The popular governor is focusing on proposals that have broad support, even if they face some skepticism from the Legislature
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis opened the 2020 Legislature Tuesday, touting his administration’s first-year steps while calling on lawmakers for a second round of work on the environment, education and cutting state regulations.
DeSantis’ second State of the State speech to a joint session of the House and Senate spanned 34 minutes and included a look back at last year’s efforts at easing the state’s water crisis, rebuilding from the devastation of Hurricane Michael and revamping health care.
But it also included his new wish list, topped by an election-year demand that base salaries for teachers be raised to $47,500 — second in the nation.
Republican leaders of the House and Senate are cautious in their embrace of the proposal, and thousands of teachers rallied a day before at the Capitol insisting on a better pay plan
Still, DeSantis said he has a secret weapon — public support.
“That’s why I think we’re going to be able to get a lot of this done,” DeSantis told reporters outside the House chamber, moments after ending his address.
“When folks are with you … man, I’d much rather have the population with me,” he said.
DeSantis seized on a new survey of 1,000 Florida voters conducted by Sachs Media Group that showed 84% support for the governor’s teacher pay proposal. It included overwhelming backing from registered Democrats and Republicans, a rare pairing in this polarized political era.
DeSantis, himself, gets high marks from Floridians, including from Democrats — many who undoubtedly voted against the Republican, who defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum in 2018 in the closest governor’s race in Florida history.
A December poll by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy showed DeSantis with a 65% job approval rating, up from 62% last March. Even 40% of Democrats endorsed the governor’s job performance, with 47% disapproving.
While there are signs of fresh policy friction this session between House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami, and Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, DeSantis may have an edge.
“I think the governor always has an advantage,” Oliva said. “One, he has the largest bully pulpit, but two, in reality, he has the advantage that we’re supporters of him, too.”
Heading into election season, DeSantis is under tremendous pressure to help steer Florida into President Donald Trump’s reelection column. In his State of the State speech, he mentioned the Trump administration twice.
Both times, it was to underscore his bond with the president in helping Florida secure additional funding for Everglades restoration and for a prescription drug importation proposal that still awaits federal approval.
But the rest of the address was focused on DeSantis’ policy requests: a second-year installment of $625 million for water resource projects; and the $900 million teacher pay and bonus package that drew thousands of protesting teachers Monday to the Capitol demanding a plan that covers more educators and district staff.
Even with the big spending proposals, DeSantis warned that it was critical for lawmakers to hold down government costs and regulation, a climate that he said has drawn out-of-state businesses to Florida, helping drive the economy.
He also repeated a call for reforming the state’s occupational licensing requirements — a change to a restrictive practice that Florida governors have been seeking for 25 years.
“Our citizens shouldn’t need a permission slip from the government in order to earn a living,” DeSantis said. “We have a good reform bill in this regard pending before the Legislature that made it to the 1-yard line last year. Let’s punch it in the end zone in 2020.”
Any State of the State address is built on that spirit of pep talk. And DeSantis’ election-year speech was not much different.
“In this season of opportunity, we can say there is more out there to achieve for our state — and there is no reason why we can’t seize this moment and deliver for the people of Florida,” DeSantis said.
Democrats are vastly outnumbered in the Legislature. But a handful of House and Senate Democrats joined with progressive groups Tuesday in condemning the approach of Republican leaders, including the Legislature draining dollars from affordable housing, blunting the authority of local governments to enact progressive policies and refusing Medicaid expansion.
Rich Templin of the Florida AFL-CIO also said that Republicans ignore rising inequality in Florida, where the working poor struggle to get housing and health care and wages stagnate.
“These guys are not just inactive. They’re mean. They’re cruel,” Templin said.
Along with recasting at least some portions of the governor’s teacher pay package, Republican leaders look likely to soften DeSantis’ push to require that all Florida businesses use the federal E-Verify database to check whether new employees are legally eligible to work in this country.
The governor’s proposal fits with anti-illegal immigrant themes promoted by Trump. But some of Florida’s biggest industries — tourism, agriculture and construction — are wary of the burden of added regulation that could restrict a workforce that occasionally relies on undocumented workers.
In his speech to lawmakers, DeSantis endorsed another volatile election-year move by Republican lawmakers that would require minor girls to get consent from their parents or a court before having an abortion.
Most Democrats oppose the restriction, and the issue is emerging as one that will rally base voters from both parties. DeSantis on Tuesday sounded ready to sign the legislation into law.
“I also hope that the parental consent bill will make its way to my desk during this session,” he said.
This story originally published to heraldtribune.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.