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Palm Coast Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022 4 months ago

DeSantis State of the State Address

Also included are comments by House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday, Jan. 11, gave his State of the State address to formally launch the 2022 legislative session. Here are his remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, members of the Legislature and fellow citizens:

Together we have made Florida the freest state in these United States.

While so many around the country have consigned the people’s rights to the graveyard, Florida has stood as freedom’s vanguard.

In Florida, we have protected the right of our citizens to earn a living, provided our businesses with the ability to prosper, fought back against unconstitutional federal mandates and ensured our kids have the opportunity to thrive.

Florida has become the escape hatch for those chafing under authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions.

Even today, across the nation we see students denied an education due to reckless, politically-motivated school closures, workers denied employment due to heavy-handed mandates and Americans denied freedoms due to a coercive biomedical apparatus.

These unprecedented policies have been as ineffective as they have been destructive. They are grounded more in blind adherence to Faucian declarations than they are in the constitutional traditions that are the foundation of free nations.

Florida is a free state. We reject the biomedical security state that curtails liberty, ruins livelihoods and divides society. And we will protect the rights of individuals to live their lives free from the yolk of restrictions and mandates.

Florida has stood strong as the rock of freedom. And upon this rock we must build Florida’s future.

We will, fortunately, be able to confront our challenges with an incredibly favorable budget outlook and strong economic performance that has withstood unfavorable national headwinds:

My recommended budget of $99.7 billion has more than $15 billion in reserve — one of the largest surpluses in state history.

Florida’s revenues have exceeded estimates by billions of dollars over the past year.

December’s revenues came in at more than $500 million over the latest monthly estimate.

And this is all being done with no income tax and the lowest per capita tax burden in America.

Job creation in Florida is far exceeding the national average. And our labor force has increased six times faster than the nation’s.

Florida also leads the nation in business formations, which have increased by 61% since I took office in 2019. In 2021, Florida saw 114,000 more new businesses than second place California — even though California has a population that is 40% larger.

Freedom works. Our economy is the envy of the nation. And the state is well-prepared to withstand future economic turmoil.

Our nation is, though, facing economic problems stemming from reckless federal policies, especially the most sustained Inflation our country has witnessed in decades. The federal government has borrowed and printed unprecedented sums of money, and the bill is coming due.

Inflation is an invisible tax. It represents a pay cut for individuals and families alike. And one of the ways families have felt the pinch has been in significantly higher gas prices.

To help alleviate this burden for Florida families, I am proposing a $1 billion gas tax holiday to help reduce prices at the pump. If Washington, D.C., won’t change course, then we have a responsibility to step up on behalf of Floridians.

Education represents a major pillar of Florida’s future. I’m happy to note that Florida is again ranked number three for K-12 achievement in the latest Education Week Quality Counts rankings. We have worked hard to keep schools open, increase teacher compensation, promote workforce education and protect the rights of parents.

In pockets across America, schools are closing once again. These closures are enormously destructive and will not be tolerated in the state of Florida.

Florida has led the way in putting our kids first. In the summer of 2020, when it wasn’t fashionable, we made clear that kids needed to be in school. We faced opposition — from hysterical media, from unions and the politicians they control. We even faced lawsuits aiming to close the schools, but we wouldn’t allow fear or politics to harm our kids. We were right and they were wrong. And millions of families in Florida are better for it.

While it is important to embrace high academic standards and to measure student achievement, the FSA test is not the best way to do it. I am proposing the elimination of the FSA and replacing it with periodic progress monitoring. This will lead to meaningful feedback for parents and teachers and will reduce the amount of time dedicated to testing, leaving more time for learning. This reform will be better for students, teachers and parents, and it will help Florida remain a leader in education reform.

Over the past two years, we have increased the average minimum salary for teachers by more than $6,000. And last year, we provided $1,000 bonuses to every public school teacher and principal in the state.

