Florida is attracting new businesses and residents because of how it handled the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday during his annual State of the State address.
DeSantis spoke to lawmakers and a small contingent of guests on the floor and in the House gallery on the first day of the Legislative Session, which comes the day after Florida hit the one-year mark in its battle against COVID-19.
Since March 1, 2020, the state has recorded more than 1.9 million infections, and 31,556 people have died.
More than 3 million people have received 4.7 million COVID-19 shots, including 2.3 million people 65 years old and older. Among seniors, hospitalizations for COVID-19 have declined 80% and new cases have fallen 71% since Jan. 30, DeSantis said.
The Governor has received wide praise from the right for his pandemic response, including resisting lockdowns, shutting visitors out of nursing homes and reopening classrooms for the 2020-21 academic year. In recent weeks, he has emerged as a frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, should he choose to run.
After offering fist bumps to attendees during his maskless approach to the rostrum, DeSantis touted the rise in business and travelers as proof of his response’s success.
Where lockdowns remain in states like California, Illinois and New York, the Governor predicted the beginning of longterm damage to children, families and society.
“Sow the wind, and you reap the whirlwind,” DeSantis said.
Every job is essential in Florida, he said, and businesses have the right to operate. Florida is one of the top destinations for business relocations.
“Economic lockdowns are a luxury of the largely affluent Zoom class,” DeSantis said.
As a result of Florida’s open economy, the state is generating more revenue than even the latest estimates made in December, DeSantis said. The Legislature even has spending room to advance longterm priorities, including on water, education and infrastructure.
In the middle of his speech, the Governor played a video of teachers, students, business owners, and seniors praising DeSantis and his policies.
The Governor has spent recent months unveiling several legislative priorities, including proposals to rein in Big Tech and election law changes that critics say would suppress voters. The most recent of those priorities, announced Monday, is an effort to curb Chinese influence in Florida’s schools and local governments.
Florida is leading the nation in safe and efficient elections and should take a moment to enjoy the success of the 2020 election, DeSantis said. But the Governor and Republicans are pushing to prevent ballot harvesting and other measures they say would protect election security.
Legislative leaders and the Governor have also unveiled proposals to protect Floridians’ personal data from tech companies and to prevent “deplatforming” on social media companies.
“This is real-life 2021, not fictitious 1984, yet Big Tech wields monopolistic power over the public in ways that would have made the monopolists of the early 20th century blush,” DeSantis said.
On education, the Governor said he opposes reducing funding for school districts. The Legislature should do more to build on teacher pay raises passed during the 2020 Session, he added.
He also reiterated his support for COVID-19 liability legislation that is working its way through the committee process.
Florida is dedicated to law and order, the Governor said, referencing nationwide protests over the summer after George Floyd‘s death. Riots and violent mobs ruined cities in other states, he said, but not in Florida.
“Law enforcement was targeted and lawlessness prevailed,” DeSantis said. “This was not — and must never be — tolerated in the state of Florida.”
Part of the Governor and Republican’s legislation cracking down on violent protests would cut funding for local governments that slash law enforcement budgets. DeSantis called defunding the police an “insane fantasy.”
Democrats accused the Governor of partisan politics and fear-mongering in their response to the State of the State. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone Democrat elected to a statewide office, said the Governor was sending mixed messages on masks and vaccines during her own response.
In his closing, DeSantis acknowledged the tumultuous year Florida has faced. For those who did not survive COVID-19, the Governor said he will order flags at half-staff on Wednesday.
Floridians’ response to the pandemic would make the nation’s founding fathers proud, DeSantis said.
“Because of those efforts, the sun is rising here in Florida — and the Sunshine State will soon reach new horizons,” DeSantis said.