TALLAHASSEE — The new-look Florida Legislature formally elected new leaders — Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes — and swore-in new members Tuesday as the state Capitol began a transformation following this month’s elections.
Democrats made only modest gains in the state House and Senate and remain a distant minority in Tallahassee. Ruling Republicans will soon be joined by Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, who looked on as Tuesday’s largely ceremonial activities took place.
“He and I are very ideologically aligned, so that’s very positive,” Oliva said. “His priority is the environment, but he also understands how important health care is. It’s now half of our budget… education too, he understands that. We’re very aligned.”
While Oliva outlined a lean role for government — criticizing local planning decisions, for example, for contributing to a state shortage of affordable housing — Galvano hinted at few policy priorities.
Galvano’s approach may be strategic. While keeping his goals quiet can keep them from becoming a future bargaining chit with the House, Galvano said it reflects his view of empowering more senators.
“A presiding officer in my opinion should be somewhat of a traffic cop, directing the traffic that comes from the members,” Galvano said.
In a speech to the Senate, Galvano said it was difficult to predict what challenges could face the new Legislature, whose 2019 session begins in March. Galvano, the son of late celebrity golf professional Phil Galvano, said he relied on his father’s advice as a lawmaker.
“Playing the hole you’re on,” was important, the new Senate president said.
“By being disciplined, making the right decisions, we can continue to have a state that is strong,” said Galvano, 52, a lawyer who served eight years in the House before being elected to the Senate in 2012.
While Oliva said there was little separation between him and DeSantis, Galvano said he expected the Senate to follow its own course.
“There’s not going to be a tension,” Galvano said. “But the Senate is going to operate independently, as it has.”
DeSantis, a former Palm Coast congressman, didn’t push many policy proposals during his campaign for governor. But he pledged a commitment to improving environmental oversight following a summer plagued by red tide and blue-green algae.
He also wants to increase education dollars committed to the classroom, and vowed to continue outgoing Gov. Rick Scott’s focus on the economy.
Oliva, 45, was first elected to the House in 2011 and is the CEO of his family’s cigar business.
In speaking to the House, Oliva said he wanted to lift health care regulations, likely to promote such alternatives as tele-medicine and direct primary care, reducing the role insurers play in guiding treatment.
Such measures were supported in the past in the House, but failed to clear the Senate. On education, Oliva also urged lawmakers to “get out of the way” of parents who want to send their children to charter schools or use vouchers to attend private schools.
“If you want people to have more, begin by taking less,” Oliva told House members.