The three Republicans who concluded their first legislative session in leadership — Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker Jose Oliva — stood on the fourth floor rotunda of the Florida Capitol just minutes after the Legislature passed a $91.1 billion budget for next fiscal year.
There were plenty of smiles and pats on the back as the three freshman leaders reflected over the previous 61 days and the accomplishments achieved this legislative session.
Those accomplishments include close to $687 million for water quality and Everglades restoration, $1.86 billion for recovery and relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, a $121 million tax relief package that includes sales tax holiday for back-to-school shopping and hurricane preparedness, and creation of a new scholarship program, the Family Empowerment Scholarship, designed to serve our low income families and reduce the Florida Tax Scholarship waitlist.
“We did all of this within the the context of a budget that at ($91.1) billion, and it’s going to be under $91 (billion) when I get through with the budget. Don’t worry about that,” DeSantis said jokingly about potential vetoes he’ll make to the spending plan.
“But, that budget .. we restored the Everglades, we did great for education, we did a bunch of other things and yet that budget is less than the budget of New York City,” DeSantis continued. “I think that Florida is fiscally stable. Were going to continue along that. We’re going to live within our means and still meet the needs of the people.”
Lawmakers also passed a prescription drug bill that asks the federal government to permit the importation of cheaper medications from Canada and elsewhere, allocated $45 million dollars to study three new major toll road projects, revised last year’s school safety bill increasing more resources and tools for mental health services.
“I can’t remember (during) my time in the Legislature where we have had a more productive, bold, bold session,” said Sen. Galvano, R-Bradenton.
“This is the most productive session in recent times and we have had a number of tremendous sessions over the past few years,” Rep. Oliva, R-Miami Lakes.
DeSantis was asked about the assessments of the session made by the two legislative leaders. He credited the leaders for the successes this session and added the nature of some of the issues tackled by lawmakers were important to a lot of Floridians — both Republicans and Democrats.
“I think if you look at this, there’s great wins for conservatives,” DeSantis observed. “But there’s also, with the environment stuff, that appeals to a lot of Democrats. We did a big increase in affordable housing, which is important to a lot of liberals. So, there’s really something in here, I think, for everybody, one way or another. So that’s a good thing. I think the more we can do that, the better off we are.”
DeSantis said despite all the positives that came from this session, there are bills that will be the target of his veto pen. He hinted that a series of vetoes could come in the next week.
However, one bill he says he will not veto is the implementing bill for Amendment 4. Voters approved the amendment in November that automatically restores the voting rights of former felons.
The implementing bill the Legislature sent to the governor requires offenders to pay all restitution owed to victims as well as court costs in order to be eligible to have their voting rights restored vote.
Critics argue that requiring former felons to meet their financial legal obligations places an unfair financial burden on a segment of the population that don’t have the financial means to do so.
“On Amendment 4, it is what it is,” DeSantis said. “And there are things about it I don’t like, but you know what, we’re going to implement it.”
DeSantis also expressed support for Visit Florida, which was scheduled to be terminated Oct. 1 under a House plan. The state’s tourism marketing agency won a reprieve when the governor intervened and lawmakers agreed to fund the agency for another year.
“I didn’t think letting it run aground now would have been the right thing for the state,” he said. “It going to have to be something we look at going forward.
“I think we should reauthorize it in some fashion, but it can be reformed,” DeSantis said.