Raschein updates Chamber

State Rep. Holly Raschein, who represents the Florida Keys in Tallahassee, on Wednesday provided members of the Key West Chamber of Commerce with an update about the recent legislative session.

“It’s good to be home,” Raschein said. “I came back from Tallahassee unscathed and brought home some good things.”

Raschein was most pleased with her success in getting her fellow legislators to include in the state budget $50 million for Keys wastewater projects.

“Have you heard we got $50 million for wastewater?” she asked laughing. “This was the second largest single-member project, and I had an incredible team for it. Everyone had skin in the game, and it worked out well.”

She added that $100 million for the Florida Keys remains “on the table” in Tallahassee. Raschein said she will convene a water quality round table in the coming months to address all aspects of the issue — stormwater, wastewater and canal cleanups — and secure additional funding next year.

After discussing the wastewater accomplishment, Raschein reviewed bills she successfully sponsored with direct ties to the Florida Keys economy and environment.

“They see me coming in Tallahassee, and it’s either wastewater funding or Citizens Property Insurance that I’m there to discuss,” Raschein said.

She championed a bill that delays implementation of rate increases that could have crippled Keys property owners. Raschein also called for Congress to delay all rate increases resulting from passage of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act until the completion of an affordability study that would offer protections not just for primary homeowners, but for commercial properties and second homes.

Affordable housing is another hot topic in the Florida Keys, where the need for workforce housing is one of the greatest in the state.

Florida lawmakers agreed to spend $167 million on affordable housing programs, Raschein said, adding in answer to a question from developer Ed Swift, who has built several affordable housing communities, that she continues to work to restore funds to the state’s Sadowski Fund.

The fund was created and earmarked for housing programs, but in recent years has been “raided” for other state priorities.

Swift pointed out that the Sadowski Fund currently contains, in effect, an IOU from the state for $450 million that was removed from the fund for other projects.

Chamber member Michael Browning also asked Raschein about the controversial $1 billion cap on the Sadowski Fund, which many in Tallahassee have been trying to eliminate.

Raschein assured Browning and Swift that officials in Tallahassee are working to both restore funding to the Sadowski Fund, and “scrap the cap” that limits the amount of money the fund can contain.

Raschein also told chamber members of her success in convincing the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to amend its rules and prohibit the importation and aquaculture production of the highly invasive lionfish, which is wreaking havoc on local marine ecosystems.

“FWC is also opening lionfish up to spearfishing,” she said. “The overall strategy is to create a fishery, a commercial market, for lionfish.”

In addition to her lionfish legislation, Raschein also sponsored a bill that created stiffer penalties for possession of undersized spiny lobster to crack down on lobster poachers and deter repeat offenders.

The Republican representative pointed the state’s continuing economic recovery from the recession.

“We were able to fund programs that had taken a serious hit in the recession, and even funded our statewide reserves to the tune of $3.1 billion.”

Gov. Rick Scott also signed tax cuts that, as of Sept. 1, will return the cost of vehicle and vessel registrations to their 2009 levels. Scott also approved sales tax holidays the first week of June for hurricane preparedness, and another tax holiday in August for school supplies and computer equipment.

The Legislature made permanent sales tax exemptions on children’s car seats, booster seats and bike helmets, Raschein said before ticking off specific Keys entities that are slated to receive state funds from the recently approved budget.

“Lower Keys Medical Center got a little chunk of change to help with their charity care costs,” Raschein said, adding that K-12 education saw a 3 percent increase in per-student funding.

“We also got some really Keys-specific arts funding for the Florida Keys Council of the Arts, the Key West Literary Seminar, the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society, The Studios of Key West, The Key West Players and other groups,” Raschein said, pleased that arts and cultural funding had made its way back into the state budget.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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