Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis touted a lot of “bold” plans heading into the 2020 Legislature. But his wish list is being scaled back by state lawmakers.
Kicking off the Legislature in January, Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered a 34-minute State of the State address in which he kept returning to a favorite word to summon lawmakers to action.
But as the Legislature enters its final two weeks, the bold spirit DeSantis demanded — and mentioned five times — may not translate into muscular policy.
Not only are most of the second-year governor’s priorities still up in the air as the session nears its end, many are being sharply scaled back.
“The governor’s things are in play … I feel confident things will start moving,” said House Speaker Jose Oliva, a fellow Republican from Miami. “Do they end up exactly like he would want them to be? I don’t know anyone in the Legislature who gets that.”
Oliva, though, insisted that the Legislature’s crafting of DeSantis’s wish list, including a teacher pay package, occupational licensing overhaul and an E-Verify requirement to check the legal status of Florida workers, will actually meet the governor’s “bold” mandate.
“I would say it’s advantage governor,” Oliva said.
But signs abound that what DeSantis wants may not be what the Legislature delivers by its scheduled March 13 shutdown.
Some think that may not really matter. If the governor’s general policy areas are addressed with some kind of legislation — even in a watered-down form — watch for him to declare victory, critics said.
“It seems like maybe the governor wanted to make a big splash, announcing: ‘Here’s what I want done.’ But then if it doesn’t happen that way, well, that’s OK. It was just the optics they were after,” said Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami.
DeSantis, though, recently sought to dispel that view, telling reporters: “We’ve got a chance to accomplish more this time than last (session).”
The governor’s priorities include:
E-Verify: DeSantis wants all Florida businesses to use the federal E-Verify database to eliminate the hiring of undocumented workers.
But what’s being advanced by the House and Senate does not make E-Verify mandatory for private companies — which even the bill’s sponsor calls a gaping loophole. The state’s agriculture, tourism and construction industries, which rely heavily on an immigrant workforce, fiercely oppose a tougher standard.
Teacher pay: DeSantis’ eye-catching $900 million proposal included $600 million to bring minimum teacher salaries to $47,500, second highest in the nation, and a $300 million bonus program for instructors and principals.
The House has come in with $650 million to boost teacher pay , and the Senate $500 million. The dazzling minimum salary level DeSantis wants falls short in each proposal, with a final figure still subject to budget negotiations soon to get underway.
The bonus idea was ignored by lawmakers.
The Legislature also has complicated salary talks by adding overall state worker pay hikes to the mix. That’s something DeSantis did not propose, but which probably will affect the scope of the teacher pay package.
Water quality: A massive Clean Waterways Act, supported by DeSantis, looks likely to win approval from the Senate and House, and is being hailed by some as the best environmental measure in at least a decade.
It tightens regulations on septic tanks, stormwater runoff and sewage spills that foul rivers and estuaries and contribute to the algae blooms that have plagued many Florida waterways.
But some conservation groups are criticizing the measure as toothless and unlikely to help solve Florida’s watery quality problem.
“It’s the water quality bill most likely to become law,” said 1000 Friends of Florida President Paul Owens. “In the current political environment, we may not get a stronger bill.”
Occupational Licensing: The governor’s call for a “comprehensive bill” revamping occupational licensing in the state also is emerging as a slow rollout.
Hair braiders, body wrappers and boxing announcers would be among the few professions actually being deregulated this year. Other professions have training and other standards eased, while veterinarians, home inspectors, barbers and others with out-of-state licenses would find it easier to begin practicing in Florida, under one bill.
Other legislation approved by the House, and supported by DeSantis, would make 100 licensed professions possibly subject to deregulation over the next four years. But that cautious pace puzzled at least one lawmaker.
“This in no way has anything to do with deregulation at all?” Rep. Dianne Hart, D-Tampa, on Wednesday asked Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, a sponsor of the phase-out bill.
“I wouldn’t go that far …,” Renner said. “But before that happens, we would conduct a thorough and careful review of each and every license.”
What’s left: With work on finalizing a state budget certain to intensify in coming days, other DeSantis priorities also may live or die.
DeSantis wants to spend the full $387 million in the state’s affordable housing trust fund to meet needs brought on by rising home prices, which have driven demand for lower-cost housing to levels not seen since before the Great Recession.
While the Senate went along with the governor in its budget proposal, the House siphoned off $240 million for use elsewhere in its spending plan.
Another DeSantis goal was $100 million for Florida Forever, the state’s environmental land-buying program. But as budget talks loom, only the Senate sides with the governor — actually hitting $125 million for the program, compared with $20 million in the House.
Visit Florida, the state’s tourist marketing agency, also is set to be eliminated on June 30. But DeSantis, a supporter of the agency, wants that deadline extended and $50 million to keep it alive.
While the governor has an ally in the Senate, the House so far insists on pulling the plug on Visit Florida.
In the end, the fate of his wish list likely will be up to the governor — and how much effort and arm-twisting he wants to exert in the session’s home stretch.
“We’re going to give them all serious consideration,” Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said of the governor’s proposals.
“But having said that, this is a process. This is a give-and-take,” he added.
This story originally published to heraldtribune.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.