Without Gov. Ron DeSantis, this list of top state government stories in 2022 would be almost bare. That would likely be true of any governor, but DeSantis dominated politics and state government in Florida this year unlike any in living memory.
He was utterly unconcerned with his Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, in the Governor’s race, and used a giant treasure trove of a campaign war chest to sail to a 20-point victory — the largest of any governor since Republicans took control of state government in the 1990s.
In so doing he put the poor results around the rest of the country for the GOP into sharp relief, especially with former President Donald Trump’s hand-picked U.S. Senate nominees mostly failing to win. DeSantis is now set up as the top contender to Trump for the Republican nomination for President in 2024.
Moreover, his endorsements in several state Senate races shaped those contests during the primary stage, and so shaped the entire chamber, giving him a sky-high level of clout within the GOP-led Legislature that already was reticent to push back on any DeSantis-led initiative.
DeSantis’ transformation of the ultimate purple state into a deep red bastion for the Republican Party would top a list of political stories of the year, but ours focuses strictly on state government. But it was DeSantis’ dominance that set the foundation for most of the items on this list.
10. Stop Woke
DeSantis a year ago called on legislators to give what he called a way for employees as well as families to stop what he termed “woke indoctrination.” The initial proposal — which was sparked by opposition to critical race theory — wound up being a far-reaching law that has drawn multiple lawsuits.
The measure passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by the governor says schools and companies cannot put guilt or blame on students and workers based on race and sex or that someone can be labeled privileged or oppressed due to their race, color or sex.
When he signed the bill into law, DeSantis contended the measure would “not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces. There is no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida.”
But the legislation has drawn four different lawsuits that have focused on different portions of the law. In November, U.S. Chief District Judge Mark Walker blocked the law from applying to higher education, calling it “positively dystopian” and ruled it violated First Amendment free speech and 14th Amendment due-process rights. The DeSantis administration has appealed the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. In August, Walker also blocked the portion of the law that applied to workforce training. That case also has been appealed.
9. Andrew Warren suspension
During a December 2021 meeting, DeSantis asked whether there were any state prosecutors who weren’t enforcing the law. Public Safety Czar Larry Keefe decided to find out, and conducted a review of prosecutors throughout the state by asking mostly Republican sheriffs and law enforcement officials, as well as GOP donors in Tampa, about the reputations of local prosecutors.
Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren’s name kept popping up, Keefe later said in court. DeSantis later suspended Warren for refusing to enforce the law, namely, abortion laws after Warren signed a pledge not to prosecute women and doctors who violate abortion laws in the wake of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Warren sued DeSantis, alleging the suspension is a violation of his First Amendment rights and is asking a federal court to reinstate him. As of this writing, a decision from Judge Robert Hinkle was still pending. If the suspension is upheld, Warren can take his case to the state Senate, which could opt to reinstate him or vote to permanently remove him from office.
8. Migrant flights
In the budget, lawmakers approved $13 million for DeSantis to move undocumented immigrants from Florida. DeSantis had promised to transport them to Delaware, President Joe Biden’s home state.
But the first flight under the program originated in Texas, not Florida. Florida government employees offered 50 Venezuelan migrants in Texas a plane ride to Massachusetts, with a stopover in Florida. When the migrants landed in Martha’s Vineyard, local authorities, who weren’t alerted by DeSantis officials, were unprepared to deal with the influx.
The outcry from immigration advocates was swift and immediate, bashing the move as a political stunt designed to bolster DeSantis’ Presidential ambitions and using the migrants as pawns. DeSantis defended the move and supporters said it showed that those who aren’t in favor of strict immigration enforcement don’t have to deal with the costs associated with lax enforcement as Texas and other border states do.
Still, the move attracted no shortage of lawsuits to stop the program. DeSantis has spent more money on the program but no other migrants have been moved. He hasn’t said how transporting migrants out of Texas is not a violation of the state law setting up the program, which said it was to move undocumented migrants out of Florida.
A local Texas sheriff has also started his own criminal investigation into the matter.
7. Transgender care
Transgender children in Florida and poor transgender adults had their access to health care limited in 2022 and the Florida Legislature had no say. That’s because the Governor used two of the health care agencies at his command to usher in administrative changes to accomplish what he wanted.
The Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) released a report in June summarizing what it called a “robust review” of available medical evidence and determined that gender-affirming care doesn’t meet the generally accepted professional medical standards. Based on the review, Medicaid Director Tom Wallace (who serves at the pleasure of the Secretary, who serves as the pleasure of the Governor) deemed gender-affirming health care experimental and investigational, a label equivalent to a death knell because the Florida Medicaid program does not cover experimental care.
