Accompanied by her two young sons and an assistant, Florida Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez, made a whirlwind tour of the Middle Keys on June 15 to talk about Tallahassee. Normally, she would have been accompanied by State Representative Jim Mooney, but he was called in for a family emergency. Nonetheless, she used her time to tout the progress made in the state capital on behalf of voters in the Florida Keys.

“The legislative session has been better than expected,” Rodriguez told the crowd at the monthly Marathon Chamber of Commerce meeting. “We started the session with a deficit of $ 3 billion and because our open economy has performed so well under Governor Ron DeSantis, we were able to close with a balanced budget and a reserve of $ 9 billion.”

She pointed out several state grants to local entities: $ 500,000 for AHEC, $ 200,000 for the Guidance Center as well as money for Truman Little White House in Key West, Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys.

“But the jewel in the crown when it comes to funding,” Rodriguez said, “was the $ 20 million for the Florida Keys Stewardship Act. The state legislature enacted the Florida Keys Stewardship Act in 2016 and its funding varies. year over year – sometimes $ 4 million, sometimes $ 6 million. “Historically, I think this is the first year we get the full amount.” The money is used to fund programs that protect the unique and fragile resources of the Florida Keys, including its coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves. Communities in the Florida Keys also use the funding to implement water quality projects to protect these resources.

Rodriguez, a Republican, also highlighted the state’s tax-exempt holidays, legislation she is familiar with as chair of the state’s finance and tax committee. Disaster preparation leave has already passed, but two more are on the way: the annual back-to-school tax holiday from July 31 to August 9 and “Freedom Week” from July 1 to 7. Its goal is to encourage spending on recreational and cultural activities as pandemic restrictions disappear.

“Floridians can buy camping or boating gear without paying taxes, or even buy outdoor concert tickets,” Rodriguez said.

The senator also briefed the crowd of Middle Keys business owners and executives on the passage of legislation designed to protect the industry from lawsuits by customers and employees who may claim to have caught COVID-19. in business or on commercial property.

The Florida legislature also passed Senate Bill 50 which does two things: impose a state tax on distance sellers who collect more than $ 100,000 a year, a tax on “Internet sales” and lower the corporate rent tax from 5.5% to 2%, but only after the state’s unemployment fund balance is replenished to around $ 4 billion.

Rodriguez said lowering taxes is always a good thing and that it is only fair to level the playing field between business owners who operate on the Internet and those with brick and mortar establishments.

A former elected representative of the city of Doral, Rodriguez told the crowd she understood their frustration with recent threats to “autonomy” or the ability of local governments to adapt laws to their needs. She said she and her colleague Mooney fought to prevent the elimination of established swimming areas in neighborhoods like Port Antigua. As for the cruise ship bill, which nullified Key West’s ability to set criteria for what type of ships can enter the port, she said it did not prevail.

“I voted with our residents. Unfortunately, my colleagues voted to overrule Key West’s wishes. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, ”Rodriguez said.


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