DeSantis touts ‘free state’ as legislative session opens
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (News Service of Florida) - Touting Florida as a “free state,” Gov. Ron DeSantis gave a State of the State address Tuesday that outlined priorities for the 2022 legislative session — while criticizing the federal government on issues such as the economy and immigration.
The 33-minute address formally launched the session, which is expected to be a forum for many of DeSantis’ priorities as he and dozens of Republican lawmakers run for re-election in November.
DeSantis largely stuck to priorities that he has outlined in recent weeks, such as providing a $1 billion gas-tax break to motorists, boosting pay and providing bonuses for teachers, revamping elections laws and being 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,” DeSantis said. “The fact is 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 the quality of life in some of our cities has been destroyed.”
Democrats quickly criticized the governor, saying he is not addressing issues affecting Floridians, ranging from a refusal to expand Medicaid coverage to holding down property-insurance rates.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running for governor, said DeSantis showed he was more interested in “political theater” than on addressing kitchen-table issues.
“Half of his speech was talking about immigration, talking about what’s happening in Washington, D.C.,” Fried, who was in the House chamber for the speech, told reporters. “There was less focus on the concerns and the issues that are happening every single day in families.”
The State of the State address came amid the traditional pomp of the opening of the 60-day legislative session, with House and Senate members meeting jointly in a flower-filled House chamber. DeSantis, flanked by House and Senate leaders, was interrupted repeatedly by applause from GOP lawmakers and the audience in the House gallery.
DeSantis, widely considered a potential 2024 presidential candidate, weaved policy issues with red-meat appeals to Republicans. A central theme was freedom, as DeSantis boasted about reopening the state and requiring schools to be open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While so many around the country have consigned the people’s rights to the graveyard, Florida has stood as freedom’s vanguard,” he said. “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.”
Without mentioning President Joe Biden by name, DeSantis also took aim at the federal government. For example, he linked his proposed gas-tax break to helping Floridians deal with inflation.
“Freedom works. And while our economy is the envy of the nation and our state is well-prepared to guard against future economic turmoil, the truth is that our nation is facing economic problems stemming from reckless federal policies, especially the most sustained Inflation our country has witnessed in decades,” DeSantis said. “The federal government has borrowed and printed unprecedented sums of money, and the bill is coming due.”
DeSantis also touted a proposal designed to step up immigration enforcement in the state, while bashing federal policies.
“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,” he said. “Now, as a state, we cannot be party to what is effectively a massive human smuggling operation run by the federal government.”
Democratic legislative leaders chided DeSantis for focusing on divisive issues. Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said Republicans have “been running the show for 20 years” in the state Capitol, and it has resulted in a culture war that doesn’t address the needs of Floridians.
The State of the State address came as two influential Republican lawmakers Tuesday filed proposals that would prevent doctors from providing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“I can tell you by picking at one another, and trying to divide our population into two distinct groups -- good, bad, different -- that is something that we cannot afford to do here,” House Minority Leader Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, said. “It’s not what serious legislators do. We don’t need to attack women’s reproductive health. I can tell you that. We don’t need people in Tallahassee telling local officials what it is they can and cannot do.”
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