Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gave an anti-tax, pro-environment State of the State address Tuesday, asking lawmakers to be bold as they tackle issues like education, school safety and health care.
It was as much a recap of his whirlwind first two months in office as it was a blueprint for his goals as lawmakers begin their annual 60-day session.
The governor ticked through a list of what he’s already done, including securing hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid to help Hurricane Michael recover; announcing an aggressive plan to address problems with red tide and algae; removing Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for his handling of the Parkland high school shootings that left 17 dead; appointing three Supreme Court justices; and giving posthumous pardons to four black men accused of raping a white woman more than 70 years.
“And this is just the beginning,” DeSantis told lawmakers gathered in the House chamber. “Be bold. Be bold in championing economic opportunity, be bold in protecting Florida’s environment, be bold in improving education, be bold in defending the safety of our communities. Be bold, because while perfection is not attainable, if we aim high, we can achieve excellence.”
DeSantis said he wants to keep building Florida’s economy by keeping taxes low and reducing the regulatory burden on businesses and professional licenses.
“We need reform of our occupational licensing regime, which borders on the absurd and primarily serves to frustrate opportunities for Floridians,” said DeSantis, a former Navy officer. “You can become a sniper in the U.S. Marine Corps by completing training for 79 days, which is roughly 632 hours, and yet in Florida becoming a licensed interior designer in requires 1,760 hours. You can earn jump wings by completing Army Jump School in three weeks, or about 168 hours; Florida law requires 1,200 hours to become licensed as a barber.”
And in comments later praised by Democrats, DeSantis also said Florida’s environment must be protected and he’s taking steps to address red tide and algae blooms that have plagued the state.
“Given the persistent water problems we have seen over the past several years, now is the time to be bold,” he said. “With your support for these initiatives, we will restore and preserve the beauty of Florida for generations to come.”
Democrats, however, weren’t as pleased with DeSantis’ push to expand Florida’s school voucher program, which sends students to private schools at taxpayer expense. DeSantis outlined other education goals, like moving away from Common Core standards, streamlining standardized testing and putting a new emphasis on civics education. DeSantis also wants a strong vocational education options to prepare students who don’t want a four-year college degree.
“He’s hitting the right topics. He’s staying on message, he’s focused on the environment, he’s focused on education,” said Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes. “He’s got energy and I think what you’re seeing is he’s got support of the Legislature on many of these items.”
For Democrats, the speech was a mixed bag.
“There were a couple of things I thought were great, and a couple of things that I though weren’t so great,” said Democratic Rep. Richard Stark. “I’m glad that the governor is taking notice on the environment. I’m glad that he wants to work on education. My problem with education is that I’m not happy about expanding charter schools and vouchers.”
Stark did say that DeSantis is already an improvement over predecessor Rick Scott, who’s now a Republican U.S. senator.
“Governor Scott was very difficult, even to get him to do environmental stuff,” Stark said. “We voted to on money to improve the Everglades — a lot of money — so that bad stuff wasn’t flowing out from Lake Okeechobee. The last governor didn’t do anything; he just sat on his hands. This man, right away, he decided to do something.”