Brittany Duquaine is a teacher at Lakewood Elementary School in Pinellas County. She has benefitted from the bonuses and salary increases and the experience at Lakewood shows why this is important, as Brittany and her colleagues took the school from an F grade in 2019 to an A grade in 2021.

Let’s continue this progress by further increasing teacher pay and by approving $1,000 bonuses for a second year in a row.

Florida has enacted a Parents’ Bill of Rights and we reject the notion that parents shouldn’t have a say in what their kids learn in school. Indeed, Florida law should provide parents with the right to review the curriculum used in their children’s schools. We should provide parents with recourse so that state standards are enforced, such as Florida’s prohibition on infusing subjects with critical race theory in our classrooms.

Quisha King is a mother from Duval County who has joined moms all across Florida and America to speak out against divisive ideologies like CRT.

These moms are standing up for a principle that is the policy of the state of Florida: Our tax dollars should not be used to teach our kids to hate our country or to hate each other.

Florida’s public college and university system is ranked number one in the nation yet again. Higher education must remain affordable for Florida families. I will not support any tuition increases at Florida’s colleges and universities and I oppose cutting Bright Futures scholarships, which have benefited many Florida families.

As proud as we are of the quality and affordability of Florida’s university system, a four-year education at a traditional brick-and-ivy school isn’t the only pathway to success. Over the past three years, Florida has added more than 50 new apprenticeship programs. The credentials earned through our workforce initiatives have paved the way for employment in a variety of fields like aviation, logistics and welding. These are as valuable and as honorable endeavors as attending august universities, and they deserve our support.

Florida’s dedicated focus on the skilled trades will help expand the state’s manufacturing footprint. We have already seen businesses move here from other states and we should also be actively encouraging businesses to repatriate production back to America from foreign countries. Do we really want our supply chains to be captive to the whims of a country such as Communist China?

Florida’s economic security is also linked to the stewardship of our natural resources.

We Floridians are heirs to a unique environment that makes our state the envy of the nation for fishing, boating and other outdoor activities. Three years ago, we promised bold action to safeguard Florida’s natural resources, improve water quality and restore the Everglades. With the support of the Legislature, especially Speaker Chris Sprowls and President Wilton Simpson, we have secured historic funding to support these efforts.

Since January 2019, 42 Everglades restoration projects have broken ground, hit a major milestone or finished construction, record funding has gone to conduct research and secure technologies to mitigate blue-green algae and red tide, and the state now has dedicated streams of revenue to promote coastal resiliency and water quality improvements.

We have even made enormous strides in removing invasive Burmese pythons from the Everglades. In the gallery today is the reigning python king, Charlie Dachton, who caught a whopping 41 pythons in our 2021 statewide contest.

We resolved to leave our unique natural inheritance to God better than we found it, and we are fulfilling that pledge.

We also will continue to honor our commitment to safe communities.

Florida is a law and order state.

We will not allow law enforcement to be defunded, bail to be eliminated, criminals to be prematurely released from prison or prosecutors to ignore the law.

These soft-on-crime policies have been tried in communities throughout the country to disastrous results: crime has skyrocketed, morale for police officers has plummeted and quality of life has been destroyed.

We have stood by the men and women of law enforcement. Not only do we reject defunding law enforcement — we enacted $1,000 bonuses for all police, fire and EMTs in Florida. I’m asking the Legislature to re-up these bonuses for another year. They deserve it.

Serving in law enforcement is a noble calling and we will not allow our officers to be smeared by reckless politicians and corporate media. My proposals to increase pay for state law enforcement by up to 25% and to provide $5,000 signing bonuses to law enforcement personnel who either transfer to or begin their careers in Florida will spark a tidal wave of qualified professionals seeking employment at agencies throughout the state.

I’m happy to be joined by Officer Yehuda Topper from the North Miami Beach Police Department, who moved from NYC and is the state’s first orthodox Jewish police officer.

Let there be no doubt to those who wear the uniform: the state of Florida stands with you!

