DeSantis’ trifecta: Canceling Disney’s district, masks mandate on planes, and half of Florida’s Black congressional delegation

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It’s Monday, April 25, and this week political dominoes will start to fall as politicians start lining up for down-ballot races because of the now-enacted congressional map.

Gov. Ron DeSantis will campaign in Las Vegas, Nevada, on April 27 with Republican Senate hopeful Adam Laxalt, one of former President Trump’s preferred Senate candidates. The invite to the “Rise Up” rally demonstrates the governor’s emerging status as a GOP celebrity on the fundraising circuit as he positions himself for national office.

Of course, Florida already spent the last week in the national headlines.

HERE’S WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT

Canceling Disney’s taxing district: In four days, Florida legislators fast-tracked two bills to strip The Walt Disney Co. of special privileges after the company announced it would withhold political campaign contributions because legislators passed the Parental Rights in Education bill, also known as the “don’t say gay” law.

Debate was limited but swift. While neither the governor nor legislative leaders provided a policy reason for punishing Disney, they made it clear their decision to repeal the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney’s specially-created governing structure, was in response to Disney company executives speaking out in opposition to DeSantis’ “parental rights” bill.

The “Partners” statue sits in front of Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
The “Partners” statue sits in front of Cinderella’s Castle at Magic Kingdom on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Legislators gave themselves plenty of time to have a change of heart, however. The district would not be dissolved until June 1, 2023, so Disney, which employs more than 77,000 people in the state and has deep campaign pockets, has until then to negotiate an alternative.

1st Amendment conflict: But experts said the entire exercise may also run afoul of the federal Constitution. Adam Winkler, a University of California Los Angeles professor who’s written a book on corporate civil rights, said Disney could file suit alleging that the law violates its First Amendment rights, noting that “the Supreme Court has said the government cannot take special benefits away for improper reasons.”

He compared the decision to repeal the Reedy Creek Improvement district to a policy that prohibits people from receiving public assistance checks if they dislike Donald Trump.

Billboards are going up in Tallahassee, Tampa, Orlando, and South Florida to “welcome” visitors to Ron DeSantis’ Florida. The message: “The Sunshine State” is now the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans State.” The advertising campaign is the work of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization.
Billboards are going up in Tallahassee, Tampa, Orlando, and South Florida to “welcome” visitors to Ron DeSantis’ Florida. The message: “The Sunshine State” is now the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans State.” The advertising campaign is the work of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization.

Bad PR: Meanwhile, the fallout continues. The Human Rights Campaign is posting billboards around Florida that rebrand the state “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” after DeSantis’ new education law. And Fitch Ratings Friday placed a rating watch negative” on Disney debt as a result of the new law.

Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, Rep. Daisy Morales, D-Orlando, Rep. Tray McCurdy, D-Orlando (in front) and Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, protest on the Florida Seal as debate is halted in the House of Representatives Thursday, April 21, 2022, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. The session was halted by the protest, but continued after a brief recess.
Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, Rep. Daisy Morales, D-Orlando, Rep. Tray McCurdy, D-Orlando (in front) and Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, protest on the Florida Seal as debate is halted in the House of Representatives Thursday, April 21, 2022, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. The session was halted by the protest, but continued after a brief recess.

Dems sit-in over maps: The final passage of the Disney bill, however, was overshadowed Thursday when Florida Republicans were forced to power through shouts and protests from their Democratic colleagues who had staged an hour-long sit-in on the floor of the chamber. They were protesting a map drawn by the governor’s staff that reduces the number of Black Democratic members in Congress and increases the number of Republicans.

Democrats said the protest was an emotional and spontaneous response to months of having their debate limited and now having their votes diluted by the governor’s map. House Speaker Chris Sprowls accused the protesters of “hijacking the process and violating House rules.”

Map turns back clock: By Friday, DeSantis had signed the congressional map and it was immediately challenged in state court.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, reviews proposed district maps during a Committee on Reapportionment meeting, Tuesday, April 19, 2022, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.
Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, reviews proposed district maps during a Committee on Reapportionment meeting, Tuesday, April 19, 2022, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla.

It reverses 30 years of representation in historic Black neighborhoods in Jacksonville and Orlando (and since 2017, in North Florida) when Republican legislators aligned with Black Democrats to maximize minority voting strength. It also abandons the legal argument legislators relied on when they passed a different map that was vetoed by the governor.

Here’s a deep dive into Florida’s past and today’s reaction.

Schoolchildren holding signs against the concept of critical race theory stand on stage alongside Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as he addresses the crowd before signing HB 7, titled the ‘Individual Freedom’ bill but also dubbed the “Stop Woke Act,” during a press conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Florida, on Friday, April 22, 2022.
Schoolchildren holding signs against the concept of critical race theory stand on stage alongside Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as he addresses the crowd before signing HB 7, titled the ‘Individual Freedom’ bill but also dubbed the “Stop Woke Act,” during a press conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, Florida, on Friday, April 22, 2022.

