Here are the full remarks by several Florida leaders on the opening day of the 2024 legislative session

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Aerial photo of downtown Tallahassee, Florida and the State Capitol
Aerial photo of downtown Tallahassee, Florida and the State Capitol. By felixmizioznikov via iStock for WMNF.

©2024 The News Service of Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday gave his State of the State address to formally start the 2024 legislative session. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery. After that, you can read the responses by House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa and Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Davie as well as remarks by the leaders of both legislative chambers, House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples.

Gov. Ron DeSantis State of the State address

Mr. Speaker, Madam President, members of the Legislature, and fellow citizens:

We are in the midst of a great upheaval throughout the nation:

Under the Biden administration, homelessness is at record levels, 62 percent of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and the federal budget deficit is expected to hit $2 trillion this year.

More than 8 million illegal aliens have entered the United States across the southern border in the past three years alone, and deaths due to fentanyl that has come across the border have reached record levels.

Cities throughout the land have decayed: Washington, D.C. has experienced its deadliest year in more than two decades and San Francisco has fallen into a “doom loop” whereby crime, homelessness and drug abuse have eviscerated the quality of life.

Other states have enacted policies that have sparked an exodus of residents out of their states:

In Illinois, residents are saddled with high taxes, while spendthrift politicians continue to spend and borrow at some of the highest rates in the nation — with massive unfunded liabilities that will require even higher taxes in the future. Of course, soft-on-crime policies have devastated public safety in Chicago.

California’s per-capita spending is triple our state’s, and they now face a $68 billion budget deficit. Violent crime is up, robberies are up, and a recent Stanford University study shows that businesses are leaving in droves.

Florida now has millions more residents than New York, yet New York’s budget is twice the size of Florida’s. They have a $4.3 billion budget deficit. Florida now has more manufacturing jobs than New York, and added twice as many jobs as New York in the past year, and our unemployment rate is 1.4 percentage points lower.

It is not surprising that we have witnessed — and continue to witness — a great migration of Americans away from cities and states pursuing these failed policies, with Florida serving as a refuge for freedom and sanity.

The failures are not a result of chance but of choices made by elected officials to put ideology over sound policy.

In this time for choosing, Florida has chosen well.

We have chosen facts over fear.

Education over indoctrination.

Law and order over rioting and disorder.

Fiscal responsibility over debt and profligacy.

Our choices have produced results that are second to none:

  • #1 in education.
  • #1 in education freedom.
  • #1 for parental involvement in education.
  • #1 for talent development.
  • #1 for higher education.
  • #1 for net domestic in-migration for the third consecutive year.
  • #1 in new business formation.
  • #1 in GDP growth among large states, and better than most countries in the world.
  • #1 for entrepreneurship.

We have set the standard for limited government: Florida has the fewest state employees per capita and the lowest state government cost per capita.

Florida’s crime rate is at a 50-year low.

And we have the lowest unemployment rate of all large states.

The 2023 legislative session was monumental, and it is incumbent upon us to build upon those accomplishments as we continue to deliver results.

My message is simple: Stay the course. The state of our state is strong. Let’s keep doing what works. Let’s continue to make Florida the envy of the nation.

We lead the nation in school choice.

Last session, under the leadership of Speaker (Paul) Renner, we enacted the largest expansion of school choice in American history.

Florida has close to 1.5 million students enrolled full-time in various choice programs — from private scholarships to charter schools to choice options within school districts.

Through these programs, we have delivered for people like Hera Varmah. Hera has 11 brothers and sisters, making education hard to afford for their parents, but, because of our school choice scholarships, she and her siblings have been able to attend high-quality schools.

Today, she is a college graduate, her three older brothers are college graduates, two of her younger sisters are in college, and the rest are on track to follow in her footsteps.

As she likes to say in her own words “When people say that school choice doesn’t work, I simply show them my family.”

We also lead the nation in protecting the rights of parents.

School systems are important, but they exist to serve the students, parents and the community, not to supersede the rights of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children.

We were one of the first states to enact a Parents’ Bill of Rights and curriculum transparency.

We protected women’s sports — as the father of two daughters I think it is important that they have the opportunity to compete with fairness and integrity.

We protected our children from indoctrination and sexualized curriculum, and we stood up for parents against the woke mob.

This includes parents like Tia Bess, a mom of three who has fought for her children to be educated without having an agenda imposed on them.

We must always protect the innocence of our children. Let kids be kids!

As we deliver win after win for parents, we have also provided historic support for our teachers.

Over the past four years, we have invested a record $3 billion to raise teacher pay. My budget proposal for this year includes another $1.25 billion for even more pay increases.

Our teacher pay initiatives help us recruit and retain great teachers, including Teacher of the Year Adrianna Swearingen who is with us today.

It is thanks to teachers like Adrianna that our fourth graders are first in the nation on their NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores.

On Oct. 7, Israel suffered one of the worst terrorist attacks in modern history. We knew the effects would reverberate here in Florida.

Many Floridians were stranded in Israel after the war broke out and were not receiving adequate assistance from the U.S. embassy or the State Department, so we stepped up by organizing evacuation flights to bring Floridians home.

Allison Zur, her husband and two children were on one of those flights out of Israel and have joined us here today.

But we didn’t stop there. With your help, we called a special session of the Legislature at the first opportunity to pass expanded sanctions on Iran — who were clearly behind the heinous attacks.

