Raschein makes push for Keys environment money as session looms

The video can be seen on YouTube.
The video can be seen on YouTube.

A push to secure $25 million annually in state environmental funding for the Florida Keys comes with its own two-minute video.

"I want to show that to every committee" in the Florida Legislature that will review the Florida Keys Stewardship Act bills, said primary sponsor state Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo).

"That's all you have to see to know what it's about," Raschein said Friday.

The state's two-month legislative session opens Jan. 2, an early start for 2016.

As proposed, the measure would seek $20 million annually for water-protection and $5 million to purchase sensitive lands and residential lots that may not be able to get building permits.

The video, produced as part of an informational campaign funded by Monroe County, local municipalities and independent agencies, cites the economic importance of the Keys environment to the entire state. Tourism, military bases and commercial and recreational fishing generate more than $200 million annually for the state.

Watch the video here.

"Let's stand together in support of our Florida Keys, where the environment is precious and the economic benefits are endless," the narration concludes.

The campaign for legislative support also includes printed materials and background on the effect of state mandates in the Keys.

"I've been spending a lot of time with my colleagues to educate them on what it means to be an Area of Critical State Concern," Raschein said.

"That's something the state did back in the 1970s, and not everybody realizes the big effect it has on us as a community," she said.

The Critical Concern designation, imposed to head off what state lawmakers perceived as unchecked development that threatened a fragile ecosystem, limits the number of building permits throughout Monroe County and mandates costly water-protection measures.

The $25 million allocation would run for at least 10 years, if passed.

"So far, I've got nothing but positive feedback," Raschein said.

The Florida Keys Stewardship Act is scheduled to reach key committees during the first week of the legislative session and has already passed some early committee review.

"That's a good indication that things are moving forward," Raschein said.

State Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-New Port Richey) has filed a companion bill in the Florida Senate.

If passed, the bill would help protect "water quality, restoration and protection; water supply protection, and land for critical habitat protection, public safety in case of an evacuation, property rights and military base protection," says the video.

Raschein said her other priorities for the 2016 session include a bill to secure building rights for 300 dormitory and staff residences at the Florida Keys Community College. No construction money is tied to the FKCC request, and the allocation would not affect other residential building limits.

"That doesn't mean there will be 300 more rooms," she said. "The college is only authorized for 100. But that means if there is the need, we won't have to keep coming back to the legislature for approval."

Florida Keys Day, an annual event held at the Florida Capitol during the legislative session to promote Keys priorities, is scheduled for Feb. 17.