With a month left to go in legislative session, Siesta Key incorporation bill remains in one of two House committees that must approve it

One subcommittee has given it a favorable report

Florida House Bill 923, which calls for the incorporation of the Town of Siesta Key, remained in the House Ways & Means Committee on April 6 after being referred there on March 31, The Sarasota News Leader learned after a review of the bill’s status.

Filed on Feb. 17 by Rep. Fiona McFarland, R-Sarasota, the bill has undergone one minor change. Line 486, in which a word inadvertently had been omitted, was modified to make it clear that the qualifying period for the initial election of the town commission would begin at noon on the second Monday in January and end at noon on the second Friday in January, “unless otherwise provided by law.”

As the News Leader has reported, if the bill wins approval in both the Florida House and the Senate, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it into law, a referendum would be conducted on Nov. 4, 2024, for registered voters in the unincorporated area of Siesta Key to decide whether to create the new municipality.

Then, if the referendum is successful, the election for the first five members of the town commission would be held on March 11, 2025.

On Feb. 28, the bill’s House history shows, it was referred to one subcommittee — Local Administration, Federal Affairs & Special Districts — plus the House Ways & Means and State Affairs committees.

On March 29, the legislative record says that that the bill found favor with the subcommittee; then, the bill was reported out of that subcommittee. No vote was taken, however, the bill history shows.

On March 7, the opening day of the 2023 session of the Legislature, the bill had its first reading in the House. The modified version underwent its first reading in the House on March 30, the bill history notes. Then, once again, the bill was referred to the State Affairs Committee and the Ways & Means Committee.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on May 5. Thus, one month remains for the bill to win final approval.

During a December 2022 forum that the nonprofit organization Save Siesta Key hosted, Rep. McFarland cautioned that it would not be easy to gain adequate support for the bill from her Florida House colleagues.

“I have to look at 119 of my fellow legislators,” she said, and convince them to allow a new municipality to be created.

State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, concurred with her. “This is a long road. … With supermajority Republican control — House and Senate,” he continued, “there is little appetite to expand government.”

Save Siesta Key was established in 2021 to work for incorporation of the portion of the Key within Sarasota County Government jurisdiction. The northernmost area of the island is within the city of Sarasota.

In early 2022, the six Sarasota County Legislative Delegation members split 3-3 on Save Siesta Key’s request to file the local incorporation bill in the 2022 legislative session.

Then, this January — with the number of Delegation members down to four, including new member Rep. Mike Grant, R-Port Charlotte — the vote was 3-1 in favor of filing a revised bill.

Rep. James Buchanan, R-Osprey, cast the “No” vote, explaining that he still was concerned about the proximity of the planned Town of Siesta Key to the City of Sarasota.

State law calls for a minimum separation of 2 miles between municipalities, as former Delegation members Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Will Robinson Jr., R-Bradenton, pointed out last year. The Town of Siesta Key would be closer than that to the city, a fact to which Buchanan alluded on Jan. 12.

Even though the legislators could waive the state law, Buchanan said he feared that allowing the Town of Siesta Key to be so close to the City of Sarasota would set a bad precedent for the state.