‘Stop WOKE’ becomes law: In a spectacle that included prominent Florida Republicans and school children holding “Stop Woke” and anti-CRT signs, DeSantis signed House Bill 7, titled “Individual Freedom” and known as the “Stop Woke Act” into law last week.

The law limits how race-related issues are taught in public universities, colleges and in workplace training. But within minutes after signing the bills, a group of plaintiffs from across Florida filed a federal lawsuit against the governor, Attorney General Ashley Moody and others, challenging the constitutionality of the measure.

Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at William A. Kirlew Junior Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist K-8 school in Miami Gardens, in 2019.
Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at William A. Kirlew Junior Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist K-8 school in Miami Gardens, in 2019.

Diaz named education commissioner: DeSantis last week tapped state Sen. Manny Diaz J.r., to become Florida’s next education commissioner.

Diaz, a former Miami public school teacher and vice principal, replaces former House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has held the job since 2019. Diaz has been an ardent supporter of charter schools and the privatization of public schools. He served as vice president for financial affairs at Doral College, which is affiliated with Academica, a Miami-based for-profit network of public charter schools.

A bar chart involving racial attitudes, on page 56 of a textbook covering over 1,000 pages, was deemed objectionable by the state Department of Education.
A bar chart involving racial attitudes, on page 56 of a textbook covering over 1,000 pages, was deemed objectionable by the state Department of Education.

Reasons for banned books: After a week of leaving local school officials, publishers and other the public in suspense, the Florida Department of Education on Thursday released a bit of explanation for why it is banning some math textbooks.

The agency had announced that 41% of submitted math textbooks contained “prohibited topics” and “indoctrinating concepts,” including references to critical race theory and would not be allowed to be included in Florida classrooms.

For a week, the governor claimed the material that led to the ban was “proprietary” and refused to make it public. Publishers pressed, and now some details have emerged. One example of the rejected material: A colored bar chart shows how levels of racial bias can vary by age group. It is part of a mathematical brain teaser involving polynomial models.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Monday, April 18, 2022, that he will call a special session of the Florida Legislature in May to deal with the crisis in the property insurance as rates spike and the number of companies writing policies in the state contracts.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Monday, April 18, 2022, that he will call a special session of the Florida Legislature in May to deal with the crisis in the property insurance as rates spike and the number of companies writing policies in the state contracts.

Insurance special session: As Florida lawmakers have been focused on culture wars, homeowners have seen their property insurance rates spike by double digits in the last two years, and companies have canceled policies or suspended business.

Last week, the governor announced a May special session to to address the issue and, he said, “bring some sanity and stabilize” the property insurance market.

House and Senate were at odds during the regular session about how to address the property insurance problems, with the Senate trying to be more aggressive in targeting what they consider fraudulent roof claims. The governor has not indicated how he’d like to see the issue resolved.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner and Democratic candidate for covernor Nikki Fried meets with Black business owners and entrepreneurs at Pots and Pans Cafe Oakland Park on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner and Democratic candidate for covernor Nikki Fried meets with Black business owners and entrepreneurs at Pots and Pans Cafe Oakland Park on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022.

Fried’s marijuana campaign: Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who hopes to leverage her marijuana advocacy into a successful campaign to be the Democratic nominee for governor, last week announced she would sue President Joe Biden’s administration over a federal rule restricting medical marijuana users from buying guns or keeping a concealed-carry permit.

Good-bye masks? U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle voided the national mask mandate covering airplanes and other public transportation last week, ruling in Tampa that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention improperly failed to justify its decision and did not follow proper rulemaking.

Biden appeals: The Justice Department appealed the ruling, following the CDC’s recommendation that a transit mask mandate is “necessary for the public health” and that people should continue to wear a mask inside public transportation. Some experts have expressed concern that the ruling could accelerate the spread of the latest variant.

United Airlines, Alaska and Delta said they will allow some passengers who had been banned for not wearing masks back on flights, but they would decide on a case-by-case basis.

Here’s what else you need to know if you’re traveling on public transportation.

At South Florida airports, masks were still required inside the airport and on planes due to a federal mandate. That mandate ended April 18, 2022, when a Florida federal judge reversed the mandate.
At South Florida airports, masks were still required inside the airport and on planes due to a federal mandate. That mandate ended April 18, 2022, when a Florida federal judge reversed the mandate.

New travel rules: Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week updated the way it determines which countries have the highest risk of COVID-19 with new changes to its Travel Health Notices system. It announced that its Level 4, or the “Do Not Travel” risk category, will no longer be based solely on coronavirus incidence and case counts.

Surgeon general’s message: Here’s some sad news. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who visited his Miami hometown on Friday said research shows that loneliness is associated with an increased risk of both physical and mental health illnesses, from anxiety and depression to premature death, dementia and heart disease.

He was in town to meet with healthcare workers about pandemic-related burnout, speaking with LGBTQ students about mental health concerns, and to deliver the commencement address to graduating students of Miami Dade College on Saturday.

Thank you: Miami Herald Capitol Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas curates the Politics and Policy in the Sunshine State newsletter. We appreciate our readers and if you have any ideas or suggestions, please drop me a note at meklas@miamiherald.com.

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