legislator. Representative Carey Baker is a small business owner from
. He has also been a National Guardsman since 1981 and currently serves
as the First Sergeant in A-company, 2nd battalion, 124th infantry
regiment, and was called up to active duty on December 28th.
his desk in this chamber remains empty this morning, First Sergeant
Baker sent a message via video to you, his colleagues. He spoke from
before his unit was deployed overseas. Here is a portion of his message:
Hello, everybody. This certainly is a different business suit than what
you are used to seeing me in, but it’s definitely appropriate for the
task at hand. I’ve been here for four weeks now, and it’s been cold,
real cold. The training has been intense. We’ve had men suffer
injuries, sickness, cold and fatigue. But for sure I don’t know one of
them that would change it if they could. It is so inspiring to see these
hundreds and hundreds of men and women that have given up their families
and their professional lives to fight for our safety, defend our
freedoms and preserve our futures. I’ve got a job to do, and you’ve
got a job to do. Let’s do them the best they can possibly be done.
Let’s do it for our families, and let’s do it for freedom. Thank you
for your thoughts, your prayers and your help. May God bless each and
every one of you, and the people of the great state of
, and the people of this nation, the
United States of America
Byrd and President King, I encourage you to ensure that every legislator
has an opportunity to see his full message.
also would like to salute Carey Baker's family -- his wife Lori and his
five-month-old son Leighton -- who are joining us today.
families, you have sent a loved one overseas to serve the cause of
freedom. Thank you for your incredible sacrifice to serve our nation.
of the Legislature, we were elected to serve and to lead the 16 million
people who are proud to call
home. But Carey Baker reminds us that some of our people are not home in
their beloved state at this hour.
are risking their very lives because they believe, as all Americans do,
in the power of new beginnings. They believe in a renewal of American
resolve and sacrifice.
must put our faith and trust in the power of new beginnings. Some of our
tasks we must undertake urgently, as we do when storm clouds gather on
the horizon. Others we must embrace for the sake of future generations,
planting seeds that grow slowly, but which will bear fruit for years to
have every confidence that
remains the land of big dreams. Ponce de Leon was convinced that a
fountain of youth lay somewhere among our oaks and pines and palms.
Floridians have never needed a magic fountain to accomplish their
creativity, vision and perseverance will allow us to meet the challenges
of the present day, as well as realize all the potential of the days to
is who we are. That is what we're about. That, my friends, is the State
of our State!
must first tackle those issues that need the most urgent attention.
among these is anticipating the impact that war will have on our
economy, and on the livelihoods and safety of our people.
that after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, we did more than
merely mourn the loss of our countrymen in
. Working together, we took action.
shored up our important tourism industry through a $20 million
commitment for Visit Florida. We created Operation Paycheck to retrain
laid-off workers for new jobs in high demand sectors of our economy. We
made domestic security a priority by funding a broad array of measures
that have increased the safety of every Floridian and every visitor to
did all this in a very short timeframe, and with remarkable success.
the same vision and resolve, we must now work together again. We must
create a contingency plan that will allow us to take action quickly if
we need to do so.
strengthen our economy, for example, we should support our vital tourism
industry, in part by marketing in-state travel opportunities for our own
residents. We must also shift our economic development efforts -
- to focus more aggressively on business retention and expansion.
while we cannot expect the federal government to make our challenges go
away, we must take full advantage of all the assistance
has already offered. We must aggressively pursue federal dollars, not
only for defense and homeland security, but also for job training,
transportation and Small Business Administration loans.
these bold steps will provide greater economic security for our working
course, we must expand our domestic security efforts in all areas as
well. Being a model for the nation is gratifying, but that is not our
goal. Our goal is to ensure that the
remains a safe place for all our people and all our visitors.
economic and domestic security efforts will require additional funding
from this Legislature in the current year.
this is a one-time urgent need for our people, I propose creating a
contingency fund of $40 million, drawn from the nearly $3 billion in
reserves we have built up over the last four years. Our state reserves
should not be utilized recklessly, and I hope we do not have to use them
at all. But creating this fund will help our state respond quickly to
the urgent economic and domestic security priorities that may arise.
does not mean I believe we should abandon the principles of fiscal
discipline. Far from it.
these accelerated expenditures, our state government must live within
its means and not put additional burdens on
's working families during this difficult time.
