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DeSantis SOTS: Health Care, Education, Environment, Taxes

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Florida's 2019 Legislature began its 60-day session Tuesday with a new governor, new leaders, and new priorities. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ kicked things off with his first State of the State Address.

Speaking to a joint session of the House and Senate, DeSantis called for environmental protections, low taxes, big changes in education and safer schools. The speech also served as a list of what DeSantis has already accomplished in his first two months in office.

“Reorienting our environment policy around the goal of cleaning up our water; far-reaching education reforms designed to number one in skills-based education by the year 2030,” said DeSantis. “And appointing three spectacular justices to our state Supreme Court.”

During his address, the Governor said the three branches of state government must work together to build off an existing foundation to set the stage for success in the future. And how will that be accomplished? DeSantis says “be bold.”

“Be bold in championing economic opportunity; be bold in protecting Florida’s environment,” said the Governor. “Be bold in improving education; be bold in defending the safety of our communities. Be bold because while perfection is not attainable, if we aim high we can achieve excellence.”

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Gov. Ron DeSantis, delivering his first State of the State address.

The new administration has also secured millions of dollars in federal aid for recovery from Hurricane Michael, which leveled communities in the Panhandle last September.

“To the people of Northwest Florida, we pledge to stand with you as you work to rebuild your communities stronger than before,” DeSantis said. “My administration has worked to cut through red tape to expedite relief efforts. These communities will not be rebuilt in days, weeks, or months; but they will be rebuilt because Floridians will answer the call as we always do.”

DeSantis repeated the mantra used for eight years by his predecessor, Rick Scott, in regard to the taxation policies in other states. He tells business there that if you don’t like it….

“Come to Florida,” implored DeSantis. “We will maintain a healthy economic environment; we welcome your success and we won’t chase jobs away through economic ignorance and demagoguery. We will always remain a low-tax state, and we will never have an income tax here in the state of Florida.”

Even more so than low taxes and a healthy economy, Gov. DeSantis stressed the most important factor in Florida’s road ahead is its educational system. He pointed to a study that places Florida’s university system number-one in the nation, and that word must go out about the state’s talent pool.

“We’re poised for growth in finance, technology, healthcare, aerospace and more,” said DeSantis. “Let’s support the continued ascent of our universities so that these industries can grow by employing our own graduates in good, high-paying jobs in our low-tax business-friendly environment.”

Providing the Democratic response was Jacksonville State Sen. Audrey Gibson. She praised DeSantis for his calls on education and the environment, but she added there are ominous signs arising which signal his proposed solutions aren’t really new at all.

“The issue is that the water crisis in Florida didn’t erupt overnight,” said Gibson. “It was a process fed by deregulating environment protection and allowing pollution to flow unchecked over the last few years. And it will take long-range planning to fix it.”

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Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville).

Gibson also takes the new Governor to task about his ideas about providing a high-quality education to Florida’s school kids – in which he leaves out the part about free public schools, as mandated by the state constitution.

“Our constitution doesn’t mandate using tax dollars to pay for private schools; it doesn’t require us to subsidize for-profit charter, management companies,” Gibson said. “It doesn’t require us to help build private schools in areas where great public schools already exist. But that’s exactly what the Governor has laid out, and is about to try to do.”

In January, Gov. DeSantis called for a healthcare system that puts consumers first, addresses the opioid crisis, and provides meaningful mental health care. Gibson contends all of that and more could be accomplished by one single act – expanding Medicaid in Florida.

“But the Governor refuses to consider it, while nearly a million people languish with no place to go for their health needs except the emergency room,” said Gibson. “Our state is one of the 14 last holdouts fighting against the Affordable Care Act.”

Gibson wrapped up her party’s response by replying to Gov. DeSantis’ call for lawmakers to “be bold.”

“How bold is it to pack the Supreme Court with people who all think the same, and rubber-stamp each other’s preconceived thoughts?” asked Gibson. “Being bold means a willingness to put forward policy ideas that embrace diversity, and governing accordingly.’

Among the more than 3,000 bills to be considered, is a slew of measures to avoid another election such as 2018, which saw an unprecedented three statewide recounts. One of those bills would require a paper printout after a voter casts a ballot.