In a state legislative session dominated by “Culture War” bills and the governor’s feud with Walt Disney World, Key Biscayne is hoping to get $2 million from the state budget for items like flood improvement, sand replacement and a new library.
State Rep. Vicki Lopez, who represents Key Biscayne, broke from Republican party ranks on many items. She said the bipartisan adoption of the $117 billion budget is proof of a job well done. Her Senate counterpart, Alexis Calatayud, was a reliable vote for most of the Governor’s agenda.
“It was a good year,” budget-wise, Lopez said. “The Democrats joined us. This is a good piece of evidence that the work can get done,” she said.
Most years, the last day of session drags on well past sunset as the final trading on important legislation goes back and forth. This year, DeSantis told lawmakers not to save the biggest items for the last week.
DeSantis, who has controlled the Legislature like no other governor in recent history, made it clear from the start that he didn’t want the session to become a “train wreck” in the final week.
“If you take just two or three of these items, that would usually be enough to say that you’ve had a banner session,” DeSantis said. “This Legislature said that we’re going to tackle all these issues and we’re going to take all the meat off the bone and we are going to deliver results.”
Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones said that DeSantis micromanaged the session and steered GOP leaders to a political agenda instead of focusing more on issues like property insurance, health care and gun violence.
“The thing that struck me the most this session is the concept of the free state of Florida. There was nothing free about this legislative session when you are infringing on the rights of women, when you continue to attack the marginalized people, whether they’re Black, immigrant or LGBTQ,” Jones said. “The governor led with a very firm, strong hand. He continues to show it’s ‘my way or no way at all.’”
Lopez will be the guest on the next episode of the Anti-Social podcast to discuss the session.
Key Biscayne Issues
Topping the Key Biscayne list were grants of $450,000 for immediate flooding improvements, $450,000 for sand replacement, and $100,000 to fund a special needs coordinator at the Key Biscayne Community Center, Lopez said.
The Village lost out on requests for sargassum removal, a public beach access path, and funding for an Army Corps of Engineers study required for federal funds.
Village Manager Steve Williamson said that by working with state agencies, additional funds for beach renourishment — another $500,000 — were added. In addition, he and Lopez said a grant to Miami-Dade County for Library projects will fully fund the rebuilding of Key Biscayne’s library, also worth about $500,000.
Still unknown? Whether DeSantis will exercise his line-item veto pen, as he has in the past, to strike individual projects, a move that has distressed some in his own party.
With the governor expected to run for president, Lopez said she didn’t expect DeSantis to make waves when he is actively courting endorsements against his rivals, such as former President Donald Trump and others.
The session, however, was notable for many bills aggressively pushed by DeSantis and Republican leadership — but there were some bills that were opposed by Key Biscayne leaders that nonetheless won bipartisan passage, especially on development matters.
Sen. Calatayud, for example, championed an affordable housing bill that Key Biscayne Mayor Joe Rasco personally tried to change, but the bill won overwhelming support.
Another bill — that would override a portion of Key Biscayne’s charter on zoning– also won support from both of the island’s Republican representatives as well as many Democrats.
But overall, Lopez was much more willing to break from party leaders on bills about abortion, immigration, public union rights, and gun control, than was Calatayud.
“I speak my mind,” Lopez said. “I am not here representing myself or a party. I’m representing a district.”
Calatayud, who in the past told the KBI she prefers to “speak to voters” instead of the news media, did not respond to multiple requests for comment before, during, and after the legislative session.
How They Voted – 2023 Legislative Session
|SB300||Bans abortion after 6 weeks||No||No|
|HB1069||“Don’t Say Gay” Expansion through 8th grade [Board of Education has already expanded to 12th grade]||Yes||Yes|
|HB1521||Transgender bathroom ban||Yes||Yes|
|SB450||Death penalty verdicts only require 8 of 12 jurors.||Yes||Yes|
|SB254||Bans gender-affirming care for transgender youth, allows state to take transgender minors from families if receiving gender-affirming care||Yes||Yes|
|SB1718||Criminalizes sheltering immigrants, toughens penalties on employment||Yes||No|
|SB718||Prohibits public vote requirement for zoning changes||Yes||Yes|
|HB837||Tort Lawsuit limitations||Yes||Yes|
|SB1604||Disney World Contract Cancellation||Yes||Yes|
|SB102||Affordable Housing, local zoning override, and ban on local rent control||Yes||Yes|
|SB256||Ends paycheck deduction of union dues for govt workers except police and fire, raises unionization threshold to supermajority||Yes||No|
|SB1616||Shields Governors travel records||Yes||Yes|
|SB7050||Creates new restrictions and fines on voter registration drives. Changes ‘Resign to Run’ law to let elected officials keep jobs while running for U.S. president.||Yes||Yes|
|SB264||Exclude foreign nationals from Cuba, Venezuela, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria from buying real estate within 10 miles of farmland or critical infrastructure such as Virginia Key sewage treatment plant||Yes||Yes|
|HB1543||Lower rifle purchase age to 18 from 21 (reversing part of post-Parkland reforms)||Died w/o vote||No|
|SB774||Increased financial disclosures for Mayor, Council, doubles ethics penalties||Yes||Yes|
|SB540||Challengers to comprehensive plans who fail can be ordered to opponent attorney’s fees (prevailing party fees)||Yes||Yes|
|HB991||Rewrite libel laws making lawsuits easier||Died in cmte||Died in cmte|
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.