fact, I want to commend you for conforming
's corporate tax depreciation schedule to the President's economic
stimulus package for the current year. Instead of decreasing revenues,
this encouraged investment. Corporate tax revenues are expected to rise
by over 20 percent during the next fiscal year and over the long term
will be a significant boost to our state budget. Thank you for your
leadership and your vision.
must learn from the example of other states that have tried to tax and
spend their way to prosperity. It's not working.
the big hit to our tourism industry following September 11th, our state
budget still grew that fiscal year as did, for example, our commitment
to public education. In the current year, we are one of only three
states to significantly increase K-12 spending. We've done this because
fiscal discipline - and tax relief - helped our economy rebound quickly
from September 11th.
must also acknowledge that our efforts to strengthen our economy and
protect our people are hampered by expensive constitutional amendments,
especially the high-speed rail and class size amendments.
no mistake. The people voted for these two amendments, and we have a
constitutional obligation to implement them. My budget recommendations
implement Year One of the class size amendment, and we are moving
forward with bids for Phase One of the high-speed rail amendment as
must also keep in mind that the voters had two noble and enduring
objectives in speaking through these amendments: to improve education
and transportation infrastructure in our state.
even without our urgent new priorities, high-speed rail and the
class-size amendment are making funding decisions extremely painful. The
budget I proposed in January demonstrated the severity of cuts that are
necessary to implement only Year One of the Class Size amendment.
that's only the beginning. We cannot fully implement these amendments
solely by cutting spending. State costs for the first phase of
high-speed rail could be up to $2.7 billion and up to $12 billion for
full implementation. The class-size amendment costs will be even higher.
I believe we must go back to the voters and have them make a decision
with all the information in hand, information about the new challenges
our state faces, and information about the massive tax increases that
will be necessary to pay for them.
a broader note, I believe it is high time that we reformed the ballot
get me wrong, I believe in direct democracy, and I would support a
process through which our people could propose state laws, in addition
to constitutional amendments. However, I also believe that checks and
balances must be incorporated as well, just as they are among our three
branches of government.
bottom line is that pregnant pigs don't belong in our state
constitution, and I believe sensible reforms of the initiative process
are long overdue.
understand that what I am asking this Legislature to do is very
difficult. Creating an effective economic stimulus package on short
notice is difficult. Maintaining fiscal discipline by not raising taxes
is difficult. Asking voters to reconsider amendments, and reforming the
ballot initiative process itself, is difficult. Sacrificing individual
projects that are dear to each of us, is difficult.
these difficulties should not deter us from thinking long-term, and
beginning the work that will transform our state for decades to come.
have identified three broad areas that I believe offer the most
potential for statewide renewal. I ask you to join me in realizing this
enormous long-term potential, in reading, economic diversification and
must and shall be an enduring core value of our state.
is a child's first subject.
is the foundation for future learning in all other disciplines.
opens a world of opportunity for the disadvantaged. And reading is
simply a joy, a gift of thoughts and ideas and stories that spark the
imagination and warm the human heart.
want to thank every Floridian who has supported our Just Read,
initiative. Through public-private partnerships, we have seen parents, mentors and whole communities embrace our goal of having every
child reading on grade level or better by 2012.
efforts reinforce what we are now teaching in the classroom. And so my
greatest thanks are offered to
's teachers, teachers who are using the latest, research-based methods
to teach reading and help every child reach his or her potential.
of those teachers joins us today. Her name is Carrie Walker from
. Carrie was a second grade teacher for 33 years before she originally
retired, but this dedicated teacher is now back in the classroom
part-time, teaching reading to 21 at-risk children in grades two through
believes that every child can learn, regardless of ethnicity or
socio-economic status. She believes in holding children to high
standards and encouraging them to meet those standards. She develops an
individual reading plan for each of her students, always trying
different intervention strategies to ensure that every child becomes a
uses research-based teaching strategies, she uses assessments, she uses technology, and most of all she uses her heart. She feels she was born to serve
children. She says, "Teaching is in me, I can't get it out."
She even tutors her own family members and children from her church in
her free time.
achieved remarkable results among her second graders, but her work this
year among her at-risk students is especially impressive. 20 of her 21
students speak English as a second language, and 15 are recent
immigrants to our great country.
despite these challenges, Carrie is helping them make tremendous
progress. She started them off with basic vocabulary and phrases, and
now all of them are reading. These children are catching up, they are
making progress, and it's because they have an excellent teacher who
cares about each one of them.
is just one of the many dedicated teachers in our state who are
committed to producing the next generation of readers. Carrie, please
stand and let us honor you for your efforts.
of the Legislature, I ask you to continue to support Just Read,
! through 30 million state dollars next year.
