Drawing a national spotlight as he prepares for a potential White House bid, Gov. Ron DeSantis opened the annual legislative session Tuesday by touting the state’s accomplishments and vowing to “swing for the fences so that we can ensure Florida remains number one.”
“We will stand strong, we will hold the line, we won’t back down, and I can promise you this: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” DeSantis said as he concluded his annual State of the State address in the crowded House chamber.
DeSantis, drawing frequent applause from the Republican-dominated Legislature, did not make any dramatic policy announcements in the 30-minute speech but focused on issues such as cracking down on illegal immigration, bucking COVID-19 restrictions and blocking certain medical treatments for transgender minors.
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Earlier Tuesday, Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, and Rep. Kiyan Michael, R-Jacksonville, filed bills (SB 1718 and HB 1617) seeking to carry out a series of DeSantis’ immigration proposals.
“We must further strengthen our laws against illegal immigration by enhancing employment verification, increasing penalties for human smuggling and further disincentivizing illegal migration to the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “Florida is not a sanctuary state, and we will uphold the rule of law.”
While the State of the State address is always a high-profile event in Tallahassee, DeSantis’ speech Tuesday drew national attention as he is widely expected to run for president in 2024.
Democrats blasted DeSantis, arguing that he is more focused on his political ambitions than issues such as the state’s property insurance troubles and affordable health care.
House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, told reporters after the State of the State address that DeSantis is “solely focused on running for the GOP nomination for president, and that’s how he’s governing right now as families suffer.”
“The governor talked about being number one on a great many things,” Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said. “But here’s what I know — we talk to our constituents every single day. You know what they talk to us about? Not being able to afford prescriptions. Having to work harder to put food on the table, to put gas in the car. They can’t pay their rent, they can’t pay their mortgages, they can’t get property insurance. And are those the things that are being contemplated here? No.”
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But Republican leaders heralded DeSantis as they spoke in the Senate and House before the State of the State address. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, called him “truly America’s governor,” while House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, called him “America’s greatest governor.”
With Republicans holding supermajorities in the Senate and House, DeSantis and his GOP allies have a clear path to passing their often-shared priorities during the session. He has outlined numerous priorities, from raising teacher salaries to cutting taxes.
DeSantis used parts of Tuesday’s speech to focus on red-meat issues for Republican voters. As an example, he pointed to his resistance to such things as mask mandates and vaccination mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No Floridian should have to choose between a job they need and a shot they don’t want,” DeSantis said.
He also took aim at medical procedures for transgender minors. Lawmakers are expected to take up bills that would make it illegal for doctors to provide treatments such as puberty blockers and hormone therapy to transgender youths.
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“It’s sad that we have to say this, but our children are not guinea pigs for science experimentation, and we cannot allow people to make money off mutilating them,” DeSantis said.
But Driskell accused DeSantis of creating “culture war fights.”
“Ron DeSantis is so obsessed with ‘woke’ that he is asleep at the wheel,” she said.
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