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DeSantis tells Florida lawmakers to stay the course in his State of the State speech

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis gives his State of the State address during a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis gives his State of the State address during a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla., Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

Governor Ron DeSantis is urging Florida lawmakers to stay the course in 2024. His State of the State address Tuesday kicking off the annual 60-day lawmaking session was light on new policy ideas. Instead, DeSantis often compared Florida to Democratically-run cities and states, and highlighted his policy wins from prior years.

Among what DeSantis sees as victories: the state’s universal school choice program that allows nearly all students to use school vouchers for private school, or homeschooling; A boost in so-called parental rights that give parents greater say in local school instruction materials and curriculum decisions, and his ongoing fight against so-called “woke” policies like Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives as well as a six week abortion ban.

“My message is simple; stay the course," DeSantis told lawmakers, " the state of our state is strong. Let’s keep doing what works. Let’s continue to make Florida the envy of the nation.

The governor was also quick to blast cities in Blue states as chaotic and crime ridden, as opposed to Florida, which he characterized as a state with order, low debt, and a growing workforce and economy.

“Cities throughout the land have decayed,” he said, “Washington DC has experienced its deadliest year in two decades and San Francisco has fallen into a doom loop where crime, homelessness and drug abuse have eviscerated the quality of life in the city.”

Much of what the governor had to say he has repeated on the campaign trail—often casting to set himself apart from other Republican challengers by highlighting his conservative victories in the Sunshine State. His annual State of the State address Tuesday fell against the backdrop of the approaching Iowa caucuses where Republicans in that state will be the first in the nation to weigh in on the question of who will represent the GOP in the presidential race. Former President Donald Trump is leading in polls.

Democratic House minority Leader Fentrice Driskell in her response to the state of the state, blasted DeSantis as an “Absentee governor” as well as his lack of new ideas.

"I felt like he said, 'We've done all these great things, let's keep doing these same great things.' There was nothing fresh. That was surprising to me. Because it was an opportunity for him to make his case to the people of Florida as well, and I think he missed it."

This year’s annual assessment of Florida also fell on a day when massive storms spawned at least four confirmed tornados that struck communities just west of the capitol city. All state offices in Tallahassee with the exception of the capitol building were closed, and just minutes before DeSantis addressed a joint session of the House and Senate to deliver remarks, tornado warnings sounded on lawmakers’ devices. DeSantis also acknowledged the moment at the outset of his speech, alerting lawmakers that he had just issued a state of emergency for nearly four dozen counties.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.