Florida Keys state Rep. Holly Raschein plans to make acquiring $50 million in state funds for Keys wastewater projects her top priority when the legislative session starts in two weeks.
Last month, Gov. Rick Scott released his proposed state budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year, which included the $50 million for sewer projects in the Keys. Marathon and Key Largo would receive roughly $17 million each. The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and the county would split $5 million. Islamorada would receive $7 million. Key West would receive about $3 million, and Key Colony Beach would receive $1 million
"It's all about wastewater this year," said Raschein, R-Key Largo.
In 2007, the Legislature appropriated $200 million in wastewater and stormwater funding to the Keys, but the Keys did not receive the first $50 million until two years ago. In that first year, most of the $50 million earmarked for the Keys went to Monroe County and Islamorada for new sewer projects.
Last year, Scott told Keys officials that he would not include $50 million for wastewater because the bulk of the funds was going to Key Largo and Marathon to pay down existing debt.
Last week, Raschein, 33, and local county and city leaders met with Scott and other state leaders to make their pitch for the $50 million. It was the first of several visits local leaders plan to make to Tallahassee this session to lobby for wastewater funding, according to Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi.
The biggest push will be March 25, during the fifth annual Florida Keys Day in Tallahassee. Last year, 75 Keys elected leaders and business owners made the trek to the state capital to lobby state leaders about pressing issues in the Keys.
Raschein's second priority is making sure windstorm and flood insurance rates remain affordable. She is drafting legislation to correct a bill passed last session that prohibits windstorm insurance coverage through the state's insurer of last resort, Citizens Insurance Corp., in areas classified as Coastal Barrier Resource Systems (CBRS).
She has met with Citizens Insurance executives to discuss the issue.
Under S.B. 1770, homes already covered by Citizens and not subject to substantial renovations will not be affected by the law that goes into effect in July. However, Citizens will not cover new homes or homes that would need substantial renovations if the permits are issued after July.
County officials have estimated S.B. 1770 could impact 2,000 properties in the Keys as there 24 CBRS areas spread from Key Largo to Key West.
Federally subsidized flood insurance in CBRS zones is prohibited through the National Flood Insurance Program as a way to discourage development in those low-lying areas that are prone to flooding.
So Raschein also plans to file a resolution asking her fellow legislators to support efforts to keep federally subsidized flood insurance affordable.
As a result of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, Florida property owners have already begun to experience significant rate increases in their coverage through the National Flood Insurance Program. Currently, there are bills in both the federal Senate and House of Representative, calling for delays in the rate increases.
"I would say wastewater funding and insurance are the two biggest issues for us this session," County Commissioner George Neugent said.
Last session was somewhat frustrating for the new legislator, as Raschein found herself on the losing end of two important pieces of legislation, including not being able to lobby the governor for the $50 million in wastewater funding.
However, she was instrumental in lobbying her colleagues to pass a military housing bill that would keep property tax-exempt status on military properties run by private companies, such as the ones in Key West, but only if they house active-duty military. But the governor vetoed the bill because it was only for active duty military, not civilian military employees.
She was able to secure $2 million in wastewater funds for Key Largo and Marathon, and $825,000 in reoccurring funding for Lower Keys Medical Center.
In preparation for the upcoming legislative session, Raschein is conducting a survey to gather feedback from her constituents. The survey is available online at www.surveymonkey.com/s/rascheinsurvey.
Constituents can also call her office at 453-1202 and request that a copy be mailed to them.
"I greatly value input from the people I represen,t and look forward to reviewing the results," Raschein said.