Veto pen is a club in DeSantis’ hands | Bill Cotterell

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Gov. Ron DeSantis signs big state budget, following big vetoes.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signs big state budget, following big vetoes.

A cynic might suspect that, sometimes, Gov. Ron DeSantis has his ever-subservient Republican allies in the Florida Legislature send him bills they know he’ll veto, just to look good in this re-election year.

Through his four legislative sessions, DeSantis has clearly shown who’s boss. A lot of what he’s wrought with the House and Senate — like new voting rules, education edicts and realignment of Florida’s congressional districts — the governor has publicly championed. He jets around the state for signing ceremonies amid admiring groups of voters and dutifully smiling legislative leaders.

The word “veto” comes from a Latin word meaning “I forbid,” and this governor has used his pen as imperiously as any Roman emperor.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a bill sought by utility giant Florida Power & Light
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a bill sought by utility giant Florida Power & Light

Governors don’t usually need to kill bills they don’t like. They can quietly inform a sponsor not to submit a bill or get members to amend certain provisions in or out of a measure as it goes through committees.

As a last resort, they can simply send word to the House and Senate presiding officers that the chief executive would rather not see this or that bill on his desk, and it dies without debate.

There are always the line-item budget vetoes. After the House and Senate labor for weeks cobbling together an appropriations act, every governor goes through the big bill and red-pencils specific projects. Sometimes it’s to reward or punishment, sometimes it’s a disagreement on priorities, but the vetoes are never overridden.

When some outrage escapes the Capitol’s fourth floor and lands on the governor’s desk, it’s reasonable to wonder if lawmakers just teed that one up for him to knock it out of the park. Like a baseball manager with a fungo bat swatting high fly balls to his outfielders in practice, DeSantis made it look easy with a few of this year’s vetoes.

The most alarming of his vetoes this year involved congressional districts. He considered U.S. Rep. Al Lawson’s tract a racial gerrymander, extending from Chattahoochee to downtown Jacksonville. DeSantis sent legislators his own congressional map, effectively eliminating the minority-access district and making boundaries a bit friendlier for Republicans, but legislators tried to stick with elements of the old design.

DeSantis killed that plan, so lawmakers came back in special session and gave him what he wanted. And now Lawson and Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican, will face off for the Big Bend seat in the U.S. House.

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Aside from the merits of either plan, the veto and the Legislature’s obsequious obedience clearly showed who runs things downtown.

A couple of his vetoes were pretty good, though.

DeSantis stifled an overhaul of alimony laws (SB 1796), saying its retroactivity would violate contracts, as forbidden by the Florida Constitution. But alimony reform has been around for years and legislators will probably come back with a non-retroactive bill.

He also stopped a grotesque proposal that would have let businesses sue local governments to recover lost revenue when city or county ordinances infringe on business operations. It was not surprising that the Legislature, with its pro-business attitude, passed such a proposal but it was refreshing to see DeSantis, who usually doesn’t mind kicking local governments around, kill the legislation.

That one will probably come back next year, too, when legislators can use DeSantis’ veto message as a guide for redrafting the bill.

That, of course, assumes DeSantis will also come back next year — which now looks likely.

Bill Cotterell is a retired Tallahassee Democrat Capitol reporter who writes a twice-weekly column. He can be reached at bcotterell@tallahassee.com

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Gov. Ron DeSantis is not afraid of the veto pen -- look at his record