Senate President Wilton Simpson ushered the 2022 Legislative Session into motion Tuesday, marking day one of the Republican leader’s final term in Tallahassee.
A farmer and entrepreneur, Simpson shared his priorities to the Republican-dominated Senate and drew parallels between farming and the decision-making of government. He opened with an introduction of his grandchildren, saying the body’s decisions will ripple beyond his generation into the next.
“Every Legislature every year has another chance to make choices about what kind of government Florida is going to have,” Simpson said in the roughly 30-minute address. “This Session, we have another chance to sow the seeds that will grow our tomorrow.”
Simpson’s priority list included many of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ high-profile desires. He touted efforts to provide bonuses and pay increases to first responders, school staff and state employees.
The speech did not include other notable priorities: a ban of critical race theory in classrooms and the establishment of an election fraud policing unit, among others.
“We will provide higher wages for our law enforcement and corrections officers,” Simpson said. “And we’re also going to make sure that education funding increases are prioritized for bus drivers, for maintenance workers, for cafeteria workers, and other true public servants in our public schools.”
Simpson highlighted the importance of state investment into roadways and seaports. He noted the ongoing supply chain crisis and further emphasized the importance of environmental protection.
“Investing in our environment is an investment in infrastructure,” Simpson said. “But more than that, it is an investment in the quality of life for future generations.”
Simpson also called on lawmakers to continue improvements to the child welfare system. Early childhood care, Simpson said, is one of the biggest barriers for potential foster families. To that point, Simpson said the Legislature should address financial gaps between state voucher payments and the actual cost of early childhood care.
A relative who chooses to serve as a foster parent, he added, deserves the same support as a non-relative parent — which amounts to roughly $200 per child and a college tuition waiver.
“These are modest investments by the state, but could mean all the difference for a family member or foster parent facing the prospect of taking on a vulnerable child,” Simpson said.
Simpson also offered an olive branch to local governments, some of which have expressed concerns about preemption. He vowed to keep a “sharp eye” out for legislation that may encroach on local ordinances.
“At the same time, we are going to make sure that local citizens and businesses understand the impacts of your regulations by requiring you to provide fiscal impact statements for ordinances and referendums,” Simpson added. “We will also ensure that you pay legitimate businesses that are impacted by your takings.”
Simpson also took time to recollect on the “accomplishments” of the Session prior. He touted Florida’s COVID-19 response and described the state as a political beacon amid the pandemic, noting that DeSantis prioritized the vulnerable while steering the state away from heavy-handed public health measures.
“We kept Florida open and free,” Simpson said. “Faced with tremendous pressure and criticism at every step of the way, we held the line.”
He also highlighted past investments in teacher pay, military families and school choice.
“Most of the time, the best way government can help is to stay out of the way,” Simpson said. “It always helps when we honor freedoms and focus on the core mission of solid infrastructure, public safety and education opportunities enjoyed by everyone.”