DeSantis touts Florida agenda with bills on abortion, guns, death penalty, media
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis promised Tuesday that the upcoming legislative session will be the "most productive yet," as he continues to build the infrastructure and out-of-state political travel that suggest a potential presidential campaign-in-waiting.
His agenda, which will technically be driven by the Republican supermajority in the state legislature in its 60-day session, could include a six-week abortion ban, limits or bans on transgender care, permitless concealed carry of firearms, litigation reform and several measures that impact how sexuality is addressed in education.
He has proposed a $115 billion budget, which features a $2-billion tax-cut package, pay raises for teachers, infrastructure projects, as well as funding for some of his more controversial policies, like his election police unit and transporting of migrants out of state.
DeSantis won reelection in November 2022 by about 19 points, and said on Tuesday that his big margin represents "a vindication of our joint efforts over these past four years."
"Don't worry about the chattering class. Ignore all the background noise. Keep the compass set to true north. We will stand strong. We'll hold the line. We won't back down and I can promise you this, you ain't seen nothing yet," he said in his state of the state address.
DeSantis has hinted his decision about an eventual presidential run in 2024 could come after the legislative session ends in early May. He is scheduled to hold "Freedom Blueprint" events on Friday in Iowa, the first state in the GOP presidential nomination process, and Nevada, another early presidential primary state, on Saturday.
"Give us a few months. We will put up a lot of wins, and we will be in a better position to make a decision about the future," DeSantis told Fox News on Sunday when asked about his 2024 plans.
Well before DeSantis addressed the Legislature in Tallahassee Tuesday, much of the legislative agenda he's proposing has already been filed in the Legislature.
Among those more than 1,700 bills are a six-week abortion ban, the elimination of permits for concealed carry, a bill requiring paid "bloggers" to register with the state, prohibiting students' preferred pronouns from being used in schools and expanding on the 2022 "Parental Rights in Education" bill to prohibit "classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity" to eighth graders and younger.
"We're talking about a lot of these really big issues that have hit home. And Floridians have sent us all back, as of last November, with a mandate," Republican State Representative Alex Rizo, also chairman of the Miami-Dade County GOP, told CBS News earlier this month after a DeSantis event in Doral, Florida.
One open question that could affect DeSantis if he chooses to run is whether Florida's Republicans would repeal the state's "resign-to-run law," which prohibits a state official from being an active governor while running for federal office. The state repealed the law in 2007, when then-Republican Governor Charlie Crist was a potential vice presidential candidate for 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain.
But former Republican Governor and now-Sen. Rick Scott reinstated the law in 2018, which requires state office holders to provide a resignation letter 10 days before qualifying to run for federal office. While that resignation would not take effect until the day the officeholder is sworn in, it would still take effect regardless of if the candidate wins or not. At this point, if DeSantis runs, regardless of whether he wins or loses, his resignation would be effective Jan. 20, 2025.
There were no bills filed on "resign-to-run" as of early Tuesday morning, though Florida Republican leaders Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner have signaled their support for it.
Here are some of the bills to watch during Florida's legislative session:
6-week abortion ban
SB300 would ban abortions six weeks and after, with an exception for pregnancies caused by rape or incest (as long as the abortion occurs 15 weeks or before). It also prohibits abortion-related medication from being mailed. When asked in 2022 if he'd sign a six-week abortion ban, known as a "heartbeat bill," DeSantis kept it broad and said, "I'm willing to sign great life legislation."
Asked on Tuesday about his thoughts on the proposed six-week ban, DeSantis said he thought the exceptions are "sensible" and "we welcome pro-life legislation."
Firearm concealed carry
HB 543 authorizes concealed carry of a firearm without a licensed permit and takes away the requirements for a criminal background check and firearms training course completion to get a concealed weapons license. DeSantis told reporters after Tuesday's address that he'd support open permitless carry of firearms because "if it's concealed, it makes it easier for somebody to potentially do a crime." But he added he wouldn't veto a permitless concealed carry bill from his legislature if it doesn't have open carry.
Sex identity and schools
HB1223 defines "sex" as the "binary division of individuals based upon reproductive function," and would require school employees to use the student's assigned sex at birth as their pronouns. It also prohibits "classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity" from grades K-8. (applies to public and charter schools).
A related bill is HB1069, which seeks to explicitly determine sex being taught as "determined by biology and reproductive function at birth," promoting abstinence as the "expected standard," and having the Department of Education approve any materials being used for sex education. "When you start getting into things like gender ideology, it's very divisive. The majority of parents in Florida do not want that in the schools," DeSantis told reporters Tuesday.
"Political identity filters" in hiring
HB999 prohibits state universities from using "diversity, equity, and inclusion statements," critical race theory rhetoric or "other forms of political identity filters" as part of their hiring process. It also gives more power for the Board of Governors to review the "missions" of public universities, and allows for state universities to do post-tenure reviews of professors at any time.
SB450 would remove the requirement of a unanimous decision from a jury to issue the death penalty. Instead, only eight out of 12 jurors would need to vote to impose the death penalty. DeSantis has been outspoken on this issue after Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz was spared the death penalty after the 12-person jury couldn't reach a unanimous decision.
Blogger reporting requirements
SB1316 would require bloggers — not newspapers or "other similar" publications — who are paid to write about any public official (lawmakers, office staffers, or any member of the executive branch) will have to register with the state within five days of their first post that mentions an elected state officer. They will have to file monthly reports regarding what they wrote about and how much they got paid for it.
DeSantis said Tuesday he "never supported" this bill, and criticized attributions of this bill to him. "People have a right to file legislation, they have a right to do different types of amendments… but the 120 [lawmakers] have independent agency to be able to do things. Like, I don't control every single bill that has been filed or has amendments."
Media and defamation lawsuits
HB991 would reframe the standards for a defamation lawsuit, and what constitutes "actual malice" from a reporter. It says that statements from anonymous sources are "presumptively false" and that if a reporter doesn't identify a source, the plaintiff just has to prove the reporter "acted negligently" by including that source.
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