Law and order requires strong borders. The crisis at the US-Mexico border over the past year has witnessed staggering illegal migration and a massive influx of narcotics like fentanyl. Rather than defend our sovereignty and enforce the border, the federal government has released hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens to communities across the U.S., shipping them to Florida at alarming rates, including by sending clandestine flights in the dark of night.

As a state, we cannot be a party to what is effectively a massive human smuggling operation run by the federal government. Companies who are facilitating the movement of illegal aliens from the southern border to Florida should be held accountable, including by paying restitution to the state for all the costs they are imposing on our communities. I am also requesting funds so that when the feds dump illegal aliens in Florida, the state can re-route them to states that have sanctuary policies.

Florida should not be made to bear the burden of our federal government’s lawless open border policies.

The rule of law also means that our citizens have the ability to participate in elections that are secure and transparent.

It is Orwellian doublespeak to invoke the concept of “voting rights” to mean ballot harvesting, prohibiting voter ID and taxpayer funding of elections. Those are political concepts that erode the integrity of our elections.

Ballot harvesting has no place in Florida and we need to increase the penalties for those who do it. We also need to ensure that supervisors clean the voter rolls, that only citizens are registered to vote and that mail ballots only go to those who actually request them before each individual election.

To ensure that elections are conducted in accordance with the rule of law, I have proposed an election integrity unit whose sole focus will be the enforcement of Florida’s election laws. This will facilitate the faithful enforcement of election laws and will provide Floridians with the confidence that their vote will count.

Our constitutional rights have been under assault on a number of fronts and Florida has stood tall in defending the rights of its people.

A free society requires the ability to have robust discussions about issues of public importance, yet today Big Tech companies have used their platforms to elevate preferred narratives and to stifle dissent, serving as a de facto council of censors. Florida was the first state to legislate protections for its citizens and we should build on this success.

These same companies make a fortune by selling user data. Floridians should not have their data utilized by Big Tech without providing affirmative consent and I urge the Legislature to enact protections for the data privacy of all Floridians.

I also recommend that the Legislature strengthen protections for Floridians’ 2nd Amendment rights. These important rights should not depend on the whims of politicians who reject the existence of those rights.

Finally, we have an opportunity to strengthen protections for the right to life, without which the other rights mean little.

Protecting life does not end with the unborn. It must also include continued efforts to promote adoption and foster care so that all Floridians have a fair chance in life. Florida has 4,000 more licensed caregivers than in 2019 and I am proposing additional funds for foster parents in next year’s budget.

Nobody has done more to support Florida’s children than our First Lady, whose Pathway to Prosperity program has served more than 17,000 families in need through a collaboration between DCF and the faith community.

On behalf of our family, I want to personally thank everyone who has sent prayers and well-wishes for her recovery from breast cancer. Casey is strong, resilient, and has a husband and three kids who love her dearly. 2022 is the year she will be cancer free!

Florida has understood how important it is to put our seniors first, and we have done that time and again over the past two years.

Most recently, we led the nation in raising awareness of and expanding access to monoclonal antibody treatments. This effort has kept thousands of seniors out of the hospital and has saved many lives.

Wally and Doris Cortese from Cape Coral are with us today. Wally is a WWII and Korean War veteran who has been married to Doris for 62 years. When they both contracted COVID-19, they utilized monoclonal treatments to make full recoveries. God bless you both.

On June 24, millions of Floridians were shocked to wake up the news of a catastrophic partial collapse at the Champlain Towers South condominium complex.

First responders rescued dozens of people from an adjoining tower and searched a massive pile of rubble for survivors for weeks.

Our first responders poured their heart and soul into the rescue efforts. Ray Jadallah is the assistant chief of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue who helped lead those efforts. We thank Ray and all the members of the Urban Search and Rescue Teams that worked tirelessly during those very difficult days.

The loss of the 98 victims who perished in the collapse has been devastating and incalculable.

One of the victims was 92-year-old Hilda Noriega, whose son, North Bay Village Chief of Police Carlos Noriega, and grandchildren are with us today. Hilda was the matriarch of an amazing family and is dearly missed by those who knew her.

