“We have much work to do to address the pandemic,” Chris Sprowls said.
| Capital Bureau
Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls used his opening day speech for the 2021 legislative session to urge the Florida House to reach “higher common ground.”
In a nine-minute address that made only one mention of the coronavirus pandemic, which created a $2 billion budget shortfall and put over 600,000 Floridians out of work, Sprowls spoke philosophically about the role of government.
“We have much work to do to address the pandemic and to ensure our laws align with the real-world problems that we have encountered,” he said.
The 37-year-old Sprowls had laid out his legislative agenda in November when he assumed the speakership after the election.
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He then said he would continue down the road the Republican majority has followed since taking control of the Legislature 20 years ago: Not raising taxes, cutting regulations, supporting school choice.
On Tuesday, he added, “but as we begin this new decade, I see fresh ideas in the bills that have been filed and the beginnings of a new conservative vision that empowers individuals, holds government to account and prepares Florida today for the problems of tomorrow.”
Sprowls called on House members to ignore media accounts of legislative maneuvering and stories that pit the House against the Senate, or the Legislature against Gov. Ron DeSantis in “make-believe” boxing matches.
“A lot has been written and said about this Session that starts today. And much more will be written and said in the days and weeks to come. Most of it is nonsense. Nearly all of it is wrong.”
Instead, he told his chamber, they control what will happen at the Capitol over the next nine weeks: “Our session will be shaped by the decisions that we make, by the opportunities we seize, by our willingness to stretch, grow and take risks.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle endorsed Sprowls’ assertion that there is no grand plan for the session’s outcome, and each individual lawmaker can influence what will happen over the next two months.
“I appreciated the Speaker’s focus on leveraging the talents, hopes and goals of every member,” said Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard. “When we unleash the potential of all 120 members, we can get so much more done for the people of Florida.”
Sprowls, a former assistant state attorney in Florida’s 6th Judicial Circuit, served as a special prosecutor in the Gang Unit. Raised in Tarpon Springs, he got his law degree at Stetson University.
“The speech was just a rallying cry of what his values are and what he’s going to work toward,” said Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, adding nothing Sprowls said surprised him.
Those values, according to Alexander, were laid out in a series of ‘thank you’s to lawmakers for filing legislation that among other things covered “insisting every child can learn to read” and “recognizing communities need protection from rising sea levels,” and “blowing up a workforce system that has forgotten how to get people to work.”
Alexander, the House Democratic Whip, said lawmakers “can choose to hang our hats on the things we disagree on … or we can choose to focus on the things we can work on together,” mentioning criminal justice reform and higher education funding.
James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee
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