These funds will help train even more teachers to be as effective as
Carrie Walker, and will also help expand reading programs in the upper
also urge your support for the $27 million increase in funding I have
requested for the Excellent Teacher Program. Working together, we are on
our way to making
lead the nation in the number of national board certified teachers.
also ask you to prioritize economic diversification.
should be proud of the work we have done together to create a
business-friendly economic climate in
. Low taxes and less cumbersome regulation have led to remarkable job
growth despite September 11th and the national economic downturn.
fact, we created over 64,000 jobs last year, more than any other state,
and over half a million jobs since January 1999. We should be immensely
proud that so many of our people today are breadwinners.
we must continue to break down barriers to job growth if we want our
state to lead the coming national economic recovery. In anticipation of
this greater opportunity overall, I urge you to address two issues that
continue to place
at a competitive disadvantage with other states: Workers Compensation
and Medical Malpractice.
million Floridians are gainfully employed in our state, many of them in
jobs that involve taking risks that can result in injury and disability.
This may be hard for us in public life to relate to, as the biggest
injury we politicians suffer is usually a bruised ego!
workers do get injured on the job in
. Nearly 75,000 workers suffered some kind of injury last year, from
minor injuries to full paralysis. That's why
's Workers Compensation laws exist -- to provide benefits to injured
workers funded by premiums paid by employers. It's a good idea, and in
principle it's the same idea that's been enacted in every state in the
's Workers Compensation is not working well, especially in comparison
with other states.
's employers pay premiums that are among the highest in the nation, yet
's workers receive statutory benefits that are among the lowest. Our
costs for permanent total disability claims are almost three times the
national average. Our medical costs for permanent partial disability are
nearly twice the national average.
urge you to pass a Workers Compensation reform package that reflects the
good work completed by our task force. We should increase benefits for
injured workers as they are recovering. We should establish a process
that expedites - rather than delays - medical treatment. We should also
ensure that medical experts - not lawyers - diagnose injuries and direct
must create incentives for employers to improve safety at
's workplaces, as well as allow injured workers to receive medical care
more quickly, and therefore recover and return to work faster.
of the Legislature, let's get this done. Reform is needed, there's broad
agreement on how to do it, let's get it done for our workers and for our
urge you also to pass Medical Malpractice Reform.
high cost of medical malpractice insurance - or the lack of it
altogether - has created a crisis in our state. This crisis is not about
costs, although ours are among the highest in the nation. This crisis is
about the quality and availability of health care for our people.
will no longer accept head and multiple-trauma victims because it can no
longer guarantee emergency neurosurgery coverage. Three hospitals in the
area have closed their Obstetrics units, leaving women with fewer
choices and less access. Wait times for mammography services have more
than tripled. Many physicians have left our state, and many others,
, are practicing with no liability insurance at all.
illustrate how this crisis impacts patients, I'd like to share with you
a story about a young woman from
whom I'll call Anna. Anna had been trying for five years to have a baby,
and late last year finally became pregnant.
made an appointment with a doctor, but the group's entire practice
closed up shop and moved to another state before she could get care.
They said high premiums forced them to leave
Anna made an appointment with a different doctor, but was turned away
again, this time because the practice became so busy that they were no
longer accepting new patients.
after first seeking care, Anna did eventually see a doctor named Armando
Fuentes. Anna didn't show up alone. Her husband, her parents, even her
in-laws were there. They were all so excited about the new addition to
the exam, however, Dr. Fuentes had to inform Anna and her family that
her baby had already died in her womb. Anna had gestational diabetes, an
easily treatable condition that went untreated in her case because she
did not have ready access to a physician.
Anna and her family left, Dr. Fuentes broke down and cried, frustrated
that a young woman received medical treatment too late to save her baby.
Fuentes joins us today. Sir, let us thank you for your commitment to
your patients and for continuing to stay in
to treat them.
story demonstrates that Floridians are already losing access to the
medical care they need, because of the high cost of malpractice
no mistake: medical malpractice is very serious. Physicians, nurses,
hospital workers and other providers should be held to the highest of
standards, and those who commit negligence should be held accountable.
