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DeSantis talks immigration, crime in Florida State of the State

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

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(NewsNation) — Giving his State of the State address Tuesday amid speculation that he is running for president, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis touched on a number of topics that have gained national attention, such as immigration and bail reform.

WPBF in Florida reported that this address had an “added significance” this year as it will likely be used to launch DeSantis into his “highly anticipated” 2024 presidential campaign.

DeSantis said Florida’s legislature should strengthen laws on immigration by enhancing employment verification, increasing penalties for human smuggling and “further disincentivizing illegal migration to the state of Florida.”

Last year, in a controversial move, DeSantis’ administration started flying to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts undocumented migrants who had entered Florida. Several migrants filed lawsuits, maintaining that DeSantis had exhibited “inhumane and repugnant conduct” by doing this.

“Florida is not a sanctuary state and we will uphold the rule of law,” DeSantis said.

When it comes to the southern border, DeSantis said, the massive amount of fentanyl being trafficked to the U.S. has “devastated families across the nation,” he said.

“We need to increase penalties for fentanyl dealers, especially those who target our children, and to do that, we must treat them like the murderers that they are,” DeSantis said.

During his speech, DeSantis took aim at other, liberal-leaning states, and criticized their policies, such as the abolishment of cash bail in Illinois. He vowed to push back against it, saying that Florida’s bail system needs to be “conducive to public safety.”

Adding that part of fighting crime is “protecting Floridans’ right to defend themselves,” DeSantis called for Florida to join other states that have enacted constitutional carry policies. Under these policies, a state’s law does not prohibit citizens who can legally possess a firearm from carrying handguns, either openly or in a concealed manner.

“A constitutional right should not require a permission slip from the government,” he said.

Republicans dominate Florida’s legislature, meaning representatives are expected to sign off on virtually all of DeSantis’ agenda, which is packed with issues concerning everything from race to immigration to gender. Those issues could prove popular in a GOP presidential primary.

At Tuesday’s State of the State, DeSantis did not formally announce a presidential campaign and is unlikely to do so before Florida’s legislative session wraps up in May. Still, as The Associated Press reported, the Florida governor is making big moves toward a White House bid by participating in a high-profile donor retreat, traveling to California, and going for the first time this year to Iowa. Iowa will host the nation’s first Republican presidential caucus in 2024.

Even as DeSantis touted the number of people choosing to move to Florida, and the amount of “freedom” he says residents of the state enjoy, Democrats see DeSantis’ agenda as one of “intolerance” and “misdirected priorities.” During his time as governor, DeSantis has supported limiting how issues such as race and sexuality can be taught in schools, banned transgender girls and women from school sports, bucked federal COVID-19 guidelines, and cracked down on Black Lives Matter protests.

“When I hear Ron DeSantis say the word ‘productive,’ it makes my skin crawl,” Florida’s House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell said at a news conference responding to the governor’s speech.

Driskell said DeSantis’ idea of “productivity” is anything that furthers his aim to run for president.

“What we’ve seen from this governor is a strong ambition and a desire to go after anybody who thinks differently than he does,” Driskell said. “That is how we know this will be a session that is filled with culture wars and not focused on the economic needs of everyday Floridians.”

To Max Greenwood, a national politics reporter from NewsNation partner The Hill, a lot of what DeSantis said sounded “like a very presidential speech.”

“I think he’s hitting all the notes that Republicans want him to hit,” Greenwood said. “His best pitch right now is saying look at my state, look how many people want to be here. Make America Florida.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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