Wallace was following the lead set by State Surgeon General and Department of Health Secretary Joseph Ladapo, who previously advised against providing gender-affirming care, including social transitioning, to minors. Following the Medicaid report, Ladapo petitioned the Florida Board of Medicine and Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine, reiterating his opposition to gender-affirming care, and asked that they alter their standard-of-care rules to ban transgender health care services to children and to require adults to wait at least one day before receiving the care.
The Medicaid announcement and the medical board petitions came as DeSantis used his veto pen to eliminate $500,000 from the budget that would have gone to the Zebra Coalition, an Orlando housing program for homeless LGBTQ-plus youth. According to the Zebra Coalition’s website, the association assists young people facing homelessness, bullying, isolation from their families, and physical, sexual and drug abuse with individualized programs to guide them to recovery and stability.
6. Election police
Florida this year became one of the first states to implement a law enforcement unit exclusively dedicated to investigating and prosecuting election crimes.
The Legislature approved the unit at DeSantis’ request, housing it within the Department of State and assigning some of its manpower to the Department of Law Enforcement. However, the unit had a tumultuous start.
After critics raised concerns the force would intimidate voters, the first round of charges out of the unit’s investigations targeted felons who had not had their right to vote restored but whom the state had approved to vote anyway. And the unit lost its director, Pete Antonacci, when he died of a heart attack after less than four months at the helm.
As the first round of cases started going to court, at least three cases were initially dismissed by judges. Another suspect took a plea deal that allowed her to plead “no contest” and take on zero punishment.
There’s no greater example of DeSantis flexing his strength this year than during the decennial redistricting.
Legislative leaders, particularly in the Senate, sought to draft anodyne district maps at all levels of government, tailoring the lines to comply with the Fair Districts Amendment. Their most consequential task was determining how to shoehorn a 28th district into Central Florida.
But in an unprecedented — almost Trumpian — move, DeSantis intervened in the congressional map-drawing process, including as lawmakers met on the House floor.
“I will veto the congressional reapportionment plan currently being debated by the House. DOA,” DeSantis tweeted.
DeSantis did veto that map, and the Legislature ultimately conceded in a Special Session, throwing up their hands and accepting a map drafted by DeSantis Deputy Chief of Staff Alex Kelly. DeSantis argued North Florida’s minority access district violated the U.S. Constitution, a question the Florida Supreme Court has yet to answer.
A separate court case also looms over redistricting, as the U.S. Supreme Court gears up to address the validity of the “independent state legislature” theory.
And in good news for lawmakers, no one challenged their 40-seat Senate and 120-seat House maps.
4. Property insurance
When the Legislature convened for a Special Session in May, in part to pass property insurance bills to prop up the market, the industry was already in trouble. At that point, three companies had failed in the first five months of the year and state-run Citizens Property Insurance was on its way to more than 1.1 million policies as other private insurers pulled back from the market.
Lawmakers passed a $2 billion reinsurance fund backed by taxpayer funds to bolster the market, but the industry slide continued, causing more pain for homeowners even before Hurricane Ian appeared on the scene. Three more companies would fail during the year, while dozens of others would hike rates for the coming year or cancel policies.
Prodded by DeSantis, the Legislature took the step of passing another property insurance package in December, complete with an additional $1 billion in reinsurance and a number of measures aimed at reducing lawsuits — what insurers say is the main culprit for their losses in recent years and the reason why global reinsurance giants have stayed away from the Florida market. The main provision eliminates one-way attorney fees for homeowners who sue their insurer, something the trial bar lobby has fought against for years.
Supporters of the package say it will stabilize the market by enticing more private companies to cover homes in Florida, but Democrats and consumer advocates slammed the new law as a giveaway to insurers while making it more difficult to sue a company when it refuses or underpays a claim.
3. Hurricane Ian
Most named storms in the 2022 hurricane season didn’t bother Florida, at least until Tropical Depression Nine developed in the Caribbean Sea on Sept. 23. Five days later, after strengthening into Hurricane Ian as a Category 4, it slammed into Southwest Florida, bringing a devastating storm surge of more than 10 feet and destructive winds.
The storm surge led to more than 100 deaths in Florida, most of them along the coast in Lee County. Ian also trundled over the central and eastern part of the state, causing widespread power outages to more than 3 million homes and businesses and causing massive beach erosion in Volusia County that wiped away homes.
Despite large strides in the rebuilding process, many residents remain displaced as the region continues to recover from the storm.
2. Parental rights
A push by House Republicans to limit the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation in lower grades turned into a fierce national cultural battle that resulted in a backlash against one of Florida’s largest employers. The legislation, officially known as the parental rights in education bill, soon came to be known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its critics.
While DeSantis was not the initial force behind the legislation, he supported it and became the most visible champion of the measure even as it sparked a national outcry among LGBTQ supporters. Some of those supportive of the legislation took to calling opponents “groomers,” a term suggesting that someone is trying to build a relationship with young people in order to abuse them.
