Flanked by new legislative leaders and a new Legislature, Gov. Ron DeSantis ushered in a new era in state government Tuesday morning as he presented his first State of the State address to a joint session of lawmakers to mark the opening of the 2019 legislative session.
“Mindful of the economic opportunities that lie before us, understanding the environmental challenges that require our attention, and conscious of our obligations to education and public safety, I consider myself blessed to stand before you, at this particular moment in our history, as Florida’s 46th governor,” DeSantis told lawmakers.
But it was righting a wrong in his first week as governor that DeSantis immediately focused on in his speech. He referred to the the civil rights case from the 1940’s involving four black men who are known as the Groveland Four. The men were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in Lake County.
“Two years ago, the Florida Legislature unanimously passed a resolution acknowledging and apologizing for the “gross injustices” perpetrated, in the middle of the last century, against four African-American men — Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shephard, and Ernest Thomas – known as the Groveland Four,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet granted the pardons in their first week in office.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” DeSantis added.
DeSantis had already laid out a partial agenda for the upcoming session. He set a deadline of March 15 for lawmakers to pass legislation lifting the state ban on smoking medical marijuana. He’s proposed additional funding to address the state’s water quality issues and to expand school voucher programs. He’s proposed a $91 billion state budget that would be the state’s largest if approved by lawmakers.
He told lawmakers, “This is just the beginning.”
He encouraged legislators to be bold in order for lawmakers to achieve a big agenda in in this session, especially when it comes to water quality issues.
“Given the persistent water problems we have seen over the past several years, now is the time to be bold,” DeSantis said.
“We cannot leave for tomorrow that which we can do today.”
There are other high profile issues that lawmakers will address over the next 60 days. They will revisit the topic of school safety a year after the Parkland school shootings, including the expansion of the state’s “guardian program” that could include training teachers to carry concealed weapons as a deterrent to future mass shootings.
A bill that would ban “sanctuary cities” in Florida is working its way through the committee process, including in the Senate where similar bans have died in recent years.
There’s talk of legalizing sports betting, imposing new limits on abortion and allowing people with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms on college campuses.
DeSantis’ said he didn’t touch on all of the issues important to him, adding he didn’t want to bore people with a long speech.
The State of the State comes a day after the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida released a new poll showing that voters approve of DeSantis’ job performance since taking office in early January. The poll shows 60 percent of registered voters approve of the job DeSantis has performed thus far.
Florida Senate President Bill Galvano acknowledges DeSantis’ popularity among voters and state legislators.
“What helps his influence with the Legislature is the respect he has for the process and I think that comes from having served in a legislative body, himself, albeit a very ineffective one,” Galvano said. “But he knows we have to work together and he’s working hard to at least let us know where the executive branch stands.”
But Galvano has been adamant that “the Senate is going to operate within the Senate and we’re going to address the issues as we see fit. I’m not going to have a Senate that is a rubber stamp for the governor.”
Although there is much optimism heading into the new legislative session, there is also cause for concern.
“But great clouds have formed above us,” warned House Speaker José Oliva in his opening day remarks to House members. “An eminent financial and human threat. I speak of course of our healthcare system. Nothing is a great financial threat to the public and private coffers alike as is healthcare. Today, we spend almost more on healthcare than we do on all other things combined. Still, hundreds of thousands go without.”
DeSantis echoed Oliva’s concerns.
“We need to enact policies to make health insurance, prescription drugs and medical care more affordable for Floridians,” DeSantis added.
In closing his first State of the State address, DeSantis proclaimed: “I think we here in this Chamber are the right leaders at the right time.
“Let’s fight the good fight, lets finish the race, lets 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.”