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Sundial

State Rep. Kristin Jacobs Focuses On Flooding, Water Issues In Reelection Bid

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Florida House of Representatives
Kristin Jacobs, a Democrat, is running for reelection in Florida House District 96.

State Rep. Kristin Jacobs says Florida must do more to address sea-level rise and other water-related issues as the state faces increasing threats from climate change.

Jacobs, a Democrat, is running for reelection after representing parts of Northwest Broward County in District 96 since 2014.

She has made school safety a top priority after the Parkland school shooting in February. As the ranking member of an environmental subcommittee, she also wants to combat flooding and saltwater intrusion. 

The former Broward County mayor has introduced several bills and initiatives to respond to climate change, including a regional climate pact in Southeast Florida. 

She told Sundial that pragmatism and bipartisanship among state lawmakers will be crucial to addressing more threats from sea-level rise, warming oceans and increasingly severe hurricanes. 

What are the urgent issues facing your district?

Sea level rise right now is a huge issue. It's something I've worked on for almost all of my career and it's a real challenge. Everything from our potable water to our infrastructure is at risk. And for those governments that start addressing the issue, they are going to have that advantage over those that have not. A lot of that work needs to happen on the state side. It's not. I jokingly say that the real grownups in the room are cities and counties that are tackling this issue and looking long enough into the future to set their dollars and their budgets aside to address it. 

So what we've seen over the last few years is that there is a lot of pushback at the state level on the idea of climate change. There were stories that the governor doesn't even want to say the words. Granted, he has now started saying the words in his campaign for U.S. Senate. How do they see this issue any differently than what we're going through and what we think down here?

It's interesting that the state is more removed from it than the cities and the counties are. Probably that has a lot to do with the fact that legislators come from all over the state. They come from various backgrounds where they may not have the expertise. The truth is [the Legislature] has passed four bills that were related to climate change. One of them was my bill. 

House Bill 53 set up a conservation zone that went from the Dry Tortugas to St. Lucie Inlet across four counties. So the bill basically takes a look at our coral reef system, which is in decline. 

You were formerly the Democratic ranking member of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee. The algae blooms have already devastated the state on both coasts and it's consistently a problem year to year. What's been wrong?  

Septic tanks. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection on the Indian River Lagoon has estimated there's about 400,000 septic tanks, 50 percent of which are over 30 years old. They're basically flushing toilets straight into the water bodies. The stormwater is running off straight untreated into the water bodies. We don't want to look at our pockets—the cost to go from septic to sewer. 

What we need to do is finish the projects in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which has been in place for well over 20 years, and most of that plan has never been implemented. The Tamiami Trail has one mile of it constructed that is to raise it up so the water can flow. But there's a total of 10 miles that are still sitting there and unfunded. There are lots of other projects in the southern part of the CERP plan that are also not funded.

Let's move to the issue of school safety, gun laws. Your district encompasses Parkland, the site of the deadly shooting back in February. What were your conversations with parents and teachers like after that tragedy?

It was such an emotional time that left its mark on so many people. The Legislature was not exempt from that, and so we did pass the [Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act.] It's the first gun control bill that's been passed in this state in 20 years. It was a bipartisan effort. There were a whole bunch of us that knew you could not come home with nothing. The 17 families who lost their children all were unified and asking for that bill to pass. I do think it was kind of a once in a lifetime bill that passed. The circumstances were just right. The activism from the families. Oh my goodness, the kids were a huge factor in moving it forward. It's made changes. But we we need a lot more time to understand exactly how all these dollars are going to be spent.

There is talk of a Democratic wave this upcoming election. But what if the House and Senate remain in Republican control with a Republican governor? How do you get things done and reach across the aisle when one party controls government? 

I've managed to get things done because I work across the aisle. If you stand at a podium and throw political bombs and then go to the chair of a committee and ask him or her to hear your bill, it's probably not going to work out too well for you. You can go yell and stomp your foot all you want. But unless you've figured out how to work with one another, you're just simply not going to move anything forward. And honestly to go to Tallahassee and be away from my family and my community as much as I have and not be able to accomplish anything but be a partisan hack, I find that very unacceptable. I think we must figure out how to get along, how to govern. It's what people want from us.