We are blessed by the Good Lord to live in the Sunshine State. Here in Florida, we’re surrounded by natural beauty, plentiful food and endless opportunity.
But our state is not without its challenges. I don’t have to remind anyone of the trials we’ve faced over the last year. Fortunately, we are open, back to work and on the rebound from COVID-19.
Still, many challenges lie ahead. We must protect our land, create job opportunities so that anyone who is willing to work hard can prosper here in Florida, and honor the veterans who fought to defend our liberties. As your state Senator, I was on a mission this legislative session to further these priorities. With the help of my colleagues, I’m proud to report on the work we accomplished this session.
When most people think of Florida, they ponder images of beautiful beaches and world-class attractions. But you and I know Florida’s true natural beauty is found in its wide-open spaces in the middle of the state.
With the exponential growth of our population in recent years, these lands are at serious risk. In addition, so are the benefits these lands provide. They are critical to the health of our environment, producing oxygen from the trees and replenishing our aquifer by filtering water through the soil. These lands are also where farmers grow the food Florida families need to survive. And these lands are where wildlife roam, including many endangered species.
This legislative session, we created the “Florida Wildlife Corridor Act” to protect these precious lands and the environmental benefits only they can deliver.
The Florida Wildlife Corridor Act is a historic law and significant investment in the conservation of lands. Through the legislation, we invested $300 million in federal stimulus funding for land conservation.
The Florida Wildlife Corridor aims to prevent fragmentation of critical lands. It preserves the connections between public lands and private lands to create and sustain a corridor enables wildlife to roam freely and thrive.
As a result, we’re also able to maintain the natural beauty of the Sunshine State, preserve the environmental benefits that rural lands provide; and keep farmlands in operation through conservation easements.
Our district greatly benefits from this law and funding. I’m grateful to my colleagues for such overwhelming support for this measure. And I’m extremely grateful that my kids, their kids and other future generations will be able to enjoy the Florida we know and love for many years to come.
When it comes to the next generation, I want to make sure that every Floridian has the opportunity to find work and provide for their families. That’s why I sponsored Senate Bill 98/House Bill 1507 this legislative session. The legislation reforms Florida’s career training programs to be centered around the student rather than the school.
By focusing on the students – and how to train them to get and succeed in a job – we’re going to have better outcomes.
The bill establishes the Open Door Grant Program, which will cover two-thirds the cost of short-term, high-demand programs. We also created the Money-Back-Guarantee Program as part of this bill. If a student successfully completes select workforce-related programs, but they can’t find a job in six months, we’re going to give them their money back and refund tuition costs.
These programs, combined with a number of other policy changes that were implemented by the bill, will meaningfully reform our workforce programs to help students gain skills that lead to good jobs.
Last but not least, our veterans. To the patriotic Americans who signed up, put on the uniform and fought to defend our freedoms, you deserve our utmost respect and whole-hearted support.
Florida is blessed to be home to more than 1.5 million veterans. To honor and support these men and women, we passed a number of measures this session. The Florida Senate unanimously approved legislation to establish the POW-MIA Vietnam Veterans Memorial on or near the grounds of the Florida Capitol Complex.
We created a veteran-dedicated support line to provide veterans and their families with behavioral health care referral services. We also increased and enhanced access to Veterans Treatment Courts, which are problem-solving courts that divert veterans and servicemembers to programs that help treat underlying service-related conditions and combat-related trauma.
To support our veterans who want to build their skills or pursue career opportunities, we’re opening doors for you here in Florida. We’ve waived the tuition and fees for one online course at a public university, and all other online courses are available at a discount. For veterans in search of a job, they can find many opportunities here in Florida to bridge their military skills to the private sector.
Through these measures and more, we’re doubling down on our commitment to ensure that Florida is the most veteran-friendly state in the nation.
All in all, the Florida Legislature passed 275 bills during the regular legislative session. Each and every measure was designed to tackle challenges we face and better our state for generations to come. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve you and our great state.