TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis formally started the 2020 legislative session Tuesday by urging lawmakers to boost pay for many public-school teachers, continue addressing Everglades restoration and water quality and curb business regulations.
DeSantis used his annual State of the State address to tout taking a “bold step” by setting a minimum salary of $47,500 for teachers, a $602 million proposal that will be a key issue during the 60-day session.
“This will make it easier to get talented college graduates to enter the profession and will help us retain many of the good teachers we have now,” DeSantis said during the 34-minute address. “My plan will lead to a substantial pay increase for over 100,000 current teachers throughout the state.”
The teacher-pay plan, however, has drawn questions from Republican and Democratic legislative leaders. About an hour before DeSantis’ speech, House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, addressed lawmakers and said the House “pledges to work towards a significant, equitable and sustainable proposal that can also accommodate wage increases in other critical areas” -- stopping short of a full endorsement of DeSantis’ plan.
Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, issued a response to the DeSantis speech and said the minimum-pay plan would leave out higher-paid teachers and other school employees.
“His plan leaves out more than 50% of the teachers in this state and all of the support personnel,” Gibson said. “Thousands of education support personnel, all in critical components of Florida’s public education system -- staffing libraries, guiding students, cleaning buildings, and driving buses -- know the governor’s plan is neither bold nor fresh since none of them are considered in his teacher pay plan.
The State of the State address came amid the traditional backdrop of a flower-filled House chamber as lawmakers prepare for a two-month sprint to pass bills and a budget. Lawmakers frequently interrupted DeSantis with applause as he outlined what were largely a familiar set of priorities.
Since taking office last January, DeSantis has focused heavily on Everglades restoration and water problems such as toxic algae and red tide in waterways and coastal areas of Southeast Florida and Southwest Florida. He called for lawmakers Tuesday to continue the efforts, including spending at least $625 million annually for the next three years on Everglades and water projects.
“(It) doesn’t mean there aren’t other important things,” DeSantis told News4Jax after the speech. “You know, we laid out some of the stuff. ... Wanted to give the Legislature some of the credit for some of the things that happened last year, report on some of the progress that’s been made.”
Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, on Monday proposed a bill (SB 1878) that would carry out DeSantis’ spending proposal. The bill would require spending $625 million a year through June 30, 2023 -- the end of four state fiscal years under DeSantis.
After Tuesday’s speech, Bradley spoke about the large increase DeSantis wants in education spending.
“We had a major increase in education spending last year. If you look at my community, they had a big raise for teachers,” Bradley said. "We’re going to have, hopefully, more resources this year and we can do another raise.”
House Appropriations Chairman Travis Cummings, liked the collegial tone to the governor’s remarks.
“I think the governor is bold and strong, but he recognizes the House and Senate are key partners," Cummings said. "We had a great session last year but I think you understand this year is a new challenge.”
Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, took a shot at DeSantis’ focus on the environment.
“It’s been nice to see the Republican Party here in Florida finally get interested in environmental protection, which is a good thing. But, really, it’s been a very mixed bag. It’s very hard to call yourself an environmentalist when you are simultaneously allowing oil exploration drilling in the Apalachicola River Basin,” Jenne said, referring to a drilling issue in Northwest Florida.
DeSantis also used the address to focus on frequent themes of Republicans, including eliminating “Common Core” standards in education, holding down taxes and pitching a deregulation plan that would reduce occupational licensing requirements on professions such as barbers and interior designers.
“Our citizens shouldn’t need a permission slip from the government in order to earn a living,” he said.
DeSantis also briefly touched on support for a controversial proposal that would require parental consent before minors can have abortions. The proposal is ready for a vote in the full House and is scheduled to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
He also alluded to a priority of remaking the Florida Supreme Court, which long frustrated state Republican leaders. DeSantis appointed three justices last January to immediately make the court more conservative. Two of those appointees -- Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa -- were subsequently tapped by President Donald Trump for seats on a federal appeals court.
DeSantis made clear his upcoming picks to replace Luck and Lagoa will have the same judicial bent.
“In our system of government, courts play an important role, but it is a role that must remain judicial in nature; when courts exercise legislative authority, they pervert the Constitution and undermine the rule of law,” he said.
- News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.