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Gov. DeSantis' State of the State: 'The sun is rising here in Florida'

The governor touted efforts to combat COVID-19 as Democrats argue he didn't do enough to save lives.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — COVID-19 was, as might be expected, an overriding theme Tuesday during Gov. Ron DeSantis’s State of the State address.

The governor delivered his remarks on the opening day of Florida’s legislative session.

The gist of DeSantis's speech was that Florida had gotten it right, embracing a coronavirus response strategy that has left the state in far better financial shape, he said, than had been predicted.

“We will not let anybody close your schools, we will not let anybody close your businesses, and we will not let anybody take your jobs,” DeSantis said to a round of applause.

   

The governor paused for an 8-minute video featuring workers, business owners, teachers, students and elderly residents who all praised his decisions during a painfully difficult year.

DeSantis acknowledged the terrible human toll COVID has taken.

“So, to honor those with COVID and to recognize that all the virus has taken on family members throughout our state the state of Florida will be lowering the flags to half-staff on Wednesday,” he said.

DeSantis also laid out his priorities for the legislative session.

They include a so-called "law and order" bill to enhance penalties for rioters and prevent defunding police. Another bill would weaken the influence of what he referred to as "big tech."

RELATED: Gov. DeSantis unveils proposed legislation aimed at cracking down on 'big tech' companies' use of consumer data

He also backs a voting bill that targets perceived election improprieties even while describing Florida’s 2020 election as, “Perhaps the most transparent and efficient election in the country.”

DeSantis says in the last three months, Florida revenues were $800 million above what had been projected. He said throughout the pandemic Florida had not touched one penny from its rainy-day fund.

He urged the legislature not to cut the education budget and proposed a $1 billion program investing in projects that address threats posed by flooding, intensified storms, and sea-level rise.

RELATED: Florida lawmaker introduces $100 million plan to tackle sea-level rise and flooding

Democrats responded calling the governor’s agenda a distraction from issues important to working Floridians. They criticized proposed COVID legal protection for businesses including some that didn’t do enough to save lives in the pandemic.

There have been 31,556 COVID-related deaths statewide since the pandemic began, according to the Florida Department of Health's March 1 report. 

They called on DeSantis to fix Florida’s broken unemployment system.

RELATED: Florida officials seek to replace jobless benefits system after pandemic deluge

Democrats also want to see Florida expand Medicaid to help suffering families access healthcare.

“Rejecting this opportunity seemed stubborn in the past,” said State Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Ft. Lauderdale. “But it’s absolutely indefensible now.”

Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner, Nikki Fried, also the only Democrat elected to statewide office, gave DeSantis credit for pushing to re-open schools. But even then, she said, he had been difficult to deal with.

“My concern has consistently been his lack of transparency. His lack of leadership. His confusion, I mean we had three separate orders that went back-and-forth on opening the schools,” Fried said. “The lack of resources that were given to the schools to make them safe. 

"That he feels it was his way or the highway."

Fried also lashed out at DeSantis for prioritizing issues that would resonate with conservatives on a national stage.

“The governor is already looking forward to 2024. His eyes are already on what is next for his political future and has not kept his eyes on Florida and where we need to go,” Fried said. “And you’re seeing that from the policies that he’s pushing.”

Still, there was more applause than not for DeSantis, as he painted an optimistic picture for Florida. Emerging from what have been dark days for our state.

“The sun is rising here in Florida and the Sunshine State will soon be reaching new horizons,” DeSantis said. “Thank you, and God bless you all.”

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