The grief and anguish endured by the Noriega family and the other Surfside families has been overwhelming, and reminds us that:

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those whose spirits are crushed.”

Our state should provide support for an appropriate memorial so that future generations will never forget the legacies of the victims of that terrible event.

The Surfside tragedy reminds us that you never know what tomorrow will bring. Don’t take anything for granted and make the most out of each and every day.

We have 60 days to work together to build upon our rock of freedom. Lost time is never found again. Seize the moment. And be thankful that God has blessed us to live and serve in America’s liberty outpost, the free state of Florida!


Sprowls Comments on Opening Day of Session

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, spoke Tuesday as the House began the 2022 legislative session. Here are his remarks, as prepared for delivery:

What are you willing to risk? That question lies at the heart of what we will do here in session for the next 60 days.

When we legislate, we manage risk. We assess the danger of inaction. When we do act, we face the problem of unintended or collateral consequences. But the choices we make are also the opportunities we lose, because we spend resources on this problem versus that one. Though we rarely talk about it, the foundational question is whether our idea will even work.

We often debate in this chamber and in committee encased in the armor of our own certainty — except the real world is anything but certain. There have been bills passed by this majority that have not delivered on the promises made on this floor. And there have been many times that members of the minority party have predicted an apocalypse that has not materialized.

When we pass a major piece of policy out of the Legislature, we are deciding, we are answering the question, “What are we willing to risk to improve the lives of the people of Florida?”

But, we can't avoid the obvious irony. If governance rests on the assessment and balancing of risks, it also happens inside the political process, which is almost entirely built around the concept of risk avoidance.

Politics encourages us to talk big and act small. It pushes us inside our comfort zones and builds walls to keep us from noticing that the world around us has changed. It asks the converted to preach only to the faithful.

You don't have to look much further than the conversations around COVID-19. Here's an almost perfect example of the need to manage risks — to balance public health concerns against the need for people to maintain their livelihoods and the need to attend to the emotional, educational and social well-being of our children. And yet, the conversation has, at times, been dominated by extremes — the people who want to lock everyone inside at home and the people who think the virus is a conspiracy to microchip the masses.

The truth is that public health officials aren't saints, and they aren't sinners. They are just ordinary government bureaucrats who see the world myopically through the lens of their own work. They are no different than the insurance industry lobbyists, the nursing home owners, the criminal justice reform advocates or any of the hundreds of others who will come to Tallahassee this session. They spend their days looking through a narrow keyhole, and they see the world in monochrome.

It's our job as legislators to see the entire horizon, the full spectrum. It's our responsibility to appreciate the complexities and balance perspectives, to see both the risks and the opportunities presented in every issue, and to find a right path forward.

I've been incredibly proud of the work this Florida House has done over the last year, and I think it stands in sharp contrast to the paralytic dysfunction and extreme self-regard that has ruined Washington, D.C.

But our work isn't done.

This session, in this House, we are going to be looking at the risk portfolio of our state. Some risks are concrete and specific, like the deficiencies in our state's cybersecurity infrastructure. Some risks are massive and omnipresent, like the array of problems created by the threat of hurricanes. Some risks are more existential, like what our shared values and beliefs are as Floridians.

We are at a cash-rich moment in our state's history, which means we have a historic opportunity to make critical investments in long-term needs, but also a historic opportunity to waste money on short-term wants.

Whatever the issue, my only ask of all of you is this: Step away from the keyhole and out of your comfort zones. Be a little less certain that you have all the answers and a little more skeptical about what advocates and lobbyists are telling you. Listen carefully before you talk, and then, ask hard, informed questions. Engage. Take chances. Don't be afraid of hard choices.

Members, if we do all of that, the rewards can be life changing. We have the power to make this state a better, safer, more prosperous place for all Floridians. The only question that remains is, to make that happen, what are you willing to risk?


