Democrats’ staged a State of the State rebuttal in Tallahassee to challenge Gov. DeSantis’ ‘free state’ message. 

Florida’s Democratic senators and minority House leadership challenged the vision set in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ State of the State speech that freedom for Floridians has been bolstered under his administration. Democrats also highlighted their legislative priorities for the 2022 Session.

“Republicans have been running the show for 20 years, and where has it gotten us? Out-of-touch politics focused on culture wars instead of real issues facing real Floridians,” said Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book.

“Twenty-one million Floridians deserve strong leadership that promotes freedom and fairness. The GOP agenda takes it away from them,” Sen. Jason Pizzo said.

“Right now, the power seems to rest with the select few, those who support an agenda that flies in the very face of our nation’s core beliefs of equality and liberty — beliefs we’ve fiercely defended for 200 years,” Sen. Darryl Rouson said.

House Democratic Leader Evan Jenne acknowledged the 60,000 Floridians who died of COVID-19 and said Democrats would push for Medicaid expansion, a home insurance price decrease, and criminal justice reform, among other issues.

Jenne also attacked previous legislation that has taken decision-making away from local elected officials, like the ban on school board-level student mask mandates.

“We don’t need to continue taking more and more control away from our local elected officials. You don’t need Tallahassee telling you what to do, and neither do they,” he said.

House and Senate Democrats released a list of 24 bills that are a priority this Session, including a prohibition on assault weapons and large capacity magazines.

In addition, Book and Jenne said opposing SB 146 and its House version, which bans abortions after 15 weeks, are at the top of their list.

“We will fight tooth and nail over that bill,” Jenne said. “There are days on the House floor and the Senate where we all get along. There are other days where it is going to be a problem and people are going to be very upset by the end of that individual day. When that bill hits the floor, it’ll be one of the latter.”

Sen. Pizzo, the Democrats’ Senate policy chair, criticized the Governor for bragging about budget reserves in his speech.

“He talked about how Florida is free, how we’re open and bragging about a $15 billion reserve, and 15-year-olds are killing 15-year-olds and 9,000 kids in Miami-Dade County K-12 are homeless,” Pizzo said. “Don’t brag about $15 billion in reserves when you have kids who don’t know where they’re sleeping tonight or where they’re eating.”

Despite their opposition to DeSantis’ messaging and influence, Democrats lack the numbers to push back using force. Book said that although her caucus is smaller, its members will continue to fight fiercely for the legislation they want to pass.