TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/AP) — Florida’s new Republican Governor Ron DeSantis made his first State of the State address Tuesday with a message calling for environmental protections, low taxes, big changes in education and safer schools.
In a 34-minute speech to lawmakers gathered in a joint session in the flower-filled House chamber, DeSantis touted the issues that he has discussed during appearances across the state since taking office Jan. 8. They included efforts to improve water quality, expand school choice and prevent so-called sanctuary cities.
Also included on that list is securing millions of dollars in federal aid to help Hurricane Michael recover, an aggressive plan to address problems with red tide and algae, the removal of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for his handling of the Parkland high school shootings that left 17 dead and appointing three Supreme Court justices.
He told lawmakers, “This is just the beginning,” and repeatedly used the word “bold” to describe his agenda and to urge lawmakers to take action.
“I’m proud to have taken swift and bold action to protect our natural resources and improve Florida’s water quality. We have a bold vision, and with legislative support for these initiatives, we will restore and preserve the beauty of Florida for generations to come,” DeSantis said.
Protecting Florida’s environment is a major goal.
“I’ve requested $2.5 billion over the next four years for water resources projects and Everglades restoration. This represents a $1 billion increase compared to the previous four years and will allow us to bring major projects to completion.”
“Education opportunity shouldn’t be limited by parental income or zip code. One way Florida has expanded opportunity has been through the Tax Credit Scholarship program for students from low-income families.”
“We also need to stand by students with special needs and their families. That means eliminating the waitlist of 1,900 students for Gardiner Scholarships.”
“We are a big, diverse state and one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to education. Let’s stand with low-income families and parents of students with special needs and empower them to choose the best learning environment for their kids.”
“We need to enact policies to make health insurance, prescription drugs and medical care more affordable for Floridians.”
“I want Floridians to be able to purchase prescription drugs from Canada at lower prices. There is an avenue under existing federal law to accomplish this; the President is supportive of this effort and has asked me to plow ahead.”
“I’m also open to any ideas that the Legislature must tackle this problem. One thing is clear: Floridians need relief from the rising costs of prescription drugs.”
MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTING
“I have gotten to know many of the families from Parkland and one thing that has stuck with me is something I’ve heard several of them say: that this was the most preventable school shooting in history.”
“When I took office, many of these families felt that there had not been any accountability for the string of failures that culminated in the massacre. I acted by successfully calling for a statewide grand jury investigation into school security failures in Broward County.”
“Regarding illegal immigration, Florida will not be a sanctuary state, we won’t allow someone here illegally to commit criminal misconduct and we won’t tolerate sanctuary cities that frustrate law enforcement by shielding criminal aliens at the expense of public safety.”
VENEZUELA & CUBA
“The tragedy in Venezuela is a result of a failed socialist experiment – a system that is hostile to human liberty and contrary to human nature. To the Venezuelan exile community here in Florida, we stand with you and with the people who are seeking freedom and a better future.”
“We also know that the despair in Venezuela wouldn’t be possible without the nefarious influence of the Cuban government. I would like to see the Castro dictatorship go the way of Maduro and to see a free and democratic Cuba take its place.”
DeSantis said lawmakers must be bold to accomplish a big agenda in the 60-day session that began Tuesday.
He ended his first State of the State address with “Let’s fight the good fight, let’s finish the race, let’s keep the faith so that when Floridians look back on the fruits of this session, they will see it as one of our finest hours.”
Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said in a televised response to the State of the State address that DeSantis should focus on providing high quality education in public schools.
“While the governor says his plan is about helping kids get a better education, especially disadvantaged kids, make no mistake about it, the plan is all about draining millions of your tax dollars to give to private schools, while dismembering public education in the state of Florida where the accountability and transparency parents seek and expect is already built into the public school system,” Gibson said. “None of these factors are guaranteed in publicly funded private schools because none of it is required.”
Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, said DeSantis also is not adequately addressing issues such as climate change and access to health care.
“When it comes to most water policy, the governor has taken concrete steps to move us forward,” Rodriguez said. “Everywhere else, he has either continued bad policy or signaled that he’d like to, on the most important issues in our state.”
But with Republicans holding a massive majority in the House and a solid majority in the Senate, Democrats have relatively little power to block DeSantis’ agenda — if he can nail down support from Republicans. At least in some areas, such as expanding school choice, he appears to have support in both chambers.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)