As threats of violence continued here at home, we stood up to protect our Jewish day schools, synagogues and Jewish students on university campuses.

But we realize that many universities outside of Florida have failed.

This week, Jewish students across the country are returning to campuses that have condoned antisemitism.

Over the coming months, they will have a tough decision to make — pack up and leave or stay and endure continued hatred — and if they do decide to come to Florida, we will welcome them with open arms.

This includes waiving minimum credit hour requirements for transfers, waiving application deadlines for transfers, and encouraging universities and colleges to use their existing statutory authority to provide in-state tuition for students with a financial hardship.

The pro-Hamas activities and rampant antisemitism on college campuses exposed the intellectual rot that has developed on so many college campuses.

In Florida, our universities must be dedicated to the pursuit of truth, the promotion of academic rigor and integrity, and the preparation of students to be citizens of our republic.

We reject the modern trend of universities that subordinate high academic standards in favor of promoting an ideological agenda.

To this end, we have eliminated so-called DEI from our public universities. DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) is a highly-ideological agenda — in practice it stands for discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination — and it has no place in our public universities.

We have also overhauled faculty hiring to avoid ideological litmus tests and required all tenured professors to undergo review every five years so poor performers can be terminated.

JT Leanos is a freshman and baseball player at New College in Sarasota, which is well on its way to being the premier classical public liberal arts college in America.

The reforms instituted by the New College Board of Trustees and by President Richard Corcoran have transformed the college from an outpost of ideological indoctrination into an institution rooted in truth.

We have ensured that higher education in Florida is affordable — freezing tuition for the past decade. We also have supported Bright Futures scholarships that make it even more affordable for our top students.

While higher education is important, a degree from a four-year brick-and-ivy university is not the only path to success — and for many, it is not the best path to success. When I took office in 2019, I set the goal to make Florida No. 1 in workforce education by 2030, and with the support of the Legislature, we are well on our way:

Since 2019, Florida students have earned more than 365,000 rapid credentials, and just last year, more than 235,000 students earned an industry certificate before they graduated high school;

We have more than tripled our state’s capacity to train truck drivers with a CDL (commercial driver license) license, and this year set a record for CDL program completion; and we have now set a record of 229,000 students enrolled in career and technical education programs at Florida colleges.

There is no question that on this trajectory Florida will soon be No. 1 in workforce education!

The recklessness of spending, borrowing and printing of money over the past four years by the federal government has driven up the costs of everything from groceries to housing — and has saddled Americans with high interest rates. The national debt now stands at $34 trillion.

In NYC (New York City), there is a famous debt clock that shows the national debt going up in real time. I’d like to see one of those made for Florida’s debt — only a Florida debt clock would be counting down, not up, because we have paid down nearly 25% of our state’s debt over the past five years.

Americans’ share of national debt: $100k

Floridians’ share of state debt: $661

We are able to reduce debt because we have been fiscally responsible but also because we have embraced smaller government. Florida has the lowest number of state employees per capita at 96 per 10,000 (82 full time), and the lowest cost per state resident at $40.

This year, my budget proposal reduces the budget by $4 billion from the previous year, placing $16.3 billion in reserves and paying down another $455 million in state debt ahead of schedule.

We have run budget surpluses and paid down debt while also enacting record-setting tax reductions, and even with these tax savings given to our residents, we have brought in $1.3 billion over projections since the start of the fiscal year.

Last year I asked the Legislature to reduce taxes on families as a way to mitigate the effects of the federal government-induced inflation, and you delivered.

We have made it tax free to raise a child in Florida by permanently removing taxes on baby items – cribs, strollers, diapers, baby wipes, clothing and children’s shoes, among other items.

We also provided relief for Florida commuters. The Toll Relief Program reduced commuter costs by $470 million, helping nearly 1.2 million Floridians save as much as $400 each.

Mike Honeycutt who joined us here today is the Founder and Owner of Jet I.C.U., an air ambulance company that recently relocated to Tampa from Hernando County.

Since their business moved, Mike and many of his employees are still commuting to Tampa while in the process of relocation.

Mike has taken on the burden of paying not only his tolls, but the tolls of his staff as well, and through our toll relief program, he has saved $3,936.

In the governor’s budget recommendations, I am proposing that we return $1.1 billion to the people through sweeping tax cuts that will provide even more relief to families, individuals, and retirees just trying to get by during these uncertain times.

Let’s reduce the cost of homeowners insurance, continue our record-setting sales tax holidays, and provide permanent tax relief for small businesses.

In D.C. they are failing to get inflation under control, and while we cannot control federal monetary policy here in Florida, we can take what is already one of the lowest per-capita tax burdens in the country and make our taxes even lower.

Our low tax burden, AAA credit rating and great business environment have attracted families, businesses and retirees alike, but so too has the fact that Florida is the law-and-order state.

Our policies to support law enforcement officers, eliminate riots, keep criminals off the streets, and remove lawless prosecutors from office have kept Florida at a 50-year crime low and have brought new law enforcement recruits to Florida from all 50 states.

Law enforcement officers like Rachel Richardson.

Officer Richardson left her home in Illinois to come to Florida for a new career with the Venice Police Department.

She wanted to work for a state that valued the difficult work police officers do everyday to protect and serve. Officer Richardson, welcome to Florida.

My budget proposal for this year includes $20 million to bring even more officers to the Sunshine State.

