Following a year of such great turmoil, loss and uncertainty, the tone of today’s opening of the 2021 Legislative Session was much more kumbayah than fire and brimstone.
The new House Speaker Chris Sprowls downplayed the stereotype of Session as being a boxing match with legislative pugilists slugging it out. Rather he compared it to a state fair, where the experience is much more individualized based on the approach of the participants.
Governor Ron DeSantis’ State of the State Address, given in the Florida House Chamber as part of the Joint Session, struck the tone of it being “us against the world.”
By contrasting the pandemic response of Florida to the rest of the country, DeSantis painted Florida as a “beacon of light to those who yearn for freedom.”
“I see, in many parts of our country, a sad state of affairs: schools closed, businesses shuttered and lives destroyed.This calamitous reality is just the beginning of what will likely be long-term damage to children, families and society,” he told those in the House chamber and the others watching remotely. “Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.”
“While so many other states kept locking people down, Florida lifted people up,” he continued.
He went on to point out that, in stark contrast to many places across the country, Florida’s schools are open and jobs numbers are improving. Businesses are forming or moving to Florida from elsewhere,
DeSantis vowed, “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.”
But despite his defiance, he was sympathetic to and saddened by those who lost so much during the pandemic.
He said, “We are saddened by the thousands of Floridians – and hundreds of thousands of Americans – who have died with COVID. And we sympathize with the family members who in many instances were not even permitted to see their loved ones in person, at a nursing home or in the hospital.”
To honor them, he announced the flags would be lowered to half staff tomorrow across the state.
DeSantis touted the success of his “Seniors First” initiatives which shielded those in nursing homes and long-term facilities from the virus and put seniors at the front of the line for vaccination against COVID-19. He thanked the healthcare workers.
“Our efforts saved lives,” he said. “In fact, 40 states have suffered higher COVID 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 January 30th, the number of seniors hospitalized for COVID has declined by 80 percent and cases among seniors have declined by 71 percent.”
He also spoke about education and the State’s efforts to keep schools open and said he would not support funding cuts to K-12 programs.
He mentioned jobs, saying, “Over the past many months, Florida has led the way in protecting the jobs and livelihoods of its hard-working citizens – from construction workers to bartenders, from servers to hair stylists, everyone has a right to earn a living. Florida’s efforts have made a lasting impact on the lives of millions of people.”
He said that because of those policies, “there are not a whole lot of Floridians who are itching to move from Florida to lockdown states, but there are thousands and thousands of people who are seeking to leave the lockdowns behind for the greener pastures in Florida. We have long been known as the Sunshine State – but, given the unprecedented lockdowns we have witnessed in other states, I think the Florida sun now serves as a beacon of light to those who yearn for freedom.”
DeSantis also covered the State’s proposed legislation against Big Tech’s censorship and vowed to stand by law enforcement with proposed legislation he called “the strongest anti-rioting, pro-law enforcement reforms in the nation.”
DeSantis also applauded the State’s successful administration of the 2020 national election and said proposed reforms are an effort to “stay ahead of the curve on election administration.”
In his conclusion DeSantis quoted Benjamin Franklin. DeSantis said, “Franklin, was asked to be the first to sign the new constitution. Franklin pointed to General Washington’s chair, the back of which had the design of a sun low on the horizon. ‘There were days,’ Franklin remarked, ‘when I thought this picture of a sun low on the horizon was a setting sun, but I now know it’s a rising sun – a new day for America, a new dawn for freedom.’
“Our nation and our state have endured a tumultuous year. Floridians have responded in ways that would make our founders proud. Because of those efforts, the sun is rising here in Florida – and the Sunshine State will soon reach new horizons,” DeSantis said.
Senate President Wilton Simpson took a decidedly less highbrow approach to his closing comments. Instead of a founding father, Simpson, in a nod to National Dr. Seuss Day, quoted the once beloved, now somewhat controversial children’s book author, “You’re off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way!”