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Why A Miami-Dade Senator Is Wearing Rain Boots To The Start Of The Legislative Session

Sen. José Javier Rodríguez is making a statement on sea level rise with waterproof footwear for the 2018 Florida legislative session.
Kate Stein
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

One of South Florida’s state senators is making a fashion statement as the state legislative session starts Tuesday.

Sen. José Javier Rodríguez (D-37) plans to wear rain boots to draw attention to sea-level rise and flooding in his district, which includes parts of Cutler Bay, Coral Gables and Key Biscayne.

"This is part of the job now, right? I mean, this is business attire for me in different parts of the district," he said. The black boots feature a message in white marker: #actonclimateFL . Rodriguez said he's already been wearing them to visit areas that flooded after rainstorms.

"They're not as clean as they used to be," said Rodríguez about the boots. 

Rodríguez, a Democrat who is campaigning in the race to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in the U.S. Congress, says he wants to make 2018 the year when Florida takes significant, unified action on sea-level  rise and climate change. In addition to sunny-day flooding, a  unified projection for Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties forecasts two feet of sea-level rise by 2060, and a number of studies, including the 2014 National Climate Assessment, have found that global warming likely increases hurricanes' intensity, duration and rainfall.

A detail of Senator José Javier Rodríguez's boots, featuring  the hashtag #actonclimateFL
Credit Kate Stein / WLRN News
The Florida Channel
A detail of Senator José Javier Rodríguez's boots, featuring the hashtag #actonclimateFL

Going into the legislative session, Rodríguez has proposed a bill that would require builders of state-financed construction projects to study the potential impacts of sea-level rise on their projects. The bill, SB 542, would compel the state Department of Environmental Protection to approve those studies before construction can begin. The DEP would also have to develop rules for reviewing sea-level projections, which don't currently exist -- unsurprisingly, since DEP officials were once banned from using the words "climate change" and Gov. Rick Scott and other top lawmakers, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, avoid talking about the issue.

Rodríguez said he thinks "the biggest resistance to dealing with sea-level rise is not ideological."

"Many of my colleagues are simply overwhelmed. There's a lot of science. It's a huge problem. There's a big price tag," he said. "This bill is aimed at saying, here are some of the concrete things we can do to start planning, to start having best practices and better coordination so we can tell the people of Florida we actually have a plan."

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Kate Stein can't quite explain what attracts her to South Florida. It's more than just the warm weather (although this Wisconsin native and Northwestern University graduate definitely appreciates the South Florida sunshine). It has a lot to do with being able to travel from the Everglades to Little Havana to Brickell without turning off 8th Street. It's also related to Stein's fantastic coworkers, whom she first got to know during a winter 2016 internship.Officially, Stein is WLRN's environment, data and transportation journalist. Privately, she uses her job as an excuse to rove around South Florida searching for stories à la Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Regardless, Stein speaks Spanish and is always thrilled to run, explore and read.