Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva's opening day remarks

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Following are House Speaker Jose Oliva’s remarks, as prepared, on the first day of the 2019 legislative session:

Thank you. I’d like to offer a warm welcome to all that are joining us today. Especially all of our friends and family. It is through their sacrifice and constant support that we can dedicate ourselves to this work, we thank you.

Members, we stand at the threshold of a new legislative session, and with it, endless possibilities. Entrusted in us the authority and confidence of over 20 million Floridians. And with that authority and expectation, an expectation that we will do what we said we would when we first knocked on their door and asked for their vote. What we wrote in our mailers that stuffed their mailboxes and recorded in our political ads that crowded their airwaves. That we would be who we said we would be.

We are blessed to live in the most gifted state in the union. Florida is truly geographically and environmentally gifted. She is all at once Southern and the gateway to the Americas. She is the first stop for families like mine seeking to participate in the American Miracle and the last stop for many settling into their hard-earned retirement. And thanks to the work of past leaders, she is the most fiscally sound and freest state in the union.

But great clouds have formed above us. An eminent financial and human threat. I speak of course of our health care system. Nothing is a great financial threat to the public and private coffers alike as is health care. Today, we spend almost more on health care than we do on all other things combined. Still, hundreds of thousands go without. Many more struggle to afford ever increasing insurance and medication costs. The health care industrial complex receives federal dollars, state dollars, local dollars, and private dollars and still they need more.

Pharmaceutical companies gouge Floridians for their medications, often 10 times what the rest of the world pays, sometimes more. Floridians are depending on us to remedy this crisis. That is why this year we will pass comprehensive health care reform. No single policy will be the solution. A truly comprehensive approach is what is required.

Among these will be, the repeal of the certificate of need which has led to local and regional monopolies. It has stifled competition and led to skyrocketing prices. We will unleash powerful new technologies like telehealth to operate to its full potential. As well as allow highly trained and skilled nurse practitioners to practice to the full extent of their training. We will empower the patient to be an active participant in their health care choices through health savings accounts and ensure that they will receive accurate and binding estimates for their care. And make it clear that the patient’s records belong to the patient. And we will free state agencies and Floridians alike to purchase medications at the prices the rest of the world purchases them at. This is all within our authority, is it within our courage?

Another area of concern, although admittedly less than the five-alarm fire that is health care, is our state university and college system. Our state university system is considered the best in the nation. Our congratulations to the many dedicated folks who have made this possible. But with our sincere accolades must come the concession that there have been great excesses within the system and a propensity to fill the campuses, build new buildings and grow higher and higher paid administrative staff.

Our college system too has shown these harmful habits with the additional issue of desiring to become 4-year institutions as well. Rising costs are hidden by keeping tuition artificially low through heavy subsidies and students are taking longer to graduate amassing greater debt and starting their professional lives hindered.

This session we will pass higher ed reform. We will adjust how universities receive their funding to incentivize a focused and sustainable system. We will complete the work of performance funding so that the institutions’ best interests are aligned with the students, and we will reform how new buildings are requested and funded. Each new building will require a space-utilization study to justify its need. Every building will require a down payment as well as an escrow account to ensure for its future maintenance. We will seek the same for our college system with additional emphasis on the need for our colleges to focus on the important work of developing workforce programs.

These reforms will ensure the value of a higher education is sustainable and available to future generations.

We can act now and celebrate and preserve the good while freeing the system of its excesses.

In our K-12 system we will continue to lead the nation in empowerment and choice, firm in the belief that a child’s Zip code should not determine the quality of their education and that competition brings out the best in all of our institutions.

And what ties this all together is our budget. Together we will craft a budget that aligns our priorities. That rewards innovation and rejects excesses. A budget that increases teacher pay, gives much needed assistance to our Panhandle brothers and sisters still recovering from a devastating hurricane, funds the Governor’s environmental initiative to preserve our natural, life-sustaining treasures. And we will do it all while lowering per capita spending.

A new session and the opportunity to be who we said we would be. I look forward to working with all of you, with Leader McGhee, with President Galvano and our partners in the Senate, and with our Governor and Cabinet members. Let us begin. Thank you.