LEGISLATION RELATED TO KEYS MOVE AHEAD IN TALLAHASSEE
Key bills await consideration as legislative session in Tallahassee draws to a close. The last day is scheduled for April 30, and the race is on to get bills approved for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature.
Members in the House and Senate continue to mull funding requests for key environmental projects to measures that create civil liability protections for individuals and businesses against COVID-19-related claims.
Among the notable requests is $20 million for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act, which supports ongoing water quality projects and land acquisition in the island chain. Passed by the legislature and signed into law in 2016, the state’s investment in the Keys environment totals more than $30 million. Last year, however, $10 million in stewardship funding was cut by Gov. Ron DeSantis to offset the state’s financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not only did DeSantis’ budget proposal include full funding for the Stewardship Act this year, it’s also garnering support from members in the House and Senate, said state Rep. Jim Mooney. He said a lot of work went on in both chambers to get funding into the budget.
“At first, we had nothing. It’s a matter of being persistent with the right tone and the right attitude,” Mooney said. “We hope the governor will sign it.”
Language within a House bill that proposed to designate Monroe County as an anchoring limitation area was removed during an April 19 meeting of the State Affairs Committee. An initial draft proposal of House Bill 639 had it so vessels could only anchor in the same location for a maximum of 90 days.
The rule proposal would not apply to vessels anchored in an approved and permitted mooring, but it would have significantly affected boats outside Keys mooring fields, such as those that have long been anchored around Wisteria Island off Key West.
“For Monroe County, my take on it was that there’s workforce housing out there and buoy systems. I think it’s a heavy lift to accomplish all the goals at once,” Mooney said.
Language was also added to the House bill that would have overturned a decision last year by Islamorada Village Council to create a vessel exclusion and swim zone off Islamorada’s White Marlin Beach. Enacting a boating-restricted area off the beach addressed ongoing issues associated with party boats anchoring in shallow water near Port Antigua and White Marlin Beach where homes and private property sit.
Language was included in the House bill authorizing municipalities and counties to establish a boating-restricted area by ordinance within the portion of the waterway within their jurisdiction. It stated, however, that a municipality or county could not establish a “vessel-exclusion zone for public bathing beaches or swim areas within the waterway.”
“I got that squashed,” Mooney said. “Ana Maria (Rodriguez) is still working to get that taken out in the Senate. I think when it’s all said and done we’ll be OK on the Senate side.”
The bill, which also created a derelict vessel prevention program through Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation, was laid on the table for first reading on April 20.
Wind insurance legislation also remains a key concern among Keys officials. Specifically, House Bill 305 proposes to remove the Citizens 10% rate cap and cost to consumers for reinsurance, whether purchased by Citizens or not.
Senate Bill 1574 bill removes the rate cap on policies with more than $700,000 in coverage. A 2013 bill reduced Citizens coverage from $1 million to $700,000 except for Monroe County, where the Office of Insurance Regulation determined there is no reasonable degree of competition.
According to FIRM, not only does the legislation not exempt Monroe County, but it also targets policyholders who already pay the highest rates in the state.
“During the period from 2003-2020 Monroe County has had in-force premiums of $1.3 billion and losses of $4.9 million, generating a loss ratio of 37.25%,” FIRM states. “The gross annual profit that Monroe County has paid to Citizens is over $44 million for the last 17 years.”
FIRM and the Monroe County legislative team have shared their concerns with Rodriguez and Mooney on such bills. In talks with fellow members and groups, Mooney said rates will likely hold steady or see a slight increase.
“It won’t be astronomical,” he said.
As for funding requests, Mooney continues the push to secure $500,000 for the Monroe County Mobile Vessel Pump-Out Program. Awaiting consideration in the House Appropriations Committee, funding assists sewage pump-out service to vessels anchored in the waters of the Florida Keys. Funding also helps boaters comply with state and federal no-discharge laws.
Mooney said a request of $1 million for Mote Marine Laboratory to develop successful coral restoration technologies won’t see passage this year. A request of $500,000 for Key Colony Beach’s city hall complex repair from Irma also won’t get through, Mooney said.
“This is the third session since Irma. Their ask wasn’t out of line,” Mooney said regarding Key Colony Beach’s request. “Maybe with the federal funds coming in for infrastructure, they’ll get some chance to get some grant money at the top.”
ONLINES SALES TO BE TAXED
Approved by the House and Senate on April 8, Senate Bill 50 requires out-of-state retailers to collect and remit sales tax on purchases made by Floridians. The bill adds a 6% tax on online purchases, and it’s estimated to bring in $1 billion in revenue annually. The bill passed through the House via a 93-24 vote and a 27-12 vote in the Senate on April 8. State Rep. Jim Mooney and state Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez voted “yes.” Signed by the governor on April 19, the bill goes into effect July 1.
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