Steps by the Florida Legislature to prevent school mass shootings statewide could cut into money affecting Florida Keys priorities for hurricane relief and land acquisition.
The Legislature’s 2018 session enters the final week before a scheduled March 9 adjournment. Adoption of the state budget, projected at $87 billion, is the one thing that lawmakers must accomplish under law.
“This is where all the scary bad things can happen,” Monroe County legislative liaison Lisa Tennyson told county commissioners at their Feb. 21 meeting.
“Right now, we’re watching from the trenches and frantically trying to hold our positions” in budget appropriations, Tennyson said Friday. “We haven’t necessarily heard any terrible news but this is the crazy time when things can change, literally hour by hour.”
In the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a gunman killed 14 students and three faculty members, legislators are working on a package estimated at $400 million to boost the number of law-enforcement officers at schools and increase school-based services for mental health.
“Whenever you spend $400 million somewhere, you’re going to cause some issues,” state Rep. Manny Diaz (R-Miami) told the News Service of Florida.
Some state budget revenues also may be several hundred million dollars less than expected, Tennyson said.
Monroe County commissioners asked Florida Keys state Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) and state Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami and the Keys) to seek $20 million that would be used to buy land that can attract workforce-housing development. “It could be cut to $10 million, or even zeroed out,” Tennyson said.
Some hurricane-relief funds for the Keys, and support for replacement housing, seem to have escaped the budget ax so far, she said.
The Florida House and Senate are about $145 million apart on Florida Forever funding, an environmental program that has been used to purchase large tracts of Florida Keys land.
County and Keys city officials also are seeking state money to purchase vacant lots in residential areas to retire development rights that could otherwise lead to lawsuits under Florida Keys hurricane-evacuation mandates.
A request for $15 million in state money to build a new emergency operations center at Florida Keys Marathon International Airport could fall victim to budget shuffles.
The state Senate has agreed that Monroe County needs to keep funding to provide four county judges, but the Florida House has not yet changed its position that the Keys need only three county judges.
Even money for successful Keys programs, like the anchored-vessel sewage pumpout service now provided to boaters at no charge, could be trimmed in the budget. The pumpout money “is a very small budget item, but it’s very important to us,” Tennyson said.
“The bottom lines that we’re working with Rep. Raschein and Sen. Flores to protect everything we can,” she said.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206