Simpson Comments on Opening Day of Session

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, spoke Tuesday as the Senate began the 2022 legislative session. Here are his remarks, as prepared for delivery:

It’s great to see all the Senate children and grandchildren here today. Every child is precious, especially our own, but there’s something very special about grandchildren. They give us a sense of mortality because their lives begin when we’re at the top of the hill.

To be clear, I said at the top of the hill, not over the hill.

They also give us an understanding of immortality. In them we realize that our purpose and influence extend well beyond our years of service. My grandchildren have also lit a fire of urgency in me to do all I can to provide them with a solid foundation for their futures.

To me, that’s the true measure of success. Not just taking care of today, but also focusing on tomorrow and the world we will leave to future generations. Last year, I talked a lot about sowing and reaping: the basic law of farming. I had high hopes we would pass laws and make investments that would endure beyond our years in Tallahassee.

Thanks to your hard work and great partnerships with Speaker Sprowls, the House, and Gov. DeSantis, we did accomplish some great things.

First and foremost, we kept Florida open and free. Faced with tremendous pressure and criticism at every step of the way, we held the line. We showed the nation that the free state of Florida respects the dignity of work. We showed that you can operate in a pandemic with facts based on science not political agendas. We helped educate people to make choices, focusing on protecting the most vulnerable and providing options for those who were sick without shutting down the entire state.

We kept our schools open. We affirmed the right, and the responsibility, of parents to direct the upbringing, education and health care of their children. We invested record funding in education, with the highest per-pupil funding ever. We continued to increase teacher salaries to attract and keep great teachers in this noble profession. We expanded school choice. One of the cornerstones to breaking generational poverty is to ensure that we have strong school choice options so that parents can direct their children's education.

I am proud to say that Florida continues to lead the nation in school choice. One out of every four children in America that is enrolled in a school choice program lives right here in Florida. We are the promise-land for education-minded families.

And senators, I am especially proud that we continued to prioritize students with unique abilities, children from low-income families, children in foster care, children from military families and siblings of children already in these scholarship programs.

You’ve heard me say, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” School choice is the tide that allows every single child, regardless of where they come from, to rise.

We invested in our state infrastructure. We established a three-part statewide infrastructure plan for affordable housing, mitigating the impacts of sea level rise, and enhancing wastewater programs, including septic-to-sewer conversions. Floridians have been waiting a long time for a comprehensive policy and a predictable budget plan to address these three critical areas.

We used over $2 billion in our one-time federal assistance to invest in building and repairing our roadways, putting Floridians to work and keeping commerce thriving. And by the way, using fiscal discipline by investing these one-time dollars in one-time projects is going to keep our economy balanced and healthy for generations to come.

We worked to mitigate supply chain issues in Florida, created by lockdown states and foreign bad actors, by focusing on our Florida ports. I’m proud we made a significant investment last year. But it was not just last year. I am proud that we have invested over a billion dollars since I have been in the Senate.

These are visionary seeds sown in the past which increase our harvest today.

And speaking of visionary, five years ago, we removed the sales tax on manufacturing equipment. America needs to bring manufacturing jobs back, and let me be clear: Florida is open for business.

We’ve got a job for anyone who wants one, and it is showing up in the national monthly job reports. Florida is leading the country thanks to the Legislature’s long-term vision.

For generations, Florida’s environment has been one of the main attractions to new residents, businesses, retirees and visitors to our great state.

Investing in our environment is also an investment in infrastructure, but more than that, it is an investment in the quality of life for future generations.

We preserved and expanded Florida’s wildlife corridor to maintain more of Florida’s unique natural habitats. Equally important, wildlife corridors create and protect our critical aquifer recharge area. We invested in northern storage ASR wells to increase our clean, sustainable water supply. Northern storage will ensure that we have additional clean water supply during times of drought. It also reduces east/west lake releases on the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers. By capturing water in the north, we remove 80% of the nutrient load before it even gets to the lake. In short, northern storage ensures all of our other Everglades restoration projects can work as they were designed.

