The Florida Legislature convened for its 2021 regular session on Tuesday. Democratic and Republican priorities share little common ground. Screenshot: The Florida Channel
Florida Democratic lawmakers blasted Republicans Tuesday for a 2021 agenda considered tone-deaf to citizens, catering to corporate interests rather than help for Floridians struggling to survive the coronavirus pandemic and its myriad side effects.
“Despite the wide path of destruction COVID has cut in Florida and the heavy toll it took in and on Floridians’ lives, the governor and Republican lawmakers have crafted legislation to muzzle our people and restrict our speech, instead of giving our health and economy the attention they so desperately need,” said Senate Democratic Leader Gary Farmer, of Broward County.
“Could anything be more insensitive or tone-deaf? Well, as it turns out, yes, there can be.”
Farmer and House Democratic Co-Chair Bobby DuBose, of Broward County, said Democrats want relief for Florida’s unemployed, health care for the uninsured and underinsured, protection from evictions during the pandemic, restrictions on homeowner insurance changes, a higher minimum wage, clean energy to curb climate change, and reforms that promote safer policing and justice for all.
Instead, “Their (GOP) legislation does nothing to help the average Floridian,” Farmer said in a broadcast statement. “It’s a one-sided, big-money game of winners and losers in which the people are not invited to play,” said Farmer, who responded to DeSantis’ State of the State address on Tuesday, the first day of the 2021 legislative session.
The Legislature is led by Republicans in both chambers, and Gov. DeSantis is Republican. In that regard, Florida is nothing like Congress, where both the U.S. House and Senate are led by Democrats and Democrat Joe Biden is the president of the United States.
In Florida, Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls also gave brief speeches showcasing the GOP agenda.
Nikki Fried, the top elected Democrat in Florida and commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said the GOP is prioritizing corporate interests and national-level political rhetoric in preparation for their re-election efforts in 2022 and 2024.
“The governor is already looking forward to 2024,” Fried told reporters after DeSantis’ State of the State speech. “We can see that in the policies he’s pushing, from the legislation he’s pushing. He is no longer focusing on the State of Florida, but he is focusing on his popularity, getting ready for a presidential run.”
Fried is a potential contender in the Florida gubernatorial election in 2022.
“We are seriously looking into it,” Fried said, “but right now my focus is our legislative priorities during the session, which are not partisan, and making sure I have ag in a healthy posture to make sure we can get through the rest of the pandemic.”
The Democrats said Floridians’ immediate needs should be addressed with greater urgency than upcoming election campaigns.
“As Democrats, our vision is quite different from what you heard from Republican leadership,” DuBose said in a broadcast statement. “With Florida having nearly 2 million diagnosed COVID cases and over 30,000 deaths, we’ve never seen anything like this before. How we respond, how we help Floridians, will be the only important measure of success for this upcoming session.”
“The priorities we’re seeing from our state leaders so far worry us,” DuBose said, citing the fast-tracking of bills such as the so-called “anti-mob” legislation to discourage protests; bills to shield companies from liability if workers or customers become infected with COVID in their places of business; cutting back on voting by mail, which was widely used in fall elections to avoid voting in person amid COVID; to keep “Big Tech” from restricting social media messaging; and measures to combat foreign espionage.
DuBose and others are dubious about Florida playing any significant roles in matters of worldwide social-media platforms or international espionage.
Democrats, DuBose said, have introduced numerous bills to expand availability of health care by drawing down federal Medicaid funding for it, increase unemployment relief and remake the state’s widely loathed Unemployment Insurance system, and promote racial equity in the wake of last summer’s nationwide civil unrest, but he said they are getting no support from Republicans.
“As state leaders, we need to acknowledge that our No. 1 priority is helping Floridians struggling with the fallout of COVID-19,” DuBose said, adding that Florida urgently needs to address the causes of climate change, which is accelerating not only chronic flooding but also extreme heat and stronger, more frequent hurricanes.
“We must choose what Florida we want to leave for our grandchildren,”DuBose said.
To view today’s keynote speeches, browse the “State of the State” page on The Florida Channel, the state-run public-information and news channel that broadcasts legislative hearings and other government sessions.
Florida Phoenix staff writer Danielle J. Brown contributed to this report.
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