s a crowd of new faces — not only from the Keys, but also new state leaders working with Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Wayne Carter is doing double duty in Tallahassee this week. He’s a participant in the Florida Keys Day, but there is also a congregation of Realtors in the state capital.
“We’re able to cover both areas,” he said. “We’re focusing on water quality, natural resources and encouraging allocation of funds for Everglades restoration.”
Carter is paying special attention to HB 902 & SB 447, a bill that would further codify open and expired building permits: and also HB 447 & SB 902 regarding the private property rights of homeowners; preempting the regulation of vacation rentals to the state.
“Carve out” are magical words for Keys influencers operating in Tallahassee. Theresa Faber and other local policy makers contend the Keys are special for a variety of reasons, different from the rest of the state and deserving of special rules. Faber and the team for FIRM are watching two bills — SB 1476 and HB 1145. Both would limit Citizen wind insurance hikes to 5 percent a year in Areas of Critical Concern, i.e., the Keys.
“Both these bills go to committee this week. We’ve been meeting with everyone we can to make sure they support those bills,” she said.
This isn’t Mark Gregg’s first rodeo. As a former mayor and councilman in the Village of Islamorada, Gregg is in Tallahassee to support Everglades restoration.
“The budget includes numerous improvements to the waterflow and I’m very optimistic,” he said, “but they have to make it to the finish line, be included in the final budget.” Gregg said the pervasive attitude in Tallahassee is one of bipartisan support for Everglades restoration. He said he’s most enthused about plans for the reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee and funding for a scientific center to study the causes of blue-green algae blooms and red tide.
The number one priority for Jonathan Gueverra in Tallahassee is to push, for the third straight year, a name change for the community college. While FKCC offers baccalaureate programs, it needs a “state college” moniker to go with it. He said the traction is favorable this year, perhaps because the North Florida Community College has joined the struggle.
“Equally important is the issue of funding,” Gueverra said. FKCC receives 68.5 percent of the funding it should, while other institutions top out at 90 percent. “If we could get 78 percent of our funding, that would mean an additional $1.1 to $1.2 million.” Gueverra said the funding is critical for special offerings like the programs for construction apprenticeship and classes for those with intellectual disabilities. “If we can’t sustain them, we hurt ourselves and the community,” he said. Gueverra is traveling with three FKCC students — a baccalaureate student, a retired colonel from the Marines who went through the college’s diving certification and now studies marine life, and a student with intellectual disabilities.
“I’ve been attending meetings concentrated on issues at the forefront for Keys residents — wind insurance and how Citizens manages reimbursement and capping costs,” said Kiraly, a Centennial banker. “The new department heads and chairs seem to be more progressive and open to getting more things done. They understand the Keys are a different animal.”
This elected official is fighting a budget battle. “This funding issues goes back 10 years,” said Madok, Clerk of the court in Monroe County. SB 1076 would allow the county offices to retain certain revenues from the previous year, plus addresses deposits into the Clerk of the Courts Trust Fund rather than the general revenue fund.
“It’s a moving target, but we’re encouraged,” he said.