Florida’s legislature returned to Tallahassee on Tuesday for the first day of its short election-year session, and Republicans who control the chamber share a singular goal: Re-electing Gov. Rick Scott (R).
Scott enters the year with startlingly low poll numbers. Several public polls show him trailing former Gov. Charlie Crist, his Republican-turned-Democratic predecessor, while Scott’s approval ratings fall into negative territory.
To bolster Scott’s political position, the legislature is likely to push through a $500 million tax cut, a freeze on tuition rates at state universities, increasing spending for public schools and spending millions to restore the Everglades and grow tourism.
“We want this governor to be successful. It’s important for Florida and important for the state,” state Sen. Andy Gardiner (R), who will become Senate president next year, told the Miami Herald.
Republicans could also act on a number of more controversial bills that the Scott administration worries could have negative political fallout. State House Speaker Will Weatherford has advocated a pension reform proposal that has public employee unions upset; a new version of the law that excludes public safety employees from pension changes could advance this year.
Another Weatherford proposal would give businesses a sales tax credit if they sponsor a student in private schools; state Senate President Don Gaetz also supports the bill. And the state Senate on Wednesday will hear testimony on a measure tightening abortion restrictions.
Weatherford also backs a state version of the DREAM Act, which would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public universities. Scott vetoed legislation that would have given those children driver’s licenses, though the tuition bill is unlikely to make it through the state Senate.
Legislators have two months to pass their relatively modest agenda; the bodies are set to adjourn on May 2.