In a call to put politics ahead of policy, House Speaker Will Weatherford kicked off the 2014 Legislative session Tuesday with opening remarks to his chamber.
In a speech that touched on a wide-range of issues, the Wesley Chapel Republican laid out a mixed bag of economic priorities, criminal justice reforms and a desire to fight those living in poverty.
Weatherford has carved out public pension reform as a legacy item for his two-year term as speaker, a goal that has so far eluded him. Weatherford has pointed to the fact that system costs the state $500 million annually.
“Members, I believe if we can solve this problem this year, then in future years we have more money to hire more teachers, to reduce more taxes, and invest more in our infrastructure,” Weatherford said.
Opponents of reform – largely Democrats and unions – point to the fact that the state’s plan is funded at 85.9 percent, one of the best percentages in the nation.
In a departure from Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, Weatherford also used his platform to reemphasize his support of a measure offering in-state tuition to students with undocumented parents.
“Let’s exercise our state’s rights and open the door of opportunity for all of Florida’s children,” he said.
Scott has promised to “consider” the issue, and Gaetz has said he’s opposed, though the Senate will hear the plan.
It has been a hot-button issue annually, as some version of the plan has been filed for the past decade. It’s the top priority for the Hispanic Legislative Caucus.
Another priority item for the House will be expansion of the Tax Credit Scholarship, a capped plan that allows businesses to receive tax credits for helping fund vouchers that allow students to attend a school of their choice.
“No child’s future success should be dictated by their zip code,” he said. “Let us expand the tax credit scholarship.”
That plan, like other education fights, pits many Democrats and the teachers unions against proponents of additional school choice, which are generally Republicans.
Weatherford also called for proposals to fight poverty, saying that one in five Florida’s living below the poverty line is “unacceptable.”
“They’re stuck in generational poverty – the persistent, year after year oppression and hopelessness,” he said.