Monroe County is ready for the legislative session in Tallahassee

Holly Merrill Raschein, Mayor for Monroe County, joined Good Moring Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the county.

The legislative session began today in Tallahassee.

Raschein said, “It’s going to be a big year. Obviously, it’s an election year, it’s a presidential election year, that sometimes changes the tone of things. But there’s a lot of work to be done. We’ve got a pretty robust agenda when it comes to Tallahassee items. We of course, will be championing our Florida Keys Stewardship Act funding. That’s of course $20, $25 million for water quality, and land acquisition. Land acquisition is going to be very important to us. Well, it’s very important to us now, but I think it’s even going to be kicked up a notch with regard to the hurricane evacuation model and what we’re going to do and what our plan is going to be for that. It obviously is going to involve some major land acquisition, and that’s of course, buying up conservation land. We are making some tweaks regarding affordable housing. Again, we’ve got a big chunk of change leftover in our tourist development tax fund. We also are allowed as an area of critical state concern to level a tourist impact tax. That is where that funding has come from, we’re able to levy that additional tax because of our designation as an area of critical state concern. Our legislative representatives have filed legislation speaking to that. It’s got a bunch of other provisions in there regarding workforce housing. The Live Local Act passed last year. It was a huge priority of the senate president. But again, as an area of critical state concern we have, it’s a whole new game when it comes to development and building homes. We’ve got a couple tweaks that will make that legislation for us even stronger. We also speak to the tourist impact tax issue with regard to using that for workforce housing. It can be extremely controversial to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging industry, but our team has sat down with their team to sort of go through it. While they won’t be championing it for us, they’re not going to be opposing it. So that’s fantastic news. This is something that comes up probably every session. Again, very controversial, but we are being so tailored and so targeted.”

Raschein spent time in Tallahassee in the legislature and was quite instrumental in bringing the Stewardship funding to the Keys.

She said, “That was actually the biggest accomplishment, I think, in session, there were many. But that was that’s the one that I’m most proud of, because it’s still going on. It’s still living strong and we are benefiting from it. So as a former legislator, I couldn’t be more excited and more proud. The other piece of legislation that we’re pushing and as a huge deal to Floridians statewide, but especially down here is insurance reform, property insurance reform, obviously, were disproportionately affected by higher rates. We don’t have a lot of choices. The bill that our delegation has filed both on the House and the Senate side speaks to that. I don’t have the specific language in there, but raising rates, keeping them capped at 10%, getting some credit for the flood requirement. A lot of our homes are in x-zones, or whatever the new zone is called in the new FEMA regulations. So that’s important. Again, it’s going to be busy for us. We’re going to be up there next week for the Florida Association of Counties legislative action day, and we will be working the halls.”

The Board of County Commissioners pushed for an additional year of analysis for the hurricane evacuation model.

Raschein said, “What we did is speak with the state and they confirmed that they are not in a hurry for us to give them feedback. Obviously, this is extremely complicated. This is the future of the Keys. This will basically bring us in for landing with regard to the amount of building permits that we have. This is again, a process overall, that will probably take 30 years because if you are going to have more building, there are certain things that need to be done. We need to address the traffic. Are there some areas where we need to widen the roads? Do we need to fix the drawbridge? Do we need to make sure our water lines are all updated? I mean, this isn’t something that we’re going to snap our fingers and it’s going to be figured out. It’s, again, very complicated. But it’s something that I’m excited about because it’s really an opportunity for us to take control of our own destiny. The state, they don’t want to be litigated against, which that will probably happen in some form or fashion. But we want to mitigate that. We want to bring that down to the lowest level. I have my own ideas, which I will relay here when appropriate. There’s lots of folks that have their own ideas, and we’re going to try to incorporate as much community input as possible, the development community as well. There’s a thing called property rights we don’t want to walk on and ignore, that’s extremely important. I actually look at this, people are like, oh my gosh, it’s the Boogeyman. It’s going to be terrible. We’re going to have 8,000 new properties in the Keys. I can assure you that is not going to be the case. So I’m excited about this.”

There will certainly be a lot of discussions going forward.

Raschein pointed out, “In the public policy world, if you ever anticipate or expect to make everybody happy, you are delusional. That is a lesson that must be learned quickly in public service, one that I have learned and one that I will be applying. We will do our best to be comprehensive, to be collaborative, to just take a lot of input. I look at this as an opportunity. There’s no other community in the state of Florida, if not the United States, that has these sorts of regulations and there’s a reason for them, and I want people to go back to that reason. So more to come. Stay tuned.”

Charter government is another discussion point.

Raschein said, “That’s another thing that we’re gonna need to continue to talk about. Talk about 2024.”

The Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride this weekend was an amazing event.

“It was incredible,” Raschein agreed. “We are ever grateful for their service and their sacrifice.”

Communication with the public will be key in 2024.

Raschein said, “We’ve got an open door policy. There’s a lot of stuff on our agenda. We don’t know what we don’t know. So if you want to share your thoughts, your opinions, you have questions, reach out.”

The next BOCC meeting will be January 31 in Marathon.