Gov. Rick Scott couldn’t be happier the morning following the end of the 2018 legislative session.
“I want to thank the House and the Senate for an incredible session,” Scott told reporters after the Legislature adjourned Sunday afternoon. “This is my last regular legislative session and I couldn’t be more proud of this session than all eight sessions I’ve been a part of.”
Now, with nine months remaining in his second and final term as governor, Scott, who is term-limited, is faced with the decision of whether to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Bill Nelson.
Scott has said he would wait until after the session to make a decision, but it’s widely believed he will enter the race and his actions in recent months would indicate that he plans to run.
“I’ve tried to do this job. Typical politicians think about their next job. I’m focused on this job,” Scott said. “I’m glad we had a very successful session. I’ll think about my future in the next few weeks.”
When it came to Scott’s legislative priorities, lawmakers gave the governor pretty much what he wanted. They placed a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that–if approved by voters–will make it harder for future Legislatures to raise taxes and fees. They allocated more more than $50 million to the fight the opioid epidemic in Florida. They required assisted living facilities and nursing homes to have generators installed to provide power to air conditioning units during power outages. They provided more than $500 million in tax cuts. And, they approved pay raises for state law enforcement officers and juvenile detention and juvenile probation officers.
Scott was asked whether his political aspirations might have influenced the Republican-controlled Legislature, making it easier for him to achieve his priorities.
“I’ll leave all of that to the pundits,” Scott replied. “What I’ve tried to do in this eight years, is think every year what can I get done for the citizens of the state. We all love our families. I have five grandsons in the state. They’re going to grow up in this state. I want it to be a great state for them. I want it to be a great state for every family.”
Scott says the legislation he is most proud of helping to pass this year is the school safety package he signed into law Friday. Following the bill signing, Scott said the short time frame that lawmakers had to pass the legislation and enact it–just over three weeks from the time of the school shooting in Parkland until he signed the bill into law–should serve as an example to other governments.
“Today should serve as an example to the entire country that government can and must move fast,” said Scott.
But, the law the governor is most proud of is now being challenged in federal court by the National Rifle Association, the gun rights organization that Scott is a member. It has put Scott in the unusual position of being at odds with the NRA, when for more than two decades the Republican-controlled government in Tallahassee has worked closely with the organization.
The NRA claims the portion of the law that raises the minimum age to buy a gun in Florida from 18 to 21 violates the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. Scott insists the law balances individual rights with public safety.
“Our job is to take care of our citizens,” Scott said Sunday. “I am going to fight for this bill. I believe it does the right thing. I believe we have to recognize we want to protect everybody’s rights, but we also want to protect our kids and our grandkids.”
The school safety bill, called the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, also imposes a three-day waiting period on all gun purchases. It also bans the sale of “bump stocks,” devices that allow a semi-automatic weapon to be converted to an automatic firearm. The NRA opposed all of the gun control provisions in the act.
What, if anything, Scott’s support of the school safety law will mean to his future political ambitions, assuming he does enter the U.S. Senate race, remains to be seen. The NRA carries a great deal of political clout and its members have long memories when it comes to politicians. But, in a race between Scott and Nelson, how much clout would the NRA use against Scott.