Disney, which normally has a long-running strong relationship with Florida politicians, initially stayed on the sidelines but then under pressure from employees came out against the bill. After DeSantis signed it into law Disney then suggested it would lead a push for repeal. DeSantis responded by using a Special Session initially called to handle redistricting to muscle through a bill that stripped Disney of its self-governing authority at its central Florida theme parks.
In the aftermath of the dustup, Disney’s board ousted its CEO and brought back former leader Bob Iger. There remain, however, outstanding questions about taxes and debts associated with Disney’s special district if it is officially dissolved. The DeSantis administration contends it is coming up with a plan it will release soon.
Honorable mention: ESG
Florida began cracking down against environmental, social and governance criteria this year, but expect that to be the prelude to further action in 2023.
This summer, DeSantis and House Speaker Paul Renner announced plans to curb “woke capital,” and the Cabinet kicked off Florida’s tangible response in August, forcing the State Board of Administration to solely consider economic factors when making investments. And earlier this month, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis directed the state Treasury to divest from BlackRock, the archetype of ESG investing.
With DeSantis, Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo on the same page, the Legislature is primed to pass ESG restrictions in the coming year.
At the start of 2022, Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land and Florida’s more aggressive privacy protections still offered greater protection for abortion rights at the state level. By the end, the seminal abortion rights ruling was overturned and the privacy provision in the state constitution appears to be on shaky ground.
Republican lawmakers at the start of the year, aware the Dobbs case that ultimately led to the overturning of Roe v. Wade was still pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, passed a bill banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That lowered the time for a woman to get an abortion from the previous law that banned the procedure after the second trimester.
The new law was immediately challenged in the courts, but anti-abortion activists are hopeful DeSantis’ overhaul of the Florida Supreme Court to create a staunchly conservative bench will lead to a decision that reverses a 1989 precedent that interprets the state constitution’s privacy provision as applying to abortion rights.
Such a decision would clear the way for further erosion of abortion rights in Florida. That’s exactly what anti-abortion activists want, and some of them gathered at the Legislature’s organizational session in November to demand it. DeSantis and legislative leaders, though, want to wait next year for a court ruling on the 15-week ban before pushing more abortion restrictions.
Florida Politics’ Renzo Downey and Christine Jordan Sexton contributed to this report.
December 26, 2022 at 9:30 am
Gender affirming care is a play on words! Should really be called gender affirming surgical mutilation!
December 26, 2022 at 11:55 am
What do you call your far right lobotomy?
Republicans are corrupt
December 26, 2022 at 11:13 am
Yes, Ron DeSantis has dominated politics by taking away freedoms of Florida and using is position as a bully pulpit. Ron DeSantis political career is gonna come to an end within the next four years.
December 26, 2022 at 11:52 am
The FGOP has done absolutely nothing for anyone who isn’t rich. As usual, they’ve done nothing to improve the lives of the majority of people in the state. They’re empty suits. They’re shills for the rich. The place is still a grifter state. Millions of lives ruined by the hogs. Downward economic mobility for the majority of the population here is next.
6. Election police
December 26, 2022 at 12:49 pm
Another suspect took a plea deal that allowed her to plead “no contest” and take on zero punishment.
Zero punishment =
1. 1/2 a day in jail
2. Loss of voter eligibility
3. 3rd-degree felony conviction
4. $548.00 in fines and fees
December 27, 2022 at 8:20 am
Just the felony on record is a license to discriminate and deny employment…so that’s like a quarter million dollar fine over a lifetime. Other states don’t do the whole punishment for life deal. Florida however uses their “criminal justice system” to enforce a permanent lower class and slave labor force. You literally have to move out of Florida to make any kind of money once you get a felony. Nobody has an incentive to stay here after they get a felony charge and I don’t know why people do.
December 27, 2022 at 11:23 am
Yeah, that voter fraud felony next to that murder felony looks rather ominous.
December 28, 2022 at 2:25 am
Fairly soon the only people who can afford to own property in Florida, due to rising insurance costs, will be the uber rich (mostly from other countries) and Chinese corporations.
Foreclosures will rise to ensure those entities can buy up Glorida real estate at basement prices. The poor who can’t afford to move will remain poor in low wage service industries to service to their rich masters, while paying high rent to their rich master foreign investor slum lords. And Florida voters assure this by voting red.
December 28, 2022 at 8:26 am
It’s all about personal decision. You can be poor and take advantage of the education offered to you for free and better yourself! If you are poor you have no one to blame but yourself! Voting red offers you opportunity, opportunity and more opportunity! Voting blue keeps you in poverty with just enough government handouts to keep you right where they want you!
January 3, 2023 at 6:53 am
Bet you have Money judging by your comment.. Typical Republican shitty additude..
January 3, 2023 at 6:53 am
Bet you have Money judging by your comment.. Typical Republican shitty additude..
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