Florida’s political leaders called for cooperation and outlined goals for education, health care, transportation and other priorities as the state Legislature convened Tuesday in Tallahassee with new presiding officers, a new governor and only one requirement: pass a balanced state budget to fund the government.
Republican Senate President Bill Galvano stressed in a brief speech that lawmakers should work together and value quality of legislation over quantity.
“Let’s make every single day of this session meaningful, purposeful, and have it lead to accomplishment,” the Bradenton Republican told senators in a speech free of specific policy proposals but including references to Ernest Hemingway and Abraham Lincoln.
“When an idea is not right, when a bill is not ready, let us have the courage to step back, regroup and rethink. Let us have the discipline to let go and walk away,” Galvano added.
In the House, GOP Speaker Jose Oliva listed several major goals: changes to the funding of higher education, more school choice in K-12 education, continued aid for Hurricane Michael recovery and several steps to improve competition and bring down costs in Florida’s health care system.
“(This is) a new session and a new opportunity for us to be who we said we would be,” said Oliva, who is from Miami Lakes.
New Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis also delivered his first State of the State address in the House chamber, repeatedly urging lawmakers to “be bold” on issues ranging from environmental priorities to reforms in education.
“While perfection is not attainable, if we aim high, we can achieve greatness,” the governor said. “Now is the time to be bold.”
Lawmakers have already been meeting in committees for weeks on issues ranging from repealing the ban on smokeable medical marijuana to enhanced environmental protections to broadened vouchers for students to attend private at taxpayer expense. Other high-profile issues for the annual 60-day session include Galvano’s plan to boost rural roads and infrastructure, improving environmental protections to curb events such as coastal algae blooms and reducing regulations on business.
Only a handful of the several thousand bills filed will actually pass. The must-pass budget begins with a $91.3 billion blueprint proposed by DeSantis. Oliva and Galvano pledged to work with the governor on crafting a balanced budget as required by the Florida Constitution, but Oliva stressed that spending must not get out of hand.
“Together we will craft a budget that aligns our priorities, that rewards innovation and rejects excesses,” Oliva said.