Florida House Speaker Paul Renner. Credit: Mitch Perry.
In his first speech as Florida Speaker of the House, Paul Renner focused Tuesday on bread-and-butter measures such as reducing taxes and making housing more attainable but also touched on a culture war agenda that has defined the Ron DeSantis regime in Tallahassee.
At the Legislature’s organizational meeting Tuesday morning, Renner took aim at “ideologues” who he said seek “to politicize everything, who treat their ideology as a religion and demand we follow it, no matter the costs.”
“They have pushed indoctrination at the expense of education. They spend more time defending drag queen story time than actually promoting phonics and the science of reading,” he said, adding that in this month’s midterm election, “moms and dads sent a clear message to those ideologues: Our children are not your social experiment!”
The reference to “drag queen story time” rubbed Jacksonville-area Democratic Rep. Angie Nixon the wrong way. She told the Phoenix after Renner’s speech that that passage in his speech was inappropriate coming just a couple of days after a gunman in Colorado Springs, Colorado killed 5 people and wounded at least 18 more at a gay nightclub.
“He was attacking drag queens and the LGBT community at a time when we should be working together and uplifting all humanity, he chose to once again make a line in the sand and create culture wars, when we should be addressing the high rising cost of inflation and this housing crisis that we’re currently in,” Nixon said.
Renner also took aim at “ideologues” who he says have co-opted the business community by emphasizing Environmental, Social and Governance goals (ESG) that more corporations have adopted in recent years in respond to demands by investors for such investments.
This past summer, Gov. DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis successfully pushed through a ban on considering ESG criteria in state pension fund investments.
Renner said that credit rating agencies have started to require states to provide data to measure their compliance with ESG’s “political dogma,” which he said could lead to California receiving a better credit rating than Florida because Sunshine State leaders are resisting such efforts.
Renner said that’s why he sent a letter Tuesday to the state’s three credit rating agencies, “demanding they drop the politics and return to objective, financial criteria, universally recognized to measure a state’s credit rating.”
Referencing Hurricanes Ian and Nicole which have devastated parts of Florida over the past few months, Renner also said that he was establishing a select committee on hurricane resiliency and recovery.
Like Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, Renner eschewed any mention of abortion in his 15-minute speech. But with dozens of anti-abortion activists inside the Capitol on Tuesday calling for more restrictions, Renner was forced to address the issue while meeting with reporters later on Tuesday.
He noted that there are “pro-life” majorities in both the House and Senate but added nothing substantive regarding Passidomo’s recent comments that she would like to further restrict abortions in Florida from the current 15 week ban to 12 weeks – while adding exceptions for rape and incest that aren’t in currently Florida law, according to the Miami Herald.
The Florida Legislature is expected to hold a special session next month to deal with the state’s property insurance crisis. Gov. DeSantis has said recently that he could see the Legislature holding more special sessions before the regular session begins next March.
But Renner said he believes special sessions should only be held when they are time sensitive, like property insurance. He said he would keep an open mind about doing such sessions, but didn’t mention any particular issue that rises to that level.
The state of Florida’s unemployment website melted down in 2020 when the pandemic created a huge demand in unemployment benefits. It also brought to light the fact that Florida only offers unemployment benefits of $275 a week, and only for 12 weeks. That combination is one of the lowest benefits in the country.
When asked if he would like to see movement on raising that benefit, Renner said he was more concerned about the fact that employers tell him that they’re still having problems hiring people since the pandemic began – a criticism that began back when there were people who quit their jobs when they began collecting federal unemployment benefits when COVID-19 hit (those payments ended in 2020).
He did say that the problems with the state being able to process people’s unemployment benefits were “unacceptable,” but added that “I think that we need to be careful to make sure that we don’t create the clearly unintended consequences that took place as a result.”
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