Lawmakers gaveled in for the 2023 Legislative Session this week. If your plan is to tune out until the real action starts toward the end of the 60-day Session, you may want to reevaluate.
Tuesday, the same day Session started, also saw Gov. Ron DeSantis give his State of the State speech, in which he laid out his aggressive agenda (relaxing gun laws, restricting trans care, continuing his war on “woke”) while also offering plenty of olive branches toward more moderate Floridians (environmental initiatives, raising teacher pay, tax breaks for families).
DeSantis offered this line as his kicker: “I can promise you this: you ain’t seen nothing yet.” We’re already getting to see some of that this week.
Republican lawmakers introduced long-rumored legislation to further restrict abortions, this time to after six weeks of gestation, with some exceptions (more on that later). DeSantis also indicated a willingness to expand the state’s “Parental Rights in Education” law. And Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, always a good soldier for the Governor, filed legislation further cracking down on illegal immigration.
Other bills are already moving. The Senate has given its full approval to a bill allowing businesses to sue local governments over ordinances that can harm their bottom line. It’s a reboot of a measure passed last year, but vetoed by DeSantis. Legislation aiming to regulate kratom is also already heading to the House floor, as is a bill giving parents of disabled students an easier method to give input on the students’ education after they turn 18.
That is to say, things are moving quickly, both red meat measures as well as legislation most of the state can get behind. So if you want to keep abreast of what the state is doing in the final Session before DeSantis is expected to announce a run for President, it’s already time to start paying attention.
Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.
Honorable mention: DeSantis’ cred with tennis fans. If (when) the Governor announces his run for President, he may have boosted his favorability with tennis fans this week.
DeSantis served up a weeklong push to allow Novak Djokovic to play in the Miami Open despite the tennis champion’s decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Current federal rules prevent individuals from flying into the U.S. without a vaccine. That forced Djokovic to withdraw from the Miami tournament, as well as another in California.
Enter DeSantis, who branded himself a crusader against COVID-19 restrictions after initially shutting the state down in the early days of the pandemic.
DeSantis sent a letter to President Joe Biden, asking whether the tennis star could come to the U.S. on a boat, as a way of dodging current rules restricting flights.
“It’s time to put pandemic politics aside and give the American people what they want — let the man play,” DeSantis wrote.
The Governor followed that up with remarks at a news conference Wednesday, promising he would personally intervene if able.
“I would run a boat from the Bahamas here for him,” DeSantis said. “I would do that 100%, but I think his people are looking at it and I’m not sure that’s the way they want to come into the country, which I understand.”
Even U.S. Sen. Rick Scott joined in on the push, but it was all for naught. Despite DeSantis’ diatribes against the rules, the White House swatted down any chance of flexibility Thursday.
“On a question regarding the vaccination requirement, I would refer you to the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “They’re the ones who deal with that. It’s still in place, and we expect everyone to abide by our country’s rule, whether as a participant or a spectator.”
Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Ryan Chamberlin. Chamberlin topped a five-person Primary to take the Republican nomination in the House District 24 Special Election.
The win all but assures Chamberlin will be the next HD 24 Representative. He faces only nominal opposition from write-in candidate Robert “Foxy” Fox, who says he was recruited by a Chamberlin affiliate to close the GOP Primary to Republican voters only.
Tuesday’s election saw Chamberlin earn around 36% of the vote, followed by businessman Jose Juarez at 26% and former Rep. Charlie Stone at 22%. Stephen Pyles and Justin Albright finished well behind.
“I’m extremely honored to be the Republican nominee for District 24 and am looking forward to the next step in this election cycle,” Chamberlin said in a statement following the Primary win.
“I congratulate my fellow opponents in a hard-fought race, in which we debated the issues and submitted ourselves to the voters for the final decision. It’s now time to come together for the good of our community and our movement. I’m always eager to work with those who embrace a conservative agenda for our county, state and nation.”
Chamberlin’s win is significant, besting a former Representative in the process. A win over Fox would also allow Chamberlin to serve for nearly 10 years, as term limits only apply to full terms. That means Chamberlin could run for re-election four more times.
The seat opened when former Rep. Joe Harding resigned after being indicted for wire fraud and other charges.
The biggest winner: Anti-abortion advocates. Those pushing Florida to enact even more strict abortion limits, after Republicans just did so last year, have gotten their wish in the form of new legislation filed on the first day of Session.
Sen. Erin Grall and Rep. Jenna Personas-Mulicka are carrying the bills (SB 300, HB 7) in their respective chambers.
The measure would ban abortion after six weeks, with some exceptions. Evidence that the life of the mother is at risk, or that serious health effects are possible, would allow an abortion after that time period. Women who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest would be able to get an abortion up to 15 weeks after becoming pregnant — which is the current limit now — but those women have to show evidence a crime was committed to do so.
That current 15-week restriction was passed just last year, shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. It appears GOP lawmakers in Florida were still testing the waters with last year’s bill. With the dam now broken, legislators seem to feel empowered to go further.
It’s not set in stone that the bill will pass as written. The legislation still must go through the committee process, and disagreements among Republicans about the extent of the new restrictions may yet emerge. Democrats, of course, are hammering the measure. But with GOP supermajorities in both chambers, Democrats are not in a position to demand many changes.
