The Florida Keys were feeling the love Thursday as all but one state legislator voted in favor of a bill that will bring as much as $10 million to the Keys this year and as much as $25 million in the subsequent nine years.
The Florida Keys Stewardship Act, which will set aside state money for land acquisition and water quality projects in the Keys, now heads to the governor’s office for final approval.
House Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne Beach , was the sole dissenter.
State legislators praised the environmental goals of the bill and called the Florida Keys a national treasure. Senate sponsor of the bill Wilton Simpson, R-New Port Richey, joked about “making the Keys great again,” stealing a line from presidential candidate Donald Trump.
State Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, recalled growing up in Fort Lauderdale and visiting the Keys on vacation and the need to protect the fragile coral reef that surrounds the Keys.
“It is a very special part of our environment,” Benacquisto said on the Senate floor Thursday.
“It’s like no other place in the world,” added Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park .
The love for the Keys was equal in the state House.
“This is a recognition of the delicate environment of the Florida Keys ,” said State Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee. “The Florida Keys are iconic to Florida. Without the Florida Keys, we wouldn’t be what we are.”
They praised Keys state Rep. Holly Raschein, who they called tenacious and dedicated, for continually pushing the bill and making her fellow legislators understand how important the Keys are environmentally and economically.
“Let’s continue to stand together in support of our Florida Keys ,” Raschein, R-Key Largo, told her fellow commissioners before the vote.
The bill requests about $25 million a year for 10 years, but the state Senate amended the bill so that the Keys will be appropriated $5 million for water quality projects such as sewer, stormwater and canal restoration projects and $5 million for acquiring environmentally sensitive land for conservation purposes in the first year.