But under our current system, less than half of the premium dollar even
goes to the victim, after the lawyers, witnesses, taxes and
administrative costs are paid.
why I favor comprehensive Medical Malpractice reform modeled on the work
of the Academic Task Force composed of University leaders. We should
improve quality, monitor outcomes, and discipline providers who commit
should also enact a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages. This cap will
limit runaway verdicts and prevent more talented and dedicated
caretakers from leaving our state.
of the Legislature, the problem with our current Workers Compensation
and Medical Malpractice systems is not that they are too expensive --
though they are. Our current systems limit opportunity and access that
such a wonderful place to work and live.
urge you to address both of these issues so that we can move forward on
all the paths open to us to diversify our economy. These include
creating more high-tech jobs based on our Centers of Excellence and our
worldwide leadership in simulation, laser optics, and many other
high-tech fields. They also include making
the home of the Permanent Secretariat of the Free
Trade Area of the
. And they could mean using the Defense
Department's Base Realignment and Closure process to cement
's position as a haven not only for military forces and defense-based
contracting, but also for defense-related R&D and homeland defense
and Economic Diversification remain two of my top priorities for my
second term, but each of them is closely related to the third, which is
supporting families and communities.
the past four years, I have seen how strong families make state programs
less necessary, and how partnerships within strong communities make
state programs work better.
this vision really isn't about state programs at all. It's about the
bonds of love and faith and friendship that our people make with each
truth was brought home to me once again last month. To help honor
Valentine's Day, Columba and I had a few
friends over for dinner. They were a few of the many thousands of
couples in our state who have been married for over 50 years.
folks reinforced in me the conviction that the power of government is
nothing compared with the power of the human heart. Their stories of
commitment to each other and to their communities were so inspiring that
I just had to share one of them with you.
are Bob and Billie Milner, they've been married 55 years, and they live
right here in
AND BILLIE MILNER:
BILLIE MILNER: Marriage means being together, raising our family, loving
each other, and it’s our life.
BOB MILNER: I could look the world over and not find what I found when I
found this girl.
BILLIE: And other people can see the way that you live, and the way that
you treat each other.
BOB: Heaven knows what I would be otherwise, if I had not met her,
married her, followed her leadership.
BILLIE: We put God first. He’s supreme. And then you love each other
devotedly, and others unselfishly.
BILLIE: When things are going kind of bad, you know, and sometimes at
night you can’t sleep, worried about things, so first of all I pray,
then I get up and make cookies.
BILLIE: And people think of us as, you know, Billie and Bob, it’s
never just one or the other. Love first, and then commitment. We have
faced adversities, because we work together, and we have each other to
depend on, rely on, and to know that they’re there for us. That’s
the way it should be in a marriage.
and Billie also join us this morning. Would you two lovebirds stand,
know what you're all thinking - the Milners look so young, maybe Ponce de Leon was on to something after all!
like the Milners make me appreciate my own
marriage even more. Columba, our entire
state honors you for your commitment to arts education, and to fighting
substance abuse and domestic violence. But I thank you simply for being
my friend, for being with me during good times and bad. I couldn't do
this without you. Thank you.
The Milners remind us that the strongest need in
our society -- and the greatest power of the human heart-- is love. And
government cannot love. It can protect and it can punish and it can tax
and it can lend a hand. But government cannot love.
ask you to join me in using your own "bully pulpits" to help
nurture families and communities through love. Long-term, this will have
a more positive impact on the future prosperity and happiness of our
people than any government program ever conceived.
then, are the opportunities that are open to us. We must meet our
present challenges head-on during this time of war. And we must also
continue to look to the horizon, to help foster a society built on human
compassion rather than government largess.
people look to government during times of crisis and uncertainty, and
rightly so. But as government leaders, who should we turn to for hope
me, there are three sources of inspiration that can help comfort and
strengthen us in the days ahead, and give us hope for the years to come.
first is our great history.
is a nation of pioneers and adventurers. Our own state history begins
with intrepid explorers in a new world, and continues today with
enormous courage -- and sometimes enormous sacrifice -- from our
astronauts in the limitless expanse of the stars. When in doubt, our
history can guide us.
I am inspired by our very own people. No one should think that great
Americans lived only long ago. I have always trusted in the wisdom and
common sense of our people, but since September 11th I have also been
inspired by their courage, and by their compassion.
invited a handful of Floridians to attend this address, and graciously
they have allowed me to share their stories. But there are 16 million
stories out there, each one a testament to the enduring truth that as
long our people are free, we can accomplish anything.
and most importantly, we turn for inspiration to the face of God. We
live in difficult times, but no times are too difficult for Him.
pride in our history, with confidence in each other, and with faith in
Almighty God, we eagerly renew our commitment to the future of our
beloved state of