The Florida Legislature officially convenes in Tallahassee on Tuesday, March 5, and over the 60 days that follow, as lawmakers jockey over budgets and bills, Bradenton attorney Bill Galvano will be glued to the hot seat. Galvano, a Republican first elected to the state Senate in 2012, was sworn in as Senate president last fall, making him one of the three most powerful officials in state government until he steps down in 2020.
When the gavel bangs this month, Galvano will face a host of challenges. For starters, there is lingering damage from Hurricane Michael, which has cost the Panhandle an estimated $5 billion, plus dramatic tourism losses caused by red tide and other harmful algal blooms. Then there is school security, an issue highlighted by new recommendations from a public safety commission created after the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.
Those are some immediate priorities, Galvano says, but the Legislature also will be revisiting education, health care and infrastructure, and the body is constitutionally bound to pass a balanced budget. Plus, it’s impossible to predict what issues might arise between now and when the legislative session ends in early May.
“In my experience in this process, oftentimes what you deal with ais not what you sit around and plan for; it’s what you have to respond to,” Galvano says. One example of an issue lawmakers are scrambling to address: water quality. After years of deep funding cuts for water management districts and red tide research, new Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has pledged $2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and to establish a task force to reduce the effects of algal blooms.
Galvano was named after William Mote, the man who helped establish Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in the mid-1960s, and is an honorary trustee with the lab. “To me, it’s very important that we have a science-based discussion and not a political-based discussion or a fear-based discussion,” he says. “There are some things we can control and some things we can’t.”
While DeSantis’ water quality pledge calls for the creation of a new state office to help coastal regions deal with rising sea levels caused by climate change, Galvano doesn’t foresee major action on climate change this year, nor will we likely see action to increase renewable energy usage in the Sunshine State (solar, for example, currently accounts for just 0.7 percent of energy production in Florida).
In many ways, Florida seems headed in contradictory directions. The state’s unemployment rate is at its lowest in 12 years, while the number of children lacking health care coverage is increasing. Wages are up; life expectancy is down. Galvano says he wants to lead by example in creating a “new sense of civility” in Tallahassee and hopes that state leaders can address Florida’s problems while avoiding backbiting and political gamesmanship. He likes to point out that more than 800 people move to Florida every day—population growth akin to adding a new Orlando every year.
“Those constant changes require us to respond,” he says.