BY MANDY MILES Citizen Staff
The state of Florida and the City of Key West kept their flagship afloat.
Florida lawmakers, during the recent legislative session in Tallahassee, designated $500,000 of grant funding for the restoration and preservation of the historic Schooner Western Union, the flagship of both Florida and Key West. City officials in Key West had previously approved $250,000 in matching funds. The 1939 schooner will head to Tarpon Springs in June for continued restoration work.
Florida Keys State Rep. Holly Raschein happily included the grant funding in the legislative report she presented Wednesday to members of the Key West Chamber of Commerce.
“I come here today in such greater spirits after this year’s legislative session than I did after our third special session last year,” Raschein said Wednesday, running through some of the Keys-specific approvals and budget items. “We passed what may be the largest Florida budget ever at $82.3 billion, and that includes putting $3 billion in reserves.”
Lawmakers also restored some of the funding that had been diverted from the state’s affordable housing trust fund.
Raschein said she counts the partial funding of the new Florida Keys Stewardship Act as a win for Monroe County.
“We asked for $25 million over 10 years and got $5 million in veto-proof cash,” she said. “It was a huge ask, but I’m committed to going back for more of that money.”
The Florida Legislature also authorized Florida Keys Community College to build an additional 200 dormitory units to ease the financial burden of island housing for college students, Raschein said, adding that one of the easiest bills to get passed was one protecting sea turtles from poachers.
“There’s a black market for turtle parts and sadly we’re seeing an uptick in sea turtle mutilation in the state and particularly Monroe County,” she said. “There had been a loophole in the law that previously required wildlife officers to actually witness someone hurting or molesting a sea turtle in order for them to be prosecuted.”
The new amendment closes that loophole and allows for prosecution as long as the suspect is in possession of the prohibited eggs, shells, meat or any other turtle parts.
In answer to a question from local consultant Sandy Walters, Raschein regretfully reported that statewide tax incentives, intended to draw film and television producers to the Sunshine State, were not renewed.
“We’re dealing with a level of fiscal conservatism unlike any I’ve ever seen, and I’m a fiscal conservative,” Raschein said, adding that the prevailing opinion in Tallahassee this year opposed any tax cuts and incentives for private, for-profit businesses.
“But I have heard rumblings through the Coconut Telegraph that the producers of Netflix’s ‘Bloodline’ are still considering filming a third season in the Keys, despite the cancellation of state tax incentives.”
Raschein also thanked local leaders of the Equality Florida gay rights group for recently honoring Raschein, a Republican politician, with its Voice for Equality award.
“I’m still reeling from that honor,” she said, adding that she remains committed to the passage of the Competitive Workforce Act, a bill that would protect transgendered people from discrimination.