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DeSantis provides State of the State '22

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a joint session of a legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Phelan M. Ebenhack
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a joint session of a legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Florida added more than 126,000 new COVID-19 cases this past weekend, following another week of infections amid an increase in testing and the fast-spread of omicron, according to the Centers for Disease control and prevention. That pushes the Sunshine State total to more than 4.5 million since the pandemic began. He especially noted how schools in the state have remained open during the COVID siege.

“In the summer of 2020, when it wasn’t fashionable, we made clear that kids needed to be in school,” said DeSantis. “We faced opposition, we even faced lawsuits, aiming to close the schools. But we would not allow fear or politics to harm our kids. We were right – and they were wrong.”

Elsewhere, the governor is recommending a $99.7 billion budget for next fiscal year, which he says contains more than $15 billion in reserves — one of the largest surpluses in Florida history.

“Florida’s revenues have exceeded estimates by billions of dollars over the past year and a half, and 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 the United States.”

DeSantis’ proposal for education is to change the paradigm for measuring student process, by scrapping the current method, the Florida Student Achievement test, 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,” he said. “Leaving more time for learning. And it will help Florida remain a leader in education reform.”

The 2022 session, contends the governor, provides another opportunity to strengthen Florida’s right-to-life landscape. However, he went beyond the abortion issue.

“Protecting life does not end with the unborn; [it] must also include efforts to promote adoption and foster care, so that all Floridians have a fair chance in life,” DeSantis said. “And I’m proposing additional funds to foster parents in next year’s budget.”

At the end of his 33-minute address, the governor gave lawmakers their marching orders, so to speak.

Providing one of the Democratic responses to the SOTS was state Rep. Evan Jenne of Hollywood. Floridians have a fundamental right to be healthy, he said, and a large part of that is expanding Medicaid – which the DeSantis administration has steadfastly refused to do.

Florida House
State Rep. Evan Jenne (D-Hollywood)

“Florida is one of the last 12 states still not accepting these federal dollars; we could save this state billions of dollars over the long term, and provide health care for those in need,” Jenne said. “It would bring back money you paid to Washington, lower state costs, and help families. The rare win-win-win.”

Also on the Democratic agenda, reducing health care costs by investing in preventive care, along with mental health and substance abuse programs.

“We stand up to big insurance companies to fight for Florida’s patients; and we must rebuild our public health system – which is left gutted after years of buts,” Jenne said. “The guiding principle of the House Democratic Caucus, is to protect Floridians’ freedom to be healthy, prosperous, and safe.”

There’s also the issue of housing, as part of the freedom to be prosperous. Jenne cited the skyrocketing cost of rent and homeowners insurance, and Florida’s unemployment system.

“It’s getting to the point where people can no longer afford to live in this state; and the dream of home ownership is becoming unattainable,” he said. “Florida’s unemployment system is a mess and an embarrassment to our state. It failed at a time when hundreds of thousands of Floridians needed help. We need to stop giving away Florida’s tax dollars to rich corporations. These dollars came from you, and they should be used to rebuild infrastructure and grow the state.”

On education, Jenne and the Democrats support fully funding public schools and support early learning education, along with technical and trade schools. Another priority is protecting the state’s environment. And he called upon the governor to stop creating what he calls “fake boogeymen.”

“You don’t need Tallahassee telling you what to do, and neither do they; we don’t need to put down more barriers to casting a safe and secure ballot in a in a fair election,” said Jenne. “And we don’t need the 3rd largest state in America to devote its entire legislative session to making sacrifices at the altar of political ambition for any one individual."

Other issues to watch between now and sine die includes taxes. Buoyed by federal stimulus money, DeSantis wants to suspend state gasoline taxes for five months, beginning July 1. Also, two bills that would prevent doctors from performing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That’s modeled after the Mississippi law that’s now before the U.S. Supreme Court.