TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s governor has a lot on his 2022 wishlist and Tuesday morning he aimed to rally the legislature to support those goals when he addressed lawmakers and Floridians during his annual "State of the State" address.
The governor faces reelection in 2022 and his goals reflect a desire to make his base GOP happy without isolating independents.
DeSantis on Tuesday touted Florida as being the "freest state" in the U.S. for keeping businesses and schools open as much as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have protected the right of our citizens to earn a living, provided our businesses with the ability to prosper, fought back against unconstitutional federal mandates, and ensured our kids have the opportunity to thrive," DeSantis said.
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One of the first priorities DeSantis announced for 2022 is an end to the high-stakes FSA testing. The governor wants to replace the annual end-of-the-year exam with progress monitoring. It’ll reduce test time by 75% and give teachers regular snapshots of student progress with time to course correct.
"While it is important to embrace high academic standards and to measure student achievement, the FSA test is not the best way to do it," DeSantis said. "This reform will be better for students, teachers and parents, and it will help Florida remain a leader in education reform."
The governor is also asking the Florida Legislature to approve $1,000 bonuses for public school teachers and principals for a second year in a row.
Late last year, DeSantis also announced his Stop WOKE Act, which aims to eliminate the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public classrooms and private employee training, under threat of a lawsuit. Democrats call it a solution in search of a problem.
Another controversial goal is the governor’s election integrity package. It requires more security on ballot drop boxes, elevates ballot harvesting to a third-degree felony, and creates a new office to investigate voter fraud and other election crimes.
"Ballot harvesting has no place in Florida and we need to increase the penalties for those who do it," DeSantis said. "We also need to ensure that supervisors clean the voter rolls, that only citizens are registered to vote and that mail ballots only go to those who actually request them before each individual election."
DeSantis is offering a nearly $100 billion budget proposal that would bring back the state guard, boost school funding, and improve Florida waterways.
The governor is also proposing a $1 billion "gas tax holiday" to help reduce prices at the pump, calling for state financial support to build a memorial for the victims of the Champlain Towers South condominium building collapse in Surfside, and asking the Florida Legislature to approve another round of $1,000 bonuses for all law enforcement officers, firefighters, and paramedics in Florida.
"Serving in law enforcement is a noble calling," DeSantis said. "My proposals to increase pay for state law enforcement by up to 25% and to provide $5,000 signing bonuses to law enforcement personnel who either transfer to or begin their careers in Florida."
Critics, however, say a more people-centered focus is needed— like boosts to affordable housing or unemployment.
"In 10 months, we are going to fire this governor and bring leadership with a heart back to Tallahassee," said Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. "We can deliver a $15 dollar minimum wage. We can protect a woman’s right to choose, we will defend Roe v. Wade. We can take on the big insurance companies and utility companies and lower living costs. We can legalize marijuana and put justice back into our criminal justice system."
Florida's annual Legislative Session kicked off Tuesday. The state's more than 150 state senators and representatives are set to consider nearly 3,500 bills over the next the 60 days.