To help our police officers achieve their dreams of homeownership while here, we also created the Hometown Heroes program.

Recipients of this program include Detective Frank Jones.

In 2020, when the “Defund the Police” movement was at its peak, Detective Jones moved from Chicago to Collier County to work in a state where he would be respected and supported.

Thanks to our Hometown Heroes program, Detective Jones was able to achieve his dream of homeownership.

And thanks to the leadership of President (Kathleen) Passidomo through the Live Local Act and record housing funding, countless police officers (as well as other staples of the community like teachers and nurses) will now be able to live in the communities they serve.

Still, with all our successful efforts to provide law and order, the impacts of the Biden administration’s open border policies have made their way to Florida.

Here today is Bryan Ramos, who was the victim of a hit and run that tragically also took the life of his friend Nico Bagalihog at the age of 28. The driver who ran over Bryan and Nico was an illegal alien, and when the suspect was arrested by FHP (Florida Highway Patrol), they found he had been previously deported three times and had no right to be in this country.

Also here today is Paula Fredrick, the mother of Amy Fredrick who was killed by fentanyl at just 25 years old. Fentanyl that undoubtedly was trafficked across our porous southern border.

We refuse to sit idly by while Biden’s border crisis ruins lives across the nation.

Since President Biden won’t stop the flow of illegal immigrants and dangerous drugs across the border, Florida has been forced to pick up the slack.

We’ve now sent over 100 Florida State troopers and dozens of FWC (Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) officers to help Texas with border operations, banned sanctuary cities, and instituted policies to deter illegal immigration into our state.

The Biden border crisis has made every state a border state — and Florida is fighting back!

Last year, hundreds of Floridians had their homes destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by Hurricane Idalia.

We rallied resources to the Big Bend region before, during, and after this powerful Category 3 storm made landfall.

At my direction nearly 30,000 utility linemen were staged in preparation for the storm, and among the thousands of first responders and National Guard who prepared to respond, there were members of our newly reformed Florida State Guard that deployed for the first time since 1947.

As a result of our preparations, in less than one week, 96 percent of power was restored, a record for such a rural part of the state.

We have Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast with us here today. We stood side-by-side with the sheriff in the immediate aftermath of the storm, and we will continue to stand with Citrus County and the Big Bend as the community rebuilds.

And as the Big Bend recovers from this year’s storm, we remain focused on the long-term recovery that is still ongoing in Southwest Florida after Hurricane Ian.

While the news cameras have long-since left, we are still there to support residents like Rachel Pierce, a Sanibel-based artist whose art gallery was destroyed by the storm.

After receiving a grant from the Florida Disaster Fund just a few months ago, Rachel was able to reopen her art gallery in November.

With your support, we have made good on our promise to leave Florida to God better than we found it. As the Fishing Capital of the World and home to more than 1,300 miles of world-renowned coastline, Florida’s economic success is tied to our environment.

Since 2019, we have invested $5 billion to support Everglades restoration and water quality, and I am calling for another $1.1 billion to continue our efforts.

In much of our state, the great outdoors is a way of life, and we must preserve that way of life for generations to come, which is why I am calling for $125 million to protect Florida’s conservation lands and waterways.

While across the nation leftist activists have attempted to take away our God-given rights to hunt, fish and enjoy our great outdoors, in Florida we will continue to honor and protect those traditions.

Before I close, it is worth pointing out some more accomplishments that we have been able to deliver:

Protected Floridians against COVID authoritarianism.

Expanded Second Amendment rights.

Kneecapped ESG.

Protected the sanctity of life.

Banned China from buying land in Florida.

Provided hundreds of millions of dollars in relief for homeowners and instituted long-needed reforms that have, against all odds, attracted new insurance companies into Florida.

Enacted a digital bill of rights.

Passed the best election integrity measures in America.

Created a program to accelerate repayment of state debt.

Protected Floridians against the imposition of a central bank digital currency.

Authorized the death penalty for pedophiles.

Brought accountability and transparency to pharmacy middlemen to lower drug costs for consumers.

Won the fight with the federal government to purchase less expensive drugs from Canada.

Passed the Moving Florida Forward initiative to accelerate road projects to alleviate traffic.

Let’s see some other state match that list of achievements!

Just outside of this Capitol building there sits a replica of the Liberty Bell that rang in what is now known as Independence Hall, where our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and later crafted the U.S. Constitution.

On that bell is inscribed a verse from Leviticus: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

This replica sits here in Tallahassee, a thousand miles away from Philadelphia, reminding us of our task: to proclaim liberty.

Here in the Sunshine State, we have delivered good government that protects liberty and maintains order. We have won the unprecedented backing of a populace reflective of our country at large. And we have put forth a blueprint for America’s revival that has instilled hope into the hearts of millions that a new birth of freedom can emanate from this land once more.

We are the heirs to the spirit of 1776 represented by the Liberty Bell. Over the next two months let’s enact policies that focus on Florida’s future, and that keep faith with our nation’s founding ideals.

Together, we will keep Florida free and provide hope for a revival of the American spirit throughout these United States.

Response by House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa

Hello, I’m Fentrice Driskell, Democratic leader in the Florida House of Representatives.

Today, Ron DeSantis delivered his State of the State address. Unfortunately, I find it remarkable that he even had anything to say, because he spent most of the last year focused on his own political ambitions outside of Florida. Our absentee governor visited all 99 counties in Iowa while our property insurance rates, rent, and cost of living skyrocketed, and over 360,000 of our children lost their health insurance in Florida’s disastrous Medicaid disenrollment.

