Gov. Ron DeSantis Tuesday touted his 2019 legislative successes as the foundation for a “‘season of opportunity” in 2020, kicking off Florida’s legislative session by calling on lawmakers to raise teacher’s salaries, fund his environmental initiatives, focus on job-generating economic development and invest in workforce education.
“In 2019, we took bold steps to expand educational opportunities, protect our environment and natural resources, reform health care, invest in infrastructure and bolster public safety – all while reducing taxes and adding to our budget reserves,” DeSantis said in his State of the State address to a joint session of the Florida Legislature in the House chamber.
“While we should look with favor on these bold beginnings,” he added, “we have much more to do.”
In convening his second legislative session, the first-term governor also offered the Republican-controlled Legislature some election-year red meat, throwing his support behind proposed bills requiring parental permission for minors seeking abortions, mandating E-Verify to validate workers’ immigration status, and trimming occupational license regulations while continuing to expand school choice programs.
“For everything there is a season, and this is Florida’s season of opportunity,” DeSantis said. “We have the chance to build on a strong foundation, the chance to face the challenges before us and the chance to leave a legacy of success that will benefit our people now and in the future.”
In October, DeSantis diagrammed his 2020 legislative priorities in a $91.4 billion budget request – a 0.4 percent increase over this year’s budget. The proposed budget, he said, reflects his commitment to fiscal restraint.
“We have the good fortune to be attracting investment and business activity and have good potential for further growth in aerospace, financial services, healthcare and manufacturing,” he said. “To realize this potential, Florida needs to tax lightly, spend wisely and regulate reasonably.”
The governor reiterated support for spending $600 million to raise the minimum salary for teachers to $47,500 and $300 million to revamp the "Best and Brightest" bonus program.
The raise would bring “Florida from the bottom half of states to number 2 in the nation,” DeSantis said. “This will make it easier to get talented college graduates to enter the profession and will help us retain many of the good teachers we have now.”
Certain to be a theme in the 60-day session, the proposed pay raise is not bold enough for state teachers’ unions and Democratic lawmakers, but too bold for some Republican fiscal conservatives.
DeSantis said he would soon submit a plan to remove "Common Core" from the state’s curriculum and wants civics emphasized.
“This means understanding the source of our rights, understanding the theory of the Declaration of Independence, understanding the structure of the Constitution as well as key amendments such as the Bill of Rights, the post-Civil War amendments and the 19th Amendment,” he said.
DeSantis vowed Florida would be “the nation’s leader in workforce education by 2030.”
“Vocational education is making a comeback in our high schools and students in districts such as Miami-Dade can graduate with industry certifications in fields like electrical and HVAC,” he said.
With better vocational education should come better – or fewer – occupational licensing regulations, DeSantis said.
“Our citizens shouldn’t need a permission slip from the government to earn a living,” he said.
The governor called on lawmakers to fund the second year of his four-year $2.5 billion environmental plan. His proposed budget again seeks $625 million for water quality projects and Everglades restoration.
“I believe that stewardship of our natural resources is key to our economic well-being – our water is the foundation of our tourism industry, makes Florida the top fishing and boating destination in the world and enhances our property values,” he said.
DeSantis endorsed companion House-Senate bills requiring minors to get consent of a parent or legal guardian before they have an abortion.
The House is poised for a floor vote on House Bill 265, sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach. Senate Bill 404, sponsored by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
“We are working hard to make the adoption process as transparent and user-friendly as possible so every child can find a loving home,” DeSantis said. “I also hope the parental consent bill will make its way to my desk during this session!”
DeSantis reiterated his support for bills requiring employers use E-Verify to ensure workers are legally allowed to work in the United States.
“Lower-income workers shouldn’t have their wages depressed by cheap foreign labor,” he said. “Assuring a legal workforce through E-Verify will be good for the rule of law, it will protect taxpayers, and it will place an upward pressure on the wages of Floridians who work in blue collar jobs. We need to make sure that our Florida citizens from all walks of life come first.”