By John Morton
Save Siesta Key’s quest to have local residents vote on whether or not the island should become its own municipality if off to a good start in Tallahassee.
Known as House Bill 923, it cleared its first hurdle in the Florida Legislature on March 29 when the Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee unanimously moved it ahead with a 17-0 vote.
It’s a committee that Save Siesta Key board members have been told is one that brings great scrutiny, thus representing an encouraging start toward potential approval from the House and Senate.
“While we still have several steps to go before this becomes law, we are cautiously optimistic that the legislature will grant what all citizens deserve – the opportunity to vote,” Tim Hensey, chairman of Save Siesta Key, said.
As of April 24, the bill was being examined by the Ways & Means Committee, with the State Affairs Committee to follow. Success at those two stops will result in a vote by both the House and Senate prior to the session ending May 5.
Support there, followed by approval by the governor, would bring the bill back to Siesta Key for a local referendum vote slated for November of 2024 during the general election. If 50%-plus-one votes yes, Siesta Key becomes incorporated on what would likely be Dec. 31 of 2024, with election of a town council to follow in March of 2025.
Currently, Save Siesta Key is governed by Sarasota County.
In January, the Sarasota County Legislative Delegation voted 4-1 in support of the bill going to the state capitol for consideration – a year after shooting it down on its first try.
State Rep. Fiona McFarland is part of that delegation and is serving as the bill’s sponsor. When addressing the Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts Subcommittee members prior to their vote, she said “I’ll remind everyone that this country was founded on the belief of the right of self-governance.”
She emphasized the goal of the incorporation group was “just to have the question put before them on the ballot” on behalf of the island’s residents.
McFarland also told the committee that a local straw poll resulted in an 87% approval by respondents, with 42% percent of registered voters returning their ballots – exceeding the 36% turnout of the most recent Sarasota County primary.
With about 7,000 registered voters, she noted that Siesta Key was the state’s largest unincorporated barrier island.