Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis outlined his agenda in his State of the State speech Tuesday, his last of his first term as he seeks reelection and eyes a possible 2024 presidential run.
DeSantis spoke about the state's policies regarding COVID-19, education, immigration and other issues in his speech in Tallahassee.
While three major Democrats are seeking to challenge DeSantis in November — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and state Sen. Annette Taddeo — the governor has paid little attention to them.
Instead, DeSantis has focused his criticism on Democratic President Joe Biden and the media, particularly when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. DeSantis opposes COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates and often describes Florida as a place for freedom, not lockdowns.
"In Florida, 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. "Florida has become the escape hatch for those chafing under authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions."
When it comes to education and schools, DeSantis reiterated his stance that they need to stay open through the pandemic.
"In the summer of 2020, when it wasn’t fashionable, we made clear that kids needed to be in school. We faced opposition — from hysterical media, from unions and the politicians they control. We even faced lawsuits aiming to close the schools, but we wouldn’t allow fear or politics to harm our kids," DeSantis said. "We were right and they were wrong. And millions of families in Florida are better for it."
In his first State of the State speech, DeSantis touted his action to posthumously pardon four Black men accused of raping a white woman in a 1949 case that's now seen as a racial injustice.
This year, DeSantis wants a law banning schools from teaching critical race theory and allowing parents to sue if they do. He also wants to allow employees to be able to sue employers who use critical race theory as part of their training.
Critical race theory is a decades-old concept that holds that American institutions are still systemically racist despite the removal of structural barriers during the Civil Rights era. Conservatives say it divides society by defining people as oppressors and oppressed based on their race, and that it teaches white people to believe they are inherently racist.
Among other things on the governor's to do list: Spend nearly $6 million to create a law enforcement office dedicated to investigating election fraud, even though there's no evidence of widespread voter fraud. DeSantis has said the 2020 presidential election went smoothly in Florida.
Other priorities for DeSantis include $1,000 bonuses for teachers and first responders and a gas tax holiday, which he says will save drivers $1 billion.
The speech marks the first day of the annual 60-day legislative session. Lawmakers need to pass a state budget and redraw political maps in the once-a-decade redistricting process. More than 3,000 bills have been filed ahead of the session.
Sign up for our Breaking newsletter to get the most urgent news stories in your inbox.