Legislature again snubs bill to automatically fund Keys environmental protection, resiliency

florida keys overseas highway
‘It’s not easy to get money every year, and that fund is important.’

For the third straight year, a bill that would have created a permanent, recurring funding source for environmental protection and resiliency projects in the Florida Keys is likely dead in the water.

The measure (SB 54, HB 135) by Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez and Rep. Jim Mooney — the only state lawmakers who represent Monroe County — wouldn’t have cost the state any more money. Florida’s budget already sets aside $20 million each year for those projects, which are done under the Keys Stewardship Act.

But the funds today come through annual appropriations requests, which the Legislature approves during the yearly budgeting process. The proposal by Rodriguez and Mooney would have the money instead come through a recurring set-aside from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. As its name suggests, that fund helps local governments acquire, restore, manage and improve conservation and recreational land.

Thursday marks 44 days into the 2023 Legislative Session. Subcommittees are no longer meeting, and bills that haven’t advanced substantially typically won’t do so now.

Mooney told Florida Politics he and Rodriguez didn’t expect the legislation to pass, particularly because both the Senate and House already agreed to put another $20 million into the program.

“Honestly, I think with the Governor having the money in his budget, we thought that asking for it in recurring form was likely not going to be the best route,” he said by text. “Obviously, we would love to have the funding recurring.”

He added that Gov. Ron DeSantis “has been very good to the Florida Keys and the Area of Critical State Concern.”

The bills this year were identical to ones Rodriguez and Mooney filed during the 2022 Legislative Session, which fared equally as well. Last year, only Mooney’s received a hearing. This year, the opposite occurred. Rodriguez’s bill cleared one committee before stalling out, while Mooney’s measure was snubbed.

Rodriguez listed her bill among several pieces of legislation she prioritized for the current Session. She also sponsored the measure in 2021, when Republican Rep. Rick Roth of West Palm Beach ran its twin in the House.

“If we passed this bill, we wouldn’t have to go to the Legislature every year and ask for that money; it would just be automatically appropriated,” she said in early March. “It’s not easy to get money every year, and that fund is important.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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