Gov. DeSantis has openly signaled his support for further restrictions on the procedure. Until this past week, no concrete legislation had yet emerged, however. But with these new bills, it seems certain something is likely to pass during the 60-day Regular Session.
Dishonorable mention: Lawmakers backing constitutional carry. There has been plenty of debate around whether Florida, the site of several high-profile shooting attacks over the years, should remove licensing requirements for individuals to carry a concealed weapon. But as lawmakers push forward with “constitutional carry” legislation, it’s notable that some of the loudest criticism has come not from people arguing they’re going too far, but from those saying the bill doesn’t go far enough.
Proponents of the bill argue the changes will cut down on limitations to the Second Amendment, and more guns equals more good guys with guns in the event of an attack — or so the theory goes.
But let’s be real: this legislation is red meat for the base as Gov. DeSantis mulls a presidential run. It’s a way for the Legislature to flex its supermajority status and win over die-hard conservatives in the process, further cementing the hardcore base that drove Republicans to a historic win last fall.
Except, that hardcore base seems to want more. That is: Republicans are plowing forward with a highly controversial measure to win over a voting base that is rebelling over the bill’s supposed temerity.
What some hardcore gun enthusiasts want is unrestricted open carry, not just concealed carry. And they’re calling out lawmakers and the Governor for falling short.
“This inaction by the Legislature undermines the Governor’s agenda, which of course hurts his chances in the upcoming Presidential Primary,” Central Florida gun rights advocate Matt Collins said during a committee stop this week. “I like Gov. DeSantis, but quite frankly the inability to get open carry included in this bill is embarrassing for him. It’s weak. It’s failed leadership.”
Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said she’s heard concerns from Sheriffs that an open carry bill would go too far. That rationale also got called out during the same committee stop.
“Gov. DeSantis’ book is called The Courage to be Free. Do you have that courage?” asked Louis Valdez, Florida state director of Gun Owners of America. “Do you serve the people, do you serve the community, or do you serve the Sheriffs?”
That sentiment has been echoed repeatedly since the bill was unveiled, and even DeSantis has now indicated he might support an open carry bill, which could put pressure on lawmakers.
So instead of getting an easy win with the base, Republicans are now faced with a public intra-party debate, and may be forced to cave further in defiance of Sheriffs’ organizations.
Republicans may have complete control of the Legislature, but this episode looks like a case of letting the inmates run the asylum.
Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Joe Citro, Orlando Gudes. Two Tampa City Council members are down and out after this past week’s election.
In District 5, Gwendolyn Henderson narrowly edged out Gudes to take his seat. Gudes’ loss follows a long-running scandal, including a lawsuit alleging he sexually harassed an aide and created a hostile work environment.
That prompted two of his Council colleagues, as well as Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, to call on Gudes to step down. He dropped his position as Chair, but remained on the Council, continuing to be a thorn in the Mayor’s side. Now, Gudes is out.
The District 1 contest, meanwhile, remains unresolved. No candidate earned a majority of the vote Tuesday night, forcing a runoff.
But incumbent Council member Citro will not be part of that runoff. He finished behind Alan Clendenin and Sonja P. Brookins, who earned 40% and 22% of the vote, respectively.
That means those two will participate in a winner-take-all April 25 runoff. Citro, meanwhile, is out, despite serving as Council Chair.
The biggest loser: Jason Brodeur. Sen. Brodeur got plenty of blowback earlier this month when he proposed legislation requiring a “blogger” to file compensation reports when posting “about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post.”
The bill raised plenty of First Amendment concerns from legal experts and media members, and of course Democrats decried the legislation as another attack on the media.
But this week, Republicans joined in to excoriate the proposal. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich fired an early volley against the bill, calling it “insane” to call for more government involvement and an “embarrassment.”
“He should withdraw it immediately,” Gingrich groused.
But it wasn’t just out-of-staters who took the hammer to Brodeur’s bill. House Speaker Paul Renner all but buried it during remarks on the first day of Session.
“That’d be something I categorically oppose,” Renner said. “I don’t think that belongs anywhere near passing either the House or Senate.”
And even Gov. DeSantis chimed in, hitting back against members of the media who attached his name to the proposal.
“There was a legislator that filed the bill that the media didn’t like and I said it’s not something I support, purportedly that bloggers would need to register with the state under certain circumstances,” he said. “It’s not a concept I support, but yet they do it because they get more clicks they can rope me into it.”
Sometimes legitimate criticism — which this measure more than warranted — can get drowned out by partisans retreating into their corners. Either one side keeps quiet, or reflexively defends otherwise bad ideas.
But boy did Brodeur overstep bigly to court this type of criticism from all sides of the aisle. Maybe he should read the room and kill the bill before he gets any more pushback — which, by the way, wouldn’t trigger any reporting requirements under his proposal.
This idea is so crazy, people are more than willing to speak out about it for free.
March 12, 2023 at 6:35 am
Why not name those pushing open carry and the one who is eager to sign it into law?
March 12, 2023 at 10:01 am
We can set up a cemetery dedicated to the children who die as a result of this legislation and name it after the sponsor.
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