The Republican Legislature and DeSantis traded our freedoms, taxpayer dollars, and reputation as a state to advance one man’s political career. While that damage cannot be undone overnight, we can change course and make better choices for Florida’s future.

We can finally fix problems Florida’s families are facing every day, and leave the distracting culture wars behind.

Let’s focus on pocketbook issues, not book bans. Affordability solutions, instead of abortion restrictions. And create affordable housing, not tax breaks for DeSantis donors.

Although Democrats are in the minority in Tallahassee, my Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate show up to do the work, and we use our voices to fight for the people of Florida every day.

Every legislative session, we propose actual solutions to the very real problems facing Floridians instead of manufacturing new hurdles for people.

So instead of listing everything they’ve done that makes Florida worse, I’d like to tell you a little about what we would do differently.

Number one: We would work to make Florida affordable for Floridians again.

The cost of living here is too high. Our state cannot remain strong and grow if so many families are struggling just to find and keep a place to call home. There’s not enough good housing for people, so home and rental prices are unaffordable.

Over the last 20 years, Republican lawmakers have taken more than $2 billion that was supposed to go to building affordable homes and used it to give huge tax cuts to wealthy corporations.

Meanwhile, we are in a property insurance crisis, with Floridians paying the highest premiums in the nation. And after two regular sessions and two special sessions specifically dedicated to this issue, our rates are still out of control.

That’s because the GOP Legislature has prioritized only the needs of the insurance companies, not the people. Any real, lasting solution to this crisis must do both.

Next, we would stop the unending attack on abortion access in Florida. Across the country, people are standing up and saying, “hands off my health care,” and Floridians do not want Tallahassee politicians getting between a woman and her doctor. We’re on the cusp of a six-week ban, which would outlaw abortion before many women even know they’re pregnant. That’s extremist and wrong, and not what the people want.

Abortion is health care. Period. Full stop. Nobody should be allowed to control what happens to a woman’s body without her consent. Nobody should be allowed to control what happens to your body without your consent.

Speaking of health care, Florida is one of only 10 states in the country that still refuses to accept Medicaid expansion and the money that comes with it. If Democrats were in charge, we would expand Medicaid. Forty other states have already joined, and Florida is left sitting at the kiddie table with states who haven’t like Alabama and Mississippi.

Accepting Medicaid expansion dollars would help provide health care to low-income Florida families, and save the state a lot of money. We’re talking about saving billions of dollars and countless lives.

Finally, we would stop the assault on our teachers and local traditional public schools. We would provide the schools more funding, and bring Florida’s teacher pay up to reflect our commitment to our kids. That’s not complicated or dramatic, in fact it’s pretty simple, and what we need to do to invest in Florida’s future.

We believe that every Floridian deserves the Freedom to be healthy, prosperous, and safe. And that means ending the distracting culture wars, refocusing our government on helping the working people of Florida, and getting partisan politics out of families’ lives. Governing the Sunshine State is a privilege, and we should be focused on doing what’s best for the people.

Notice what’s not on our list …

We aren’t making Florida less safe by rolling back gun safety laws.

We aren’t trying to hide a workforce shortage — created by bad policy — by weakening child labor laws.

We aren’t wasting time interfering with how parents raise their kids or limiting the books they can read.

These are actual policies that Republicans are focused on this year. By contrast, Florida House Democrats want to do serious things to solve real problems facing Florida families. We don’t want the culture war fights. They don’t improve our economy or help anyone’s life.

Let’s leave kids, library books, and “woke” boogeymen alone this year.

We’ve spent two years being governed by what DeSantis thinks would be most attractive to Iowa and New Hampshire primary voters, and that hasn’t made life better for Florida’s families.

Together, we can make it easier for a Florida family to thrive, not just survive.

Let’s fix the roads and classrooms, clean the water, and strengthen our economy from the bottom up. Let’s use this chance to build something instead of tearing others down.

The Democratic caucus and I show up every day knowing that this is going to be an uphill battle. Our experience has taught us that it is hard to fight for change. But we also understand that if we don’t try, we don’t make progress.

We invite you to come stand with us — to help create the change that Florida so desperately needs. To be part of the movement away from fear and back toward community. To help defend our beliefs without belittling anyone for theirs. To help heal division through compassionate leadership.

We can work together. We can build a better Florida. And we can all have the freedom to be healthy, prosperous, and safe.

I’m Fentrice Driskell, Leader of the Florida House Democrats. Thank you for your time.

Response by Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Davie

Friends and fellow Floridians,

Our great state of Florida — the third most populous state in the union — has always been a beacon of opportunity, promise and success.

From the southernmost point to the shores of Apalachicola Bay, and everywhere in between … Floridians have many different ways of life, but we all take pride in hard work, family and our beloved freedoms.

We just heard the governor speak about Florida’s triumphs. Yet underneath carefully curated talking points, a much darker reality is clear: The very essence of what has made our state great for decades is under continued threat due to an increasingly out-of-touch and extreme agenda championed by the Republican Party of Florida, and a governor who is more preoccupied with running for president than solving problems in our state.

Despite our booming economy, the foundations of Florida are shaking.

Our seniors — pillars of our communities, whose hard work and dedication built Florida up to her former glory — now face the grim possibility of losing their homes.