We also invested in septic to sewer conversions to mitigate existing pollution and prevent future water pollution. Experts say that the majority of our current nutrient load in and around the Everglades and our springsheds comes from septic tanks, so these conversions get to the actual root cause of the problem.

We recognized and elevated flood mitigation and sea level rise as a critical part of Florida’s public safety infrastructure. By doing so, we will protect the trillions of dollars in personal property and public infrastructure, and most importantly the quality of life for millions of Floridians.

Senators, we accomplished this and much more, all during a worldwide pandemic.

Now more than ever, we understand that leadership matters, and under the leadership of this legislature and this governor, Florida continues to be a refuge for freedom, a destination for millions and a slice of paradise for those who want to work, raise their families, and succeed without the heavy hand of government telling them how to live.

But with all the great things happening in this state, there is always a need to innovate, and improve.

My work in farming and business taught me a long time ago that success has almost nothing to do with government and everything to do with hard-working people.

Most of the time, the best way government can help is to stay out of the way.

It always helps by honoring our freedoms and by focusing on the core mission of a solid infrastructure, strong public safety and education opportunities enjoyed by everyone.

We also have to recognize that government can be hurtful, with mandates, lockdowns, edicts and regulations that deprive good people of the ability to work and provide for themselves and their families.

Every legislature, every year, has another chance to make choices about what kind of government Florida is going to have. This session we have another chance to sow the seeds that will grow our tomorrow.

Some of our endeavors will be those that voters required of us, like our annual balanced budget, and redistricting. I know this Senate will accomplish both of these tasks with products that we, and all Floridians, can be proud of.

In addition to our constitutional assignments, we have choices to make about how we will conduct ourselves this session.

Working together, I believe we should take the same approach as we did last year.

Because of past choices, Floridians have continued to prosper and entrepreneurs are creating and growing new businesses across our state.

Our economy is flourishing and as a result, our state has the resources to add to last years’ investments in our children, our natural resources and our infrastructure.

We will continue to invest in expanding Florida’s wildlife corridors, and northern storage ASR wells.

We will continue to invest in our roadways and seaports.

We will further enhance the minimum wage for state workers and those who contract to perform critical services.

We will provide higher wages for law enforcement and corrections officers.

And we are also going to make sure that increases are prioritized for bus drivers, maintenance workers, cafeteria workers and other true public servants in our public schools.

Senators, you all know how important it is to me that we continue our work to improve Florida’s child welfare system.

Costs of early childhood care are consistently identified as one of the biggest barriers for would-be foster families. We need to address the gap between what the Early Learning Coalition voucher pays and the actual cost of care.

Also, if a relative takes on the responsibility of child-rearing, they ought to receive the same support from the state as a foster family. The difference right now is about $200 a month per child.

Similarly, the college tuition waiver has been an important tool for youth aging out of foster care.

We need to make sure more children raised by their foster relatives have access to this important tool.

These are modest investments for the state, but could mean all the difference for a family member or foster parent facing the prospect of taking in a vulnerable child.

I’ll be the first to say government can never replace the role of a safe, loving family. But we can, and we will continue to make foster children a priority by identifying and supporting caring families for them.

The earlier in life we can give a child a safe, permanent home, the better opportunities that child will have for the rest of their lives.

Finally, I want local governments to know that we have heard your concerns about preemption bills.

I will keep a sharp eye out for legislation that would limit your ability to pass local ordinances.

At the same time, we are going to make sure that local citizens and businesses understand the impact of your regulations by requiring you to provide fiscal impact statements for your ordinances and referendums.

We will also ensure that you pay legitimate businesses that are impacted by your takings.

It’s been said that “with great power comes great responsibility.”

We want to ensure that local governments are exercising one with the other.

Senators, I look forward to the work ahead this session.

Over the last two years, Floridians have watched the freedoms of our friends and relatives in other states get stripped away one at a time. Florida is different. Florida is special.

And if we work together, we can keep Florida a beacon of hope, opportunity and freedom for generations to come. Thank you.

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