Each year the Legislature convenes, the governor, Senate president and House speaker deliver opening speeches to all 160 lawmakers, giving them and Floridians a glimpse of what their priorities will be.
What follows are some excerpts from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ State of the State address, along with summaries and conclusions we reached from examining their texts.
Here’s what we can expect from the Legislature over the next 60 days. — Editor
Gov. Ron DeSantis
For those of us who have cheered on DeSantis’ bold leadership to resist and reject the fear-mongering and lockdowns that have destroyed so many people’s lives and livelihoods during the pandemic, the kicker to DeSantis’ opening remarks should make you let out a major “Oo-rah!” —Ed.
“While so many other states kept locking people down, Florida lifted people up.
“Florida’s schools are open, and we are one of only a handful of states in which every parent has a right to send a child to school in person.
“All Floridians have a right to earn a living — and our citizens are employed at higher rates than those in the nation as a whole.
“Every job is essential.
“If you are working hard to earn a living, we got your back in the state of Florida.
“Every business in Florida has a right to operate. We have stood up for small, family-owned businesses and have saved thousands of them from ruin.
“Because of our actions, Florida is leading the nation in the number of people submitting business formation applications, and we are one of the top destinations for business relocation.
“Friends, legislators, Floridians, lend me your ears: We will not let anybody close your schools, we will not let anybody take your jobs, and we will not let anybody close your businesses!”
Recap on COVID-19
The first half of DeSantis’ speech essentially was the governor’s report to Floridians on how well the state has done during the pandemic. He thanked the state’s first responders and then focused on how well the state has done vis-a-vis other states with the elderly, schools and the economy.
“From the outset, Florida has been steadfast in focusing efforts on the protection of the elderly. We rejected the policy of sending contagious COVID-19 patients back into nursing homes; indeed, we prohibited the practice. …
“And perhaps most importantly, we are prioritizing our senior citizens for vaccinations. Florida is putting seniors first because it is the best strategy to save lives and is the best way to honor our elders from whom we draw inspiration. …
“Our efforts saved lives. In fact, 40 states have suffered higher COVID-19 mortality for seniors aged 65+ on a per capita basis than Florida.
“And the cases and hospitalizations for seniors in Florida have plummeted as vaccinations have increased. Since Jan. 30, the number of seniors hospitalized for COVID-19 has declined by 80%, and cases among seniors have declined by 71%. …
“Seniors first works.”
Kids in School
“Florida has led the way in providing all parents the right to send their kids to school for in-person instruction. Florida is one of only four states — and the only large state — to offer in-person instruction to 100% of its students. …
“The failure of so many places outside of Florida to open schools at the beginning of the school year will go down as one of the biggest policy blunders of our time.
“Florida did not make that mistake. We followed the data and stood by our parents and students. We ignored the political posturing and fear-mongering and did what was right for Floridians.
“Florida has succeeded where so many other states have failed in providing opportunities for its students in large measure because of the tireless efforts of school superintendents, administrators, teachers and coaches. They knew keeping kids out of school would be a disaster and were not going to let that happen on their watch.
“On behalf of a grateful state and millions of grateful parents, thank you.”
“I am pleased to report that our current fiscal outlook is much better than the bleak forecasts from last spring. …
“When the pandemic hit, I vetoed $1 billion from this year’s budget. I also instructed our executive agencies not to spend all of the appropriated funds because we did not know for sure how much revenue we would be taking in.
“Because Florida’s economy is open, revenue is coming in at levels far higher than even the most recent revised estimates. …
“Throughout the pandemic, Florida has not touched one red cent from our rainy day fund.
“The bottom line is that we saved Florida’s economy, and as a result our budget outlook is positive.
“The priorities we’ve championed — from water resources to education to infrastructure — can be honored.
“Let us get it done.”
The governor told lawmakers he wants to continue working on his post-election promises with education and the environment. But he also has prioritized issues that you could call carry-overs that roiled conservatives during the Trump years — Big Tech and faulty election systems.
Education: “I reject reductions in funding for K-12 education. Last session, the Legislature answered my call to increase the average minimum salary for teachers, taking Florida from the bottom half of states to the top five. Let us keep this momentum going. Let us do more this year.”
Environment: “I ask that you continue to fund the key projects — from the EAA reservoir in the south to the projects in the northern Everglades — that … reaffirm our commitment to Everglades restoration and access to safe, clean water for our communities.
“I am also proposing the creation of the Resilient Florida program under the Department of Environmental Protection. Through this initiative, Florida will invest $1 billion into projects that help our communities adapt to the threats posed by flooding from intensified storms and sea level rise.”
Law and order: “Working with President Simpson, Speaker Sprowls and law enforcement groups across the state, we have proposed the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement reforms in the nation.
“We will not permit localities to jeopardize the safety of their citizens by indulging in the insane fantasy of defunding law enforcement. …
“And we will not leave any doubt in the minds of those who wear the uniform that the state of Florida stands with you.
“To paraphrase an old Merle Haggard song, ‘When you mess with the men and women of law enforcement, you are walking on the fightin’ side of me.’”
Other top issues:
- Big Tech — Proposing to give Floridians some recourse if they’re “de-platformed” by the social media companies; and not allow Big Tech to favor via algorithms one political candidate over another.
- Elections — Outlaw ballot harvesting and “We also cannot allow private groups to pour millions of dollars into the administration of our elections. That is a public function and should be done free from this type of private interference.”
- Protection for businesses and health care workers against COVID-19 liability lawsuits.
- Reforms to reduce runaway insurance lawsuits.
- Restrict the emergency powers of local government.
- Support for infrastructure.
Senate President Wilton Simpson
Judging from the number of words and amount of time on particular issues, you could say Senate President Wilton Simpson’s priorities are in the following order. — Ed.
State employee pension reform — Figuring out how to reduce the state’s $36 billion in unfunded liabilities. “I believe it is the single largest threat to Florida’s balance sheet.”
Everglades restoration — “Let us put aside politics and embrace a comprehensive plan for total restoration.”
Child welfare reform — “[We need to] create some consistency for children in out-of-home care, so that we can finally stop the revolving door that shuffles kids around from one placement to another.”
School choice — “It’s about time we streamlined eligibility and funding, so that parents have a clear idea of their options. The fact is, school choice has always existed for wealthy families. I believe this option should be available to every family.”
Raise the minimum wage for state employees.
Speaker Chris Sprowls
When you read Speaker Chris Sprowls thanking House members, you can figure out what issues top his agenda. —Ed.
“Thank you for insisting that every child can learn to read and for believing that every child should understand how lucky they are to be an American.
“Thank you for recognizing that our communities must be protected both from flooding caused by the rising seas and from intolerance created by the rising woke agenda.
“Thank you for being willing to blow up a workforce system that has forgotten how to get people to work and for taking on a higher education establishment that seems more worried about social justice than about social mobility.
“Thank you for looking for solutions to the failures in black maternal health care and for finding ways to right the wrongs in foster care.
“Thank you for tackling the intractable problems of government accountability and ethics and for promoting laws that encourage a culture of entrepreneurship and economic freedom.”