Our students and young people — who are supposed to be Florida’s future — cannot afford to live in the state they grew up in and desperately want to make better.

Our workers and unions — the fabric of our communities and the backbone of our economy — are under constant attack and face elimination by their own government.

And while Florida has become the inflation hotspot of the country, families across the state are burdened by soaring costs of living — the erosion of our democracy — and a government preoccupied with taking away our rights, while failing to address real issues facing everyday people.

Housing continues to be unaffordable for most.

And more than a quarter of a million Floridians — including small children — will soon be deprived of health coverage, leaving our population sicker and poorer as a direct result of government failures.

Unjust abortion bans opposed by the vast majority of Floridians have stripped our residents of the right to privacy and health care — forcing dangerous pregnancy and birth, or else — with threats to literally jail women and their doctors.

Freedom of speech and peaceful protest have been curtailed, destroying constitutional protections assured by the First Amendment.

Voting rights and equality are under attack.

And freedom — true freedom — is long foregone.

But Florida Senate Democrats, along with our colleagues in the House, are working tirelessly to defend our rights, to restore affordability, and solve problems for everyday people — because we believe the great state of Florida, the home we love so much, is unquestionably worth fighting for.

And so is our freedom.

Together, Florida Senate Democrats are fighting for you, filing legislation to ensure Floridians have the freedom to be economically strong, healthy and safe.

That’s why I’m fighting to make sure women aren’t jailed over abortion care and low-income seniors stay afloat amidst the ongoing property insurance crisis.

It’s why Senator (Darryl) Rouson is fighting to protect Florida’s seniors from fraud.

And Leader Pro Tem (Jason) Pizzo, Senator (Rosalind) Osgood, and Senator (Victor) Torres are fighting to make sure Floridians can actually afford to live in the Sunshine State.

Senator (Linda) Stewart is fighting to preserve Florida’s world-class environment.

While Senator (Lori) Berman and Senator (Tracie) Davis are fighting to expand Medicaid and create a healthier Florida.

Senator (Tina) Polsky is fighting for common sense gun safety, and Senator (Bobby) Powell is fighting against community violence.

It’s why Senator (Geraldine) Thompson continues to be a voice for voting rights, while Senator (Shevrin) Jones is making sure students have the freedom to learn Florida’s true and unabridged history — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And we continue to propose measures to ensure the promise of freedom and the prosperity of Florida’s booming economy reach every single neighborhood and Zip code across the state.

We are proud to fight for teachers and truck drivers — for women and their doctors — for farmers and small business owners — students, and our seniors.

Because until every Floridian has access to economic opportunity, safe communities, and the freedom to realize their own version of the American Dream, Florida’s promise is failing.

Unfortunately, Democratic proposals are routinely rejected along party lines in favor of an agenda that prioritizes the interests of the few over the needs of many. But we will not give up.

And let me be clear: the priorities of the people — the taxpayers and hardworking families who make the Sunshine State great — must always be the priority of any public servant in elected office.

Corporate interests must never take precedence over the well-being of our residents and communities.

And the tenets of freedom, safety, and affordability must anchor all decisions.

As Florida’s Senate Democratic leader, I want you to rest assured knowing that Democrats in the Legislature remain undeterred in our fight for your rights.

We’re fighting for teachers like Ana, who just wants to be paid a dignified wage to do the job she loves — and for the state of Florida to stop attacking her classroom library, her students, and her union.

We’re fighting for Sam and his wife Kim, grandparents in their 80s who worked hard all their lives — now on the brink of losing their home because they, like so many others, just can’t afford Florida’s skyrocketing cost of property insurance.

And we’re fighting for Anya, Shenae, and so many others across the state who have been denied needed and appropriate medical care following dangerous miscarriages — told they must go home and get sick — and quite literally risk death before a doctor can legally provide treatment — because of Florida’s barbaric and cruel ban on abortion, and politicians who think they know better than a woman and her doctor.

These Floridians, and each and every one of us, deserve better. We deserve more.

And while passing good public policy means we’ll work across the aisle in order to get things done for you, your elected Democrats will never compromise in defense of our shared values.

As we open and gavel in the start of the 2024 Florida legislative session, your Senate Democratic caucus and the Democratic battalion in the Florida House will continue to uplift the voices and demands of our constituents.

We were elected to do the people’s work, and yours is the interest we proudly serve.

But the urgency is paramount. Floridians are not merely asking but begging for help.

You have my word that I will continue to lead the fight for relief and progress for Floridians everywhere.

Together, we have the solutions. It is long past time to put those solutions into action, for the benefit of all.

Florida is only as prosperous, as safe, and as free as the poorest, least protected, and least free among us.

The fight continues.

Remarks by House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast

Good morning! To our friends and guests in the gallery, welcome to the Florida House!

I want to specially recognize my three favorite people whose patience and support keep me motivated and focused: my wife, Adriana, daughter, Abigail, and son, William. I love you guys!

We achieved many long-standing goals last session. We protected life and the constitutional right of self-defense, reformed property insurance and ended Wild West litigation, closed Enterprise Florida as a source of corporate welfare, pushed back against ESG, and created more affordable housing for hard-working Floridians.

Perhaps our biggest victory came through numerous measures and funding to protect children, defend childhood, and create an environment in which every boy and girl can thrive. By passing HB 1, you made Florida the undisputed champion of educational freedom and provided every child the opportunity to succeed in the classroom.

This session, we’ll ensure adequate funding for students with unique abilities and a more efficient system for parents and students who embrace educational freedom. We will also provide our students greater support to reach grade level in the critical subjects of reading and math.

As good stewards of taxpayer money, we balanced our budget, paid off debt ahead of schedule, and set aside $11 billion in reserves, all while returning $2.7 billion to people who know how to spend their money far better than government: Florida’s taxpayers.

By rejecting unnecessary spending, we were able to invest record amounts in infrastructure, including transportation, land conservation, and water quality. We raised salaries for teachers and other state workers and approved record spending for our best-in-the-nation education system.

Despite our successes, new challenges and opportunities confront us. Florida’s long-term infrastructure needs far exceed current funding. In collaboration with our Senate partners, we will commit new funds from the Seminole compact to support Florida’s environmental infrastructure and protect our natural resources for the future.

Speaking of our Senate partners, we continue to enjoy a close relationship with colleagues across the rotunda, and I continue to appreciate President (Kathleen) Passidomo for her leadership and thoughtfulness on the big issues facing our state.

One of those important issues is health care, including mental health. We aim to bring greater transparency to the price and quality of health care. We will look for ways patients can save money using that information. And we will remove protectionist barriers so health care professionals from outside Florida can move here, relieving critical shortages and providing more health care access to Floridians.

We will support the Senate’s proposal for a teaching hospital to help those facing severe mental illness. House members have proposed Baker Act reforms that lead to meaningful treatment and propose new solutions to homelessness for which mental health is often a cause.

We can fund new initiatives to improve health care, including mental health, but only if we restrain spending elsewhere. This means we must eliminate what remains of corporate welfare, avoid taking on new debt, and lower discretionary spending across the board. We must also build a budget that can withstand economic downturn tomorrow while protecting essential services.

As we did last session, we will prioritize the unique needs of children. We’ll help parents with children in poverty overcome the fiscal cliffs of public assistance programs and support other health care initiatives that benefit children, both before and after they are born.

Fortunately, most children start life physically healthy and ready to reach their potential. Unfortunately, they face daily threats to their mental health that even the most involved parents struggle to confront. Children have always faced mean girls and boys, but social media has changed the game and causes unprecedented damage to children’s mental health. And here’s the truth — the social media companies know this. They also know that they designed social media to be as addictive as possible. Before social media, those mean kids barely made a dent in our children’s mental health. But the rise of social media has hollowed out what should be a childhood of happiness and big dreams.

Recent surveys of high school girls prove its devastating effects. When asked, “Have you experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness within the past year?” 57%, yes. “Have you experienced poor mental health during the past 30 days?” 41%, yes. And when asked, “Have you seriously considered suicide within the last year?” 30%, yes.

This is the legacy of social media, and it is a global problem. But it cannot be the fate of our children — we must act! We will take bold steps like age verification to rescue our children from technology that cripples their sense of self-worth and purpose.

Similarly, where pornography is concerned, the rules for adults cannot be the same for children. We cannot stand by and allow children to access hardcore pornography, and we plan to do something about it.

Call it a culture war if you want, but it is another battle to defend common sense against those who want to obliterate the distinction between adulthood and childhood. It’s a battle we intend to win.

We should begin each legislative session by applying the wisdom we learn from experience. The Florida Way embraces the timeless wisdom found in our nation’s core foundations and common-sense cultural norms. More than two centuries of American history and our own experience prove that the Florida Way delivers a safe and prosperous society in which everyone can thrive. Years of experience also demonstrate that when states and nations adopt policies that reject those foundations, the result is the collapse of public safety, economic decline, and centralized control over every aspect of life. In our own country today, we see a rejection of common sense and the rule of law, causing the kind of collapse in public safety that we have only seen in other countries.

The nation of Colombia is a good example. They took the wrong path and allowed leftist guerillas to effectively control large parts of the country.

When America suffered a crisis of confidence, Ronald Reagan provided a vision for restoring America as a shining city on the hill. When the Nazis set their sights on invading the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill led his nation to victory. And when Colombia faced imminent dangers from leftist guerilla groups, they turned to Álvaro Uribe. As President of Colombia, his leadership truly saved his nation.

Members, it is my privilege to recognize former President Uribe. Due to weather, his visit is delayed. But you will have an opportunity to hear from him and other special guests tomorrow.

We are also privileged to have as our guests the mayor of Tuluá, Colombia, Mayor Gustavo Vélez, and his wife, Luz Elena. Mayor Vélez knew first-hand the risk that leadership posed for him and his family. It would have been easy for him to walk away from the fight. Instead, he is leaning in, putting his community ahead of his family’s own safety, believing that his local community and his country are worth saving. His leadership is proof that one person can make a big difference. Mayor Vélez recently won his election running on a platform of public safety and holding the corrupt accountable. Mayor Vélez and Mrs. Vélez, welcome to the Florida House!

I know about Tuluá because someone very special to me was born there, my wife Adriana. She suggested we invite these leaders to share the challenges Colombia overcame under President Uribe, but now face again.

With help from Representative (David) Borrero and others, we are happy to host the public to attend Colombian-American Day and hear from these leaders beginning tomorrow at 10 a.m. in the Cabinet Room on the lower level.

Our Colombian guests know too well that public safety must be government’s first priority. Once lost, it is hard to regain.

This session, we will continue our commitment to keeping Floridians safe, empowering law enforcement to combat human trafficking, punishing flash mobs that target retailers, and taking a hard line against juveniles who steal guns and use them to commit crimes.

Last session, we delivered better benefits for law enforcement and first responders. This session, we will extend penalties for anyone who commits violence against law enforcement and bring an end to citizen review boards that are weaponized by defund-the-police activists.

Meanwhile, for schools that refuse to follow common-sense steps like locking their doors, we will pass new measures to protect our children.

Members, there is a new threat to public safety in the dangerous explosion of antisemitism. I have sent correspondence to FDLE (the Florida Department of Law Enforcement) requesting the formation of a special task force to investigate and prosecute antisemitic acts in our state. Holocaust survivor David Schaecter recently warned us that intimidation, if left unchecked, leads to open violence. We must all speak and act with moral clarity now against those who give aid and comfort to groups who advocate a new Holocaust. In Florida, we will say clearly, “Never, never again!”

Florida’s success is built into our Constitution. Our balanced budget requirement protects our state’s fiscal health, and we benefit from new ideas and better governance with constitutionally mandated term limits. The federal government completely lacks fiscal discipline, and national financial collapse is certain unless we change direction by enacting clear, constitutional spending limits.

Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution sets the process by which states can propose amendments. Later today, we will vote to reaffirm Florida’s support for imposing term limits and a balanced budget on the federal government, changes that are needed to save our country.

Amid significant national and international challenges, Florida rises above the rest with an unbreakable commitment to our nation’s core foundations. By remaining faithful to those foundations, Florida has become a place of great prosperity, opportunity, and quality of life.

This session, we will continue our work to help every Floridian reach their full potential and make Florida the envy of the nation today and for years to come.

God bless each of you and the great state of Florida!

Remarks by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples

Senators and families, friends and visitors, good morning, Happy New Year, and welcome back.

Thank you to all our families and guests for being here today in spite of the weather. I think tropical storm force winds on opening day must be good luck — kind of like rain on your wedding day. It poured on our wedding day, and John and I have been married for almost 45 years. Rain has certainly been good luck for me. For all of us, I hope the old adage “In like a lion, out like a lamb,” rings true this session.

As I finish out my term as president, it is particularly special to see our Senate families, having watched them grow and change over the years.

When my old seatmate Senator (Bobby) Powell and I came to the Senate in 2016, he was a single man. Then he met and married Whitney, and then Chandler came along. It has been so much fun to see her grow up.

It is amazing to think Leader (Lauren) Book was expecting when she was elected to the Senate. What a joy it has been to watch her twins, Hudson and Kennedy, grow up here.

Senator (Travis) Hutson and Tanya have kept us guessing which “T” name they will use next after Taylor, Tyler, Turner and Tucker.

And, they aren’t the only ones — over the last few years, it seems that we have welcomed more and more children to the Senate family, which brings us so much joy.

We have watched the Pizzo twins grow into young men who are just as dapper as their father. Actually, more so. I look forward to seeing them later in session.

Senator (Alexis) Calatayud, we are so honored that your grandmother could join us today. Bienvenida!

Senators (Dennis) Baxley, (Jim) Boyd, (Doug) Broxson, (Colleen) Burton, (Ed) Hooper, (Linda) Stewart, (Geraldine) Thompson, (Gayle) Harrell, (Rosalind) Osgood, (Victor) Torres and others are blessed with grandkids. Some days it’s tough to keep up with all of them, and other days, we are hoping for more. I think Senator Broxson is currently leading the field.

President-Designate (Ben) Albritton and Chair (Debbie) Mayfield are more recent additions to the grandparents club, which I know we all agree is absolutely the best.

In my own family, we had an exciting development last weekend. Due to the weather, John and Francesca couldn’t make it up from Naples this morning, and Catarina couldn’t get out of Oxford, Mississippi. However, we are excited to announce the engagement of our youngest daughter, Gabriella, who is here with me today. We just love her fiancé, Wilson Smith, and his family. Gabby, thank you for being here.

While the Senate family has many blessings to celebrate, we have also experienced some profound losses in recent weeks and months – Senator (Joe) Gruters’ mother, Senator (Clay) Yarborough’s father, Senator (Bryan) Avila’s mother, Senator Burton’s father, Senator Osgood’s grandfather. And, my own father, last fall.

We have our parents to thank for shaping us. Even those who are no longer with us have left an imprint on this chamber. We have our spouses to thank for their support. Because of their love, encouragement, and sacrifice, we have the opportunity to serve. We have our children and grandchildren to thank for keeping us grounded. Family reminds us of where we came from, where we are going, and what we are fighting for. As we begin this new session, it’s our families who inspire us to work for a better future for all families throughout Florida. To always follow our “True North.”

While we will spend a lot of time together this session, I know we will also continue to spend a lot of time with our constituents. Many citizens throughout Florida travel to Tallahassee during session to make their voices heard. They deserve our attention, and they receive it.

When developing legislation, I always advocate the “big tent approach.” Everyone is invited to help develop, revise and improve legislation. Whether we hear from constituents in committee, in our district office or walking through the grocery store during a weekend at home, their feedback is very important.

As you know, my number one priority last session was our workforce housing initiative – Live Local. Keeping that theme in mind, this session the Senate incorporated the big tent approach to legislation in both the Live Healthy and Learn Local initiatives. Throughout last summer and fall, we met with people from all over the state to hear their thoughts and ideas, and I feel really good about our work products.

We know access to health care is important at every phase of life. Insurance – even Medicaid – does not guarantee access.

I want to be clear. I’m not going to spend the next 60 days re-litigating Medicaid expansion. I understand the arguments both for and against. We have had the debate several times over the last decade.

Medicaid expansion is not going to happen. It is not a quick fix. It is not a panacea. In fact, if you cannot actually schedule an appointment with a health care provider, Medicaid expansion is nothing more than a false government promise.

If we do not take steps now to grow our health care workforce, all Floridians – even those with great insurance, and certainly those on Medicaid – will continue to face barriers to care.

My goal is to make sure our health care system is growing and innovating – to better serve all Floridians.

The robust package Senator Burton, Senator Harrell and I have been working on will expand Florida’s health care workforce with new opportunities for education, training and retention. This includes enhancing partnerships between hospitals and colleges and universities that train health care workers, and residency slots and loan repayment options that drive providers to underserved areas.

We want to make sure our medical school graduates stay in Florida, and also attract more out-of-state residents to build their lives and medical practices here in our communities.

We are funding provider increases that incentivize health care workers to continue serving in needed fields like mental health, labor and delivery, and helping Floridians with disabilities. And, we are expanding clinical training to include more rural, remote, or other locations difficult to access.

We know hospital emergency rooms are the most expensive real estate in Florida. Live Healthy will help create partnerships with other primary care settings so care that is urgent, but not life threatening, can be handled in a more efficient and appropriate setting. Live Healthy also expands access to preventative health screenings to ensure early diagnosis and better management of chronic disease. That is a concept my dad, an ophthalmologist, had advocated over the years.

I am a believer in the free market. I know the private sector can innovate in ways government could never imagine. What government can do is facilitate the exploration and implementation of new technologies.

The Live Healthy Innovation Council will examine solutions to improve the delivery and quality of health care in our state, and develop a loan program to support implementation, with a focus on underserved areas.

We will also consider legislation by Senator (Jay) Collins to create a streamlined, yet sound, pathway for out-of-state providers moving to Florida. Senator Boyd has legislation to establish a new category of teaching hospitals, focused on behavioral health. Senator (Jason) Brodeur is working on legislation to expand services to Floridians with disabilities. And, Senator Collins is also working on a priority of Speaker (Paul) Renner to expand price transparency.

This is a robust package of bills. It is complex, but critically important. In order to care for our growing population and meet the increased demand for health care, we must expand our workforce, increase efficiencies and elevate quality. I look forward to continued feedback and suggestions from the entire Senate.

Tomorrow we will take up our public school deregulation package, Learn Local, by Senators Calatayud, Hutson, and (Corey) Simon. I am so proud of this first-in-the-nation effort to cut the red tape and reduce bureaucracy in our neighborhood public schools, while maintaining high academic standards and school safety.

For decades now, we have rejected the idea that neighborhoods and Zip codes alone should govern how and where a child is educated. We created and implemented rigorous standards across every aspect of the public school system as a way to make certain every child has access to a great education, regardless of where they live.

As part of that effort, every year, more and more regulations are placed on our school districts, which leads to more paperwork, and more tasks in an already packed school day. Telling districts what to do and how to do it was supposed to ensure quality, but it can also stifle innovation.

With Learn Local we do not lose one inch of the accountability measures instituted over the last 30 years. These metrics and measurements provide information to help parents make the best decisions for their children. Parents are more involved than ever before. Parents are the ultimate arbiter of performance. Parents will hold neighborhood schools, charter schools, and private schools accountable with their voices and their feet.

With universal school choice now a reality for Florida families, reducing bureaucratic red tape will give neighborhood public schools that have served our communities and families for generations, a meaningful chance to compete right alongside other school choice options.

Finally, I am very proud of the work we have undertaken on our wildlife corridor, starting under President (Wilton) Simpson’s leadership, we have made historic, once-in-a-generation investments that will preserve the natural beauty of our state, what makes our state so special, for future Floridians to enjoy. This year, we will take that commitment to the next level.

Senator Hutson is sponsoring legislation to use revenues available through the gaming compact that Governor DeSantis signed with the Seminole Tribe in 2021 to establish dedicated funding for continuing acquisition and management of our conservation lands.

We know conservation and preservation of Florida’s land and water resources is essential to maintaining the quality of life enjoyed by Floridians, as well as sustaining and growing a thriving economy, including legacy industries like tourism and agriculture.

These investments preserve working farmland and ranchland, allow for strategic expansion of the wildlife corridor, and help protect endangered native species, including the Florida panther.

Additional funding for land management will expand public access to state recreation lands, including Florida’s state parks, greenways and trails, and game lands. It will also help protect against wildfire damage and infiltration of dangerous non-native species.

Using these new revenues to acquire and manage conservation lands and invest in our clean water infrastructure will be a phenomenal return on investment for our state. I hope the legislation will earn your support.

In closing, my gift for you this session is a mirror, which our multimedia staff has personalized for you. Just as our families keep us grounded, mirrors keep us honest.

Tallahassee is an easy place to find fair-weather, or as I call them, “temporary” friends, who compliment our looks and laugh at all of our jokes. When we look in the mirror, we see ourselves for who we really are. We remember where we came from and what we are fighting for.

I hope the mirrors will be a beautiful, yet practical addition to your office or home. Thank you again, and